‘How to Find Favor’ Noach 5784

Only ten generations after G-d created the world, society has sunk into a moral abyss. G-d, regretting having created man, elects to destroy mankind [Bereishit 6:7]: “I will blot out man, whom I created, from upon the face of the earth, from man to cattle to creeping thing, to the fowl of the heavens, for I regret that I made them”. All of mankind will be blotted out except for one person, Noach the son of Lemech [Bereishit 6:8]: “But Noach found favour in the eyes of G-d”. G-d informs Noach of the impending doom, he builds an ark, and he and his family are saved from the flood. What did Noach do that warranted his rescue when everyone else – every single living person other than his immediate relatives – perished in the flood? To put a fine point on it, how does a person find favour in the eyes of G-d?

This question is answered by King Solomon, the wisest of men [Parables 3:3-4]: “Kindness and truth shall not leave you; bind them upon your neck, inscribe them upon the tablet of your heart; and find favour and good understanding in the sight of G-d and man”. If we are scrupulously kind and truthful, then we will find favor, not only in the eyes of G-d, but in the eyes of man, as well. Unfortunately, Solomon’s words are rather vague. Precisely what kind of “kindness” and “truth” is he talking about? Do we find favor by visiting the sick and by not lying in court?

This past Hoshana Rabah, I drove with my wife and two of our daughters to Jerusalem[1] to hear some lectures at the Herzog College Heichal Shlomo campus. One of these lectures was given by Rabbi Yaakov Meidan, a Dean (Rosh Yeshiva) at Yeshivat Har Etzyon. Rabbi Meidan contrasted between the two great sins committed in the Portion of Bereishit: Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge, while their son, Cain, murders his brother, Abel. Rabbi Meidan pointed out a cardinal difference between the two sins: Why was Adam forbidden from eating of the Tree of Knowledge? Every commentator worth his salt has a suggestion. “I have a suggestion of my own”, Rabbi Meidan told us. But instead of presenting a gamut of justifications for G-d’s prohibition, Rabbi Median took another path. Nowhere does Torah explicitly explain why the Tree of Life was forbidden. Adam was forbidden to eat from its fruit because, and only because, G-d said so. Adam was challenged to heed G-d’s words even when he could not understand them. Indeed, as Eve debates whether or not to eat from the Tree of Life, she finds many reasons why it seemed like such a good idea [Bereishit 3:6]: “The woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree was desirable to make one wise; so she took of its fruit, and she ate”. She had every reason to eat the fruit and only one reason not to eat it. By choosing human intellect over Divine intellect, man sinned and was banished from the Garden of Eden.

Rabbi Meidan then segued to Cain’s murder of his brother, Abel. Where do we see that G-d explicitly prohibited Cain from murdering his brother? We don’t. Why, then, didn’t Cain justify his deed by asserting that he had no idea that murder was prohibited? Rabbi Meidan answers that G-d did not need to explicitly prohibit murder[2]. Society cannot tolerate murder. G-d wanted man to emulate Him by becoming a creator, not a destroyer. Murder was not prohibited; it was just plain wrong. The sins of Adam and Cain represent two different archetypes: Certain commandments we must keep even though we do not understand their impetus. These commandments, referred to by our Sages as “chukim”, include eating pork and wearing wool and linen together, the purification process of a leper (metzora), and the scapegoat (se’ir la’azazel) offered on Yom Kippur. There is another set of commandments that we keep out of basic human morality. These include the prohibitions of murder, adultery, and theft. Looking back to the verse in Parables, “Kindness” refers to basic human morality while “Truth” refers to directives that defy human understanding, directives whose truth is Divine and inscrutable. If we keep these two archetypes of commandments, then we will find favor.

Proof for this hypothesis can be found in Noach. Why did G-d have to destroy the world? What was the sin that could not be forgiven? The Torah mentions two of them. It tells us [Bereishit 6:11] “The earth was corrupt before G-d, and the earth became full of robbery”. Rashi[3], along with many other medieval commentators, explains “corruption” as “sexual immorality”. Indeed, only a few verses earlier, Scripture states [Bereishit 6:2] “[Nobles] took for themselves wives from whomever they chose”, even, assert our Sages in the Midrash, from women who were already married. Rampant immorality and robbery – the sins of Cain – tore at the fabric of society until it had frayed beyond repair. But Noach found favor

G-d tells Noach that the world is doomed [Bereishit 6:13]: “The end of all flesh has come before Me… and behold I am destroying them from the earth”. Then G-d instructs him to build an ark, giving comprehensive instructions regarding its dimensions, its materials, and even where to put the windows. The only thing G-d does not tell him is why he must build an ark. G-d had a multitude of agents that He could have used to destroy the word: earthquake, volcanoes, a flood, or perhaps an infectious disease such as COVID-19 or Ebola[4]. Only after G-d provides detailed instructions on how to build the ark does He tell Noach how an ark will save him [Bereishit 6:17]: “Behold I am bringing the flood, water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh”. Oh, by the way, it’s going to rain. Why does G-d withhold this critical information?

In an earlier essay[5], we noted that when G-d first commands the Jewish People to build a Tabernacle (Mishkan), He first commands them to donate the raw materials – gold, silver, and wood – and only then does He tell them that their donations will be used to build [Shemot 25:8] “a sanctuary”. Why doesn’t G-d just come out and tell the Jewish People that they must build him a Mishkan and that they are expected to participate in the funding? We answered that from the moment that G-d began inflicting plagues on the Egyptians, the Jewish people had become spectators. Nothing was required of them other than slaughtering a lamb and smearing its blood on the doorpost. They watched as G-d smashed the mighty Egyptian Empire, took them out of Egypt, split the Red Sea, extracted water from a rock, gave them quail, brought them manna each morning, defeated Amalek, and gave them the Torah. They received and they received and then they received some more, to the point that they had forgotten how to give. A prerequisite to building a sanctuary for G-d was a substantial change in attitude. They had to learn the merit of giving. When G-d tells them to [Shemot 25:2] “take for me a donation”, He is asking them that for the first time as a nation not think only of themselves. In order to connect with G-d, in order to “free some room” for His Presence, you must give: of yourselves and from yourselves. This same explanation can be leveraged with G-d’s instructions to build an ark. G-d needed to know that Noach had atoned for the sin of Adam, that he would follow Divine commands with no questions asked, and that he would build an ark merely because G-d told him so. But Noach found favor…

When G-d concludes His directive to Noach, Noach immediately springs into action [Bereishit 6:22]: “Noach did; according to all that G-d had commanded him, so he did.” The last words of the verse seem somewhat repetitive. Our explanation fits quite nicely into this verse: “Noach did” – he acted like a human being without being commanded to do so – “according to all that G-d had commanded him, so he did” – He did all that G-d had commanded merely because G-d had commanded it.

Kindness and truth, bound on his neck and inscribed on his heart. That is how Noach found favor…

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5784

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Sheindel Devorah bat Rina, Hila bat Miriam, and Rina bat Hassida.

[1] Learn from our mistakes: Park at Ammunition Hill and take the train into town. It will save you hours.

[2] Why the Torah needed to explicitly prohibit murder (“Thou shalt not kill”) is a topic for another shiur.

[3] Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known by his acronym “Rashi”, was the most eminent of the medieval commentators. He lived in northern France in the eleventh century.

[4] Given the sexual immorality of the time, an STD such as AIDS would have been appropriate.

[5] Teruma 5768

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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