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Parashat Noach

Parashat Noach

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Every is familiar with the basic story of Noah.  Noah is one of the people who saw the world before its destruction, survived the actual tragic ending, and saw the world in its rebirth.  We are told of how Noah emerged from the Ark and brought sacrifices to G-d.  Then Noah sets out to plant a vineyard.

From its grapes he makes wine, drinks and becomes drunk.  He is found by his son Cham in his tent, undressed, and in an embarassing state.  Instead of taking action, Cham leaves Noah in his drunken state and reports the incident to his brothers, Shem, and Yefet.  Shem and Yefet immediately set out to cover their father and minimize his embarrassment.  They take a blanket, and walking backwards they drape the blanket over their father without staring at him in his low state.  When Noah awakes, and finds out what happened, he blesses Shem and Yefet, and curses the descendants of Cham. (See Genesis 9:18-29)

The lesson and and focus of this story is what Shem and Yefet did.  Unlike Cham who publicized the shame of his father, Shem and Yefet sought to hide it.  Shem and Yefet showed their father consideration, and attempted to restore his dignity.

In the book “Reaching the Stars” by Ruchoma Shain, the following story is told.  Mrs. Shain was a general studies teacher in a Jewish school, teaching 1st grade.  There was a child named Ruthie in her class whose parents were immigrants from Hungary. Ruthie’s father, a bricklayer, had fallen off of a scaffold and injured his spine.  He was confined to a wheelchair.  Her mother with the burden of caring for the family singlehandedly, suffered a breakdown and was hospitalized.  The children were shunted between relatives and friend, their lives falling apart in front of them.  This young child, suffering and confused, came to school every day, but never spoke a word.  Every attempt to coax the child out of her shell met with failure.  Toward the spring Ruthie still had not uttered a word in class.  During a game, the children were sitting on the floor near the radiator.  Mrs. Shain noticed a puddle growing under Ruthie, and she knew what would happen to Ruthie if the other girls became aware that she had had an accident.  The embarrassment would be a death blow to the child.  The children were absorbed in their game and had not yet discovered what had occured.  Mrs. Shain rapped on her desk with her ruler, and got everyone back to their seats.  “The radiator is leaking badly and causing a puddle on the floor, and so you should get ready for dismissal.”  Mrs Shain never lied to her students, but in this case she made an exception.  Another few minutes and the children were gone.  The door opened and there stood Ruthie.  “Uh... Uh... Mrs. Shain,” she whispered. Those were her only words.  Then Ruthie took Mrs Shain’s hand, kissed it, and fled from the room.

The student of Torah takes an important lesson from the events of this week’s parsha.  We must always try to understand others; not to seek their faults, and to try to bring out the good which is in everyone.  When the opportunity presents itself, we should even try to prevent others from becoming aware of other’s mistakes, shortcomings, and personality flaws.  This is most important in regard to close relationships such as between siblings, and husbands and wives.  In the merit of taking this lesson to heart, may we merit that G-d should always emphasize the good in us, and ignore our faults and shortcomings.

Moving forward in the Sedra now: The Flood was history.  The era of robbery, greed, and corruption was washed away by its powerful waves.  Peace and tranquillity reigned.  The entire world was now united - against the Almighty.  The world community decided that in the interest of harmony they would join forces and build a colossal tower to reach to the heavens. Then they would ascend the tower and do battle with G-d Himself.

It was an ambitious dream, but they were united and determined.

G-d, however, had other plans.  The Torah tells us that He convened the same tribunal He consulted with in creating man and this time decided that He would not destroy the builders.  He would confuse them.  He changed their languages so they were not able to communicate.  One man would ask for a hammer and receive a nail, a saw, or a blank stare.  Enraged, the requestor would then argue with and even strike his fellow builder who was impeding progress.  Eventually a small civil war erupted on the construction site.  The men dispersed and the construction project was eternally halted.  And seventy distinct nations ultimately emerged.

It is puzzling: how does a problem such as lack of communication stop a lofty project of such tremendous scope?  Didn’t the French and British jointly finish the Chunnel, the tunnel that connects the two countries, under the English Channel?

Reb Mendel Kaplan, who after escaping from the Nazi inferno lived in Shanghai, China for nearly five years, was once asked how he was able to communicate with the Chinese.  He held up a dollar.  “Everybody understands this language,” he said.

Don’t people of different languages manage to communicate when they want to realize a noteworthy mission?  Why was there no way to gather the forces, create new communication techniques, and continue the project?

A college professor was known give difficult tests yet he had a very lenient policy.  If a student missed the exam he could take a make-up test the next day.  The make-up, however, was always the same test the professor had given the day prior.  Fifteen minutes before the final exam, of a particularly difficult semester, the professor received a phone call.  The four voices crowding the phone booth sounded desperate.

“Professor, we were on our way to take your final and we got a flat tire.  Please let us take a make-up exam tomorrow.”  “Certainly,” the professor responded.  The next day the four young men walked in feeling quite smug.  They had reviewed the entire final with a friend who had taken it the day before.  The professor seated the four students in different corners of the room.  He placed a single sheet of paper in front of each one and stated crisply.  “Today’s make-up exam entails just one question.  I would like you young men, each in his own way, to write down for me...” he looked at the young men and smiled knowingly—“which tire was flat?”

When the goal entails truth and true good for mankind, when the goals are harmonious with the concepts that transcend culture, language, custom, or vogue, then nothing can impede success.  But when selfishness rules and individual glory and gratification is the motivation, then the simplest problem can cause total disunity, contempt, and ultimately failure.  When our common goals are enveloped in common good, then we can unite under the most difficult of circumstances.  However, if our motivations are selfish, the slightest impediment will leave our entire project and mission flat.  As flat as the tyre of Babel.

SHABBAT SHALOM