Noach: Judging people the right way

October 12, 2023

When are we to say the truth about people’s behavior? And what is the connection to our soul? A powerful lesson from Noach, Moshe and Rashi.

(משיחת ש”פ נח, ה’תשמ”ג)

A. Positively or Negatively?

This week’s Torah reading tells us how G-d destroyed the world with a flood and began it anew with Noah and his family (Source 1). Thousands of years later, when G-d tells Moses that He wishes to erase the Jewish people and start anew with Moses, Moses beseeches G-d to forgive them, telling G-d that if He won’t, He should kill Moses too (Source 2).

The Zohar quotes Rabbi Yitzchak, who viewed Noah in a negative light because he didn’t attempt  to save the people of his generation, while Rabbi Yehuda, more generously, understands that Noah was not able to (Source 3).

The Rebbe cites the explanation of his father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, that the reason one sage interpreted this positively and another negatively, is rooted in their souls, which originate in the attributes of kindness or severity, respectively. This is similar to the words of the Tanya, that the legal rulings of the Mishnaic and Talmudic sages are influenced by the source of their souls (Source 4).

Not satisfied with his father’s explanation, the Rebbe asks why judge Noah negatively at all? Shouldn’t we judge everyone positively? Moreover, the Torah avoids speaking negatively even of non-kosher animals, stating “an animal that is not pure.” (Source 5). Certainly this applies to Noah as well!

B. The Negative is a Positive

There’s a well known explanation that when it comes to a practical ruling, one must be explicit and clear. Only when repeating a story or anecdote with no practical ramifications should we be careful to use softer, less harsh language.

Because Noah acted improperly, we must state that explicitly, so future generations learn the  lesson. In fact, by future generations learning a lesson from Noah, this is Noah’s rectification, making this ultimately a statement in Noah’s favor.

This recalls the story of the funerals of Moses and Aaron. Regarding Moses, the Torah says:  ‘The sons of Israel mourned Moses,” meaning that  the men alone mourned. Regarding Aaron, however, due to his pursuit of peace and efforts to restore harmony  between couples, the verse says that “the House of Israel,” meaning both men and women, mourned for him (Sources 6-7).

Even if Aaron excelled in the pursuit of peace, and was thus mourned more, why does the Torah allude to this while speaking about Moses’ passing? Shouldn’t this be the time to focus on praising Moses, and not the opposite?

The Rebbe explains that Moses himself wanted the Torah to emphasize this, to teach the Jews that their love for their fellow Jews should follow Aaron’s example.

C. Rashi and Kabbalah

The idea of interpreting this positively or negatively is cited by both Rashi’s commentary on the Torah and in the Zohar, illustrating the special relationship between Rashi and the Zohar.

This connection appears again: When the Torah describes the flood, it uses the word “rain” and the word “flood” (Source 8). Rashi explains that this alludes to G-d “bringing the rain with mercy, so that if they repent, it would be rain of blessing, if not it would become a flood” (Source 9.) The source of this commentary is not in the Talmud nor the Midrash, but in the Zohar. This emphasizes the unity of all parts of the Torah, and that Rashi also contains the “wonders” of the Kabbalistic teachings.

This connection is also demonstrated by Rashi’s life, as in the story of how his mother was miraculously saved in a Worms alleyway while pregnant with Rashi and a carriage was about to run her over. An alcove miraculously appeared in the wall, giving her shelter and saving her.

D. Always Strive for More

The lesson:

Life is like climbing a ladder. Each day one is higher than the day before, but lower than we can be tomorrow.  A Jew must always feel that their standing today is “negative” relative to what their true potential is. When we feel that way, we can overcome that negativity and climb higher.



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