You Da Man!…..not. Heschel Centered Commentary on Noach

You Da Man!….not

Parasha Noach
What is your reaction when someone you thought you can count on, did count on for many years, gave so much to, lets you down or betrays you? And, what if it is you betraying you?
A close friend of mine (call him (B) owned a number of Hair Salons with over 200 employees. He had a star stylist  (C) for close to 40 years. C from the beginning was at B’s side, learning, applying and growing. C became not only the top booking stylist but generated the greatest fee per cut by far. An exemplary employee amongst a challenging group to manage. B took care of some of C’s family, offering jobs or assistance  when needed. C also was known for keeping to himself, he did his thing at his station, quality work and making money. C was Da Man!
During the recent economic storms, B had to downsize and consolidate the stores into one. For years while paying his staff  but not himself, he mortgaged everything to keep things going. The plan was to move a few miles away into one bigger space, have his people come with him, especially his top booker C…. he needed that, the business needed that.
C found an empty store where another Salon went out of business. He saw an opportunity to open a new Salon without investing in building a facility. He convinced some of the  staff to come with him promising more money. Without notice, C and a number of stylists did not show up on a Tuesday. He took not only staff,  but improperly took clients as well. This was a violation of trust, integrity, and responsibility.  After 40 years, the attraction of easy money caused loyalty and dignified behavior to crumble.
B and I are relatively close, in a shattered state, he asked  me how do you explain this, how could this be,how do people .?  I said to him “Noah!”  “B you will go on, search and nurture the Next C, he or she will be there.”
Having been in business so many years and having many life relationships, I expressed that it is always a set back, a surprise, a shock and seemingly devastating when something like this happens. Knowing that it happens with consideration of what is revealed in Noah and elsewhere in the Bible , when it does happen we find a source for comfort and perhaps, inspiration.
One of Heschel’s Talmidim (students) Rabbi Dresner, encouraged by his Rebbe (Heschel)  wrote a fabulous book called the Zaddick on the work of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Portnoy. R. Yosef was the chronicler of the Chassidic Master, the Baal Shem Tov. In a chapter on leadership, there is an enlightening look at  Character  interpretations of Noah. I believe in contrast to Baal Shem’s outward, outreach behavior.
Very briefly, Noah is referred to in the beginning of the Parasha as a Zaddick, but not again. “Noah walked with G-d….”The story, he was chosen to save his family and species on the Ark. It concludes with his leaving, being Blessed by Hashem, planting a Vineyard and succumbing to it’s lure with destructive consequences to follow. How could this be? A Zaddick committed for so long, as it says, walking with G-d, blessed by G-d, abandons  expected behavior to help navigate the furthering of mankind for selfish satisfaction. This is in contrast to Joseph who is called Zaddick twice, he helped feed not only his family, but the world.
As R. Dresner’s commentary explains ( with plenty of footnotes from all star sages), in contrast to Avraham who “walked in front of G-d”, walking with G-d reveals that Noah was in essence in the Kollel, the learning institution, benefiting, satisfying only himself. Yes adhering to G-d’s ways but keeping it for his private world. Apparently in his generations that type of righteousness was unique. Avraham on the other hand, Walking In Front of Hashem, took the mission, message, His ways to the world and with an unselfish attitude, benefited all he came in contact with. He did not seek self gratification after his accomplishments.
In a fascinating analogy, it was also communicated that Noah was placed in solitude with the animals, a sense of Karma if you will,  because he kept himself to himself before the Mabul/Flood. Later that trait ultimately carried itself out in the unraveling behavior in that Vineyard.
So, what is the practical positive behavior, the inspiration we can take away relevant to my opening questions and the story presented?
One of the major theories and title of an enlightening work of Heschel’s is that  G-d is in Search of Man. That in essence (to be brief) G-d Needs Man. Part of the proof is that G-d stays with Man; first with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the ten generations prior to Noah, Noah and after-wards with a multitude of let downs to follow throughout the Bible. Even when a Zaddick  demonstrates flawed character after showing so much promise, G-d stays with and nurtures man time and time again, setting forth a vision for a righteous path, throughout the voyage of episodes that would  have any leader abandon ship. That is comforting, inspiring and loaded with implications of responsibility.
As Heschel says “Israel did not discover G-d, Israel was discovered by G-d….the Bible is a record of G-d’s approach to man.” Just as with our goal in life to grow, we find our search and need of fellow man as well.  It is a foundation for faith and commitment to mankind and to ourselves.
Heschel  cites Isaiah in his thesis, referring to Noah in the paradigm “I was ready to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said Here I Am, Here I Am.” To know that G-d needs us, is searching for us, he who has given us life, given us everything, the Torah, how can we let him and ultimately ourselves down, how could we seek that ready made salon?
It is so clear, everything is in the Torah. This notion appearing in our blueprint, our map of life indeed offers comfort by foreshadowing what may come in our lives and in turn provides the guidance in our interaction with others. If we truly are to walk in G-d’s ways, in front of G-d, we too must keep searching and working with others……and even ourselves!
From a profound point of view, if we take the concept “you talkin to me?” (the last two essays) and honestly look in the mirror…. sure, we  do incredible things, and walk with G-d from our perspective and say “You da man!”…think “not”. Know that life’s lures, the vineyards are there and we all succumb to them. Think of Heschel’s view on the commodity of time,  the commitments we make that saps our precious time…..what could be done to better yourself and others and not stay in your world for so much time. The aspiration is to walk in front of Hashem, to do, share, give, accomplish…that is leadership…and leadership is required in business, at home and with yourself. Don’t we fall into this Noah syndrome with ourselves. We feel we are doing the righteous thing, but with pure honesty can we say there are no ulterior motives, no self satisfactions, vanities sought? I could be a Zaddick part of the way, sure. But I know I’m not in the Avraham mold, however with this understanding that G-d knows that and communicates that to me through his Torah, I must and will continue to work with me, understand others and deal with the coming setbacks. I too will keep searching, accepting, applying and growing. I could deal with that.
By the way, that salon is rebuilding, there are new stars and business is solid.
Shabbat Shalom
Harold- Zvi Hersh Ben Naftali
About the Author
Co-founded with Nan Klein in 1976 one of the country's first video companies. We produce programming for the top organizations in the world. We live a fully Shomer Shabbat life in Woodmere, NY.
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