This week’s Parasha tells the tragic tale of the Generation of the Great Flood. The world’s population had grown more and more sinful in the 1500 years since Creation, as people began engaging in idol worship, theft, and the worst and lowest immoral acts.
In fact, the depravity had reached such a level that the animals and even the earth itself had become contaminated- “For all flesh had corrupted from its way upon the land.” (-Noach, 6:12)
Thus, Hashem brought a flood that would wipe out not only most of mankind, but most of animal and plant life as well; they- and even a layer of the terrain- needed to be destroyed, allowing for a “reset” of Planet Earth.
Noach spent a full 120 years building a ship that would house him and his family, along with many animals, birds, insects, and plants. Although the lengthy project was meant to inspire people to ask Noach about his work, bringing them to repent when hearing of the coming flood, they were unmoved- and mocked and even threatened Noach. Eventually, the tragedy came to pass; all of those doubters, sinners, and scoffers perished together with most of Hashem’s handiwork. Noach and his family survived in the ark for a full year, until the land finally dried and Hashem allowed them to exit.
Commentators quote the holy Zohar, who equates Noach with… Shabbat.
Noach is Shabbat…
-Tikunei Zohar 54a
What could this concise, cryptic statement mean?
The Zohar is cited elsewhere (Volume III) as linking the name “Noach” with the word “Nach,” which means “rest.” Thus, Noach hints at Shabbat, which is the day upon which Hashem “rested:”
Because for six days Hashem made the heavens and the land, the oceans and everything in them, and He “rested” (“vayanach”) on the seventh day. Therefore Hashem blessed the day of Shabbat and made it holy.
Of course, deep kabbalah is beyond us. Fortunately, in this instance we are given a glimpse into the ‘simple meaning’ of the holy Zohar’s words.
We may understand the connection between Noach and Shabbat in our verses by taking a ‘bird’s-eye view’ of the passage at the end of last week’s Torah reading.
The Torah first listed the terrible spiritual devastation wrought by Noach’s generation. Everyone and everything had been corrupted- “The wickedness of man was great on the earth,” and “…the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually.” (-Bereisheet, 6:5)
Then, the verse tells us that Hashem was “sad” about his creation:
Hashem ‘regretted’ that He had made Man on Earth…
Then Noach is singled out. Unlike everyone around him, he was worthy of salvation:
But Noach found favor in ‘Hashem’s eyes.’
The Nesivos Shalom, with this in mind, cites the explanation of the Chozeh of Lublin:
Being that Noach is identified as ‘Shabbat’ here, the Torah is teaching us the power of Shabbat; even if a person finds himself in a very bad spiritual position (and is on track to face severe consequences for his actions), the merit of properly observing the holy day can sometimes save him from difficult punishments.
In other words, the Nesivos Shalom says, Shabbat thereby acts as a Teivah, an ark, protecting the Jew from his own sinful ways.
Why does Hashem give us special protection through our keeping Shabbat?
The Nesivos Shalom teaches that Shabbat possesses distinct properties relevant to this idea. Shabbat is the “source of our attachment to Hashem,” a day designed to make us more conscious of Hashem and that He created and sustains the world. In addition, this day is an expression of Hashem’s desire to reveal His presence even in our lowly physical world. Shabbat, then, combines the protective nature of an ark with the uplifting nature of the Beit Hamikdash, a holy sanctuary. Thus, we are not just protected, but also spurred to self-improvement and a closer relationship with Hashem.
Aside from the specific strength of Shabbat, we also derive a vital lesson about every person’s spiritual journey- namely that one must never give up on himself. Just as the ark salvaged the goodness of Noach and his family from the destruction of a broken and sinful world, so, says the Nesivos Shalom, must we each, on an individual level, focus on the positive part of ourselves. Again, a person can know that he has broken the most severe Torah laws, yet still believe that he is worth salvaging.
These thoughts are famously alluded to by David Hamelech…
But a bit more, and there is no evil; you shall look well at its place, but it will not exist.
-The simple meaning of this verse is that Good will one day triumph over evil, banishing sin and impurity forever.
On another level, these words actually provide a lesson for how to view ourselves (and others):
There must always be “a bit more that has no evil.”
Whatever mistakes someone may have made until this point in his life, however badly he may have ruined his character and personality through negative actions, thoughts and feelings, he must recognize some goodness in himself, a redeeming quality or deed through which he can yet build himself. The Teivah, in this light, symbolizes the spark to be protected from one’s own dark elements.
Rav Nachman of Breslov, who taught and emphasized this novel reading, would explain that not only is the redeeming quality- or the “good point,” as he calls it- motivation to keep trying, but it is actually the source of a person’s growth.* That is, the very ‘act’ of one focusing on his small spark can cause it to grow into a larger flame, ultimately elevating the whole person.
Moreover, Rav Nachman explains that this is entailed in the Mitzvah to judge other people favorably (Kedoshim, 19:15). We are instructed not just to presume innocence when possible, but also to see some goodness within obvious fault. Even when looking at an established sinner, one should try to find something positive in that person. In fact, here too, one who does this well actually has the power to elevate the evildoer!
In a similar vein, Rav Yerachmiel Yisroel Yitzchok Dancyger, the “Yismach Yisrael” (Rebbe of Aleksander; Poland, 1853–1910), expounded on our verse, in Rabbi Baruch’s name, as follows:
Even though I have sinned, there is nevertheless a small piece in me that remains. That is, no matter how bad a Jew may have become, there is a part of him that cannot be ruined: the “inner point” in the depth of his being that remains pure. Thus, at the end of this verse David (on his extremely high level) was actually praying to Hashem:
“Look well at this place in me, and see that this has not been corrupted by sin.”
Perhaps we may add one more thought, based on the above. The very word that describes Hashem’s disappointment, as it were, in mankind- “vayinachem,” and He ‘regretted’– itself contains the word nach! Hence, we may say that Hashem alluded to this point from the start, even at what was Mankind’s lowest point! This particular word, at this painful juncture, shows us that even when there is a need for a sinner to completely change his ways, there is still something good there, a soul still able to connect with- and take shelter in- Hashem. And just as Noach was the good which Hashem identified in the world, so that the world would not be totally destroyed, but rather “re-set,” so is each one of us worthy of building on our internal goodness, and should feel empowered to make the necessary changes.
Let us all learn the lessons of Noach’s ark. May we constantly strive to improve our observance of both Shabbat’s laws and its spirit, and may we never, ever give up on ourselves or on our fellow Jews. Let us grow closer to Hashem by elevating ourselves and others, despite the storms that may rage around us.
* Rav Nachman said that even if someone would have no discernable form of personal goodness, his identity as a Jew, and thus as Hashem’s child, should be enough for him to avoid depression and despair.
Have a great Shabbat!
Elli Schwarcz is an alumnus of the Toras Moshe, Ner Israel, and Carteret Yeshivos, and has been involved in Jewish outreach for almost 15 years. He is a Hebrew School and English Language Arts teacher, and has a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Johns Hopkins University. Of all his pursuits, Elli most enjoys teaching high-level Jewish thought and Talmud to teenage boys, exposing them to the beauty and wisdom of their heritage while highlighting their own ability to engage in advanced Torah learning. Elli lives in Lakewood, New Jersey, with his wife and children.