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Parshas Noach 5759

Parshas Noach 5759

For Goodness Sake

“And Hashem went down to see the city and the citadel that the people had built. And Hashem said, They are a united people and have a single language for everybody, and this is what they are beginning to do?! Should it not be withheld from they to do as they have schemed?! Let us go down and confuse their languages so that one will not understand the speech of his neighbor. And then Hashem dispersed and scattered them across the face of the entire earth, and they even ceased building their city.” (Bereishis 11:7-8)

An interesting point to take note of, is that the name of Hashem throughout the story of the Tower of Babel, is Ado-noy, the name which denotes Hashem’s attribute of kindness and mercy. This is in juxtaposition to the name Elo-kim which was used during the Flood and denotes judgment, might and severity. What is different about the conduct of the generation of the Tower that Hashem related to them from Chesed more the generation of the Flood?

Rabbenu Nissim, in the first drasha of Droshos HaRan, questions why the generation of the Tower deserved such a punishment. After all their goal was to unite as a people and to live in harmony, what is so unforgivable about that?

Rabbenu Nissim writes that there is power in unity. Whenever there are elements who are united in their ideas and goals, they acquire a power far greater than their equivalent numbers. This rule holds true whether or not the group has gathered for a holy or an unholy purpose. If the gathering is one of nefarious people, then this character is duly bolstered and strengthened.

This idea is already expressed in the Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin (71b), “An assembly of scoundrels is bad for them and bad for the world. A dispersal of scoundrels is good for them and good for the world.” (The opposite is true for Tzaddikim.) The meaning is clear. Even if these scoundrels only get together without any speeches or planning, just the fact that they are assembling is bad for the world, since the unity of their assembly affirms and fortifies the quality of evil in them.

This idea has two sources. Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah was very successful in a war against a marauding Syrian navy. He turned the people towards Hashem and made a great public prayer gathering and sanctification of Hashem's name. Because of that he was victorious. Yet later, when he only made a partnership in a ship building venture with the evil King Ahaziah, Hashem reversed his fortunes. All because he connected himself witha scoundrel. (Chronicles II, 20).

Shlomo HaMelech said, ‘Two are better than one; they have a good reward for their efforts." (Koheles 4:9) Just like two people who are together in one bed, even if they have no intention of the benefiting the other, it is warmer for them than if they were alone. All the more so when two or more people are of like mind and spirit and desire to engage in mitzvos and other holy deeds.

This explains why Hashem came down to inspect the tower and city that the people were building. He went down into the bottom of their souls to see of they were people of an inherently evil or nature. And even though they maybe didn’t intend any evil, if they were evil then there unity would be bad for the world. Therefore, Hashem, seeing their evil nature, took the action most appropriate, he scattered them and confused their language so that their unity would be broken. It can then be understood that Hashem’s action was not a punishment, but rather an action that was, as the Talmud above described, as good for them and beneficial for the world. That is why Hashem’s name of mercy and kindness is used throughout the story.

The Ultimate Bond

How important is the aspect of unity to Jewish survival and spiritual prosperity. “Hinei mah tov u’mah nayim, sheves achim gam yachad. How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together.” (Psalms 133) The Yesod HaAvodah of Slonim interpreted, “How good is it when beloved brothers sit together, even if they exchange no words of Torah or Avodas Hashem. The light of their affection and loyalty bonds together until they achieve expression of ‘Ner Hashem Nishmas Adam, The candle of God is the soul of man. (Proverbs) Soul is written in the singular. This collective light is brilliant enough drive away all forces of impurity.

This is why Chassidus stresses the idea of sheves achim, Jews gathering together in study, friendship and conviviality.

This devotion and love between Jews is so important that chassidim used to say that it even takes precedence over making a connection with the Rebbe! For anytime ten Jews together the Shechina, the divine presence is with them. (Sanhedrin 39a)

What a great gathering it is when ten or more Jews gather to pray or to a make a Mitzvoh meal or to engage in any other mitzvoh! How much potential for holiness exists in such a gathering of Jews.

This idea is also inherent in Shabbos Kodesh. The Midrash states, “Shabbos came and complained before Hashem, ‘All the other days of the week have a mate and I am the odd one out.’ Said Hashem, ‘Don’t feel badly, for the Jewish people will be your mate.’” (Bereishis Rabbah 11)

Can a single Jew really be on the level to be the partner of Shabbos? Actually, it takes all the Jewish people together to make a suitable partner for Shabbos. When Jews gather together in prayer, praise Hashem and bask in the holiness of the day, then KlalYisrael is a suitable partner for Shabbos.

The Beis Avraham of Slonim used to say, that one should go to great lengths to congregate with other Jews on Shabbos, for it is the essence of the day.

Straight From the Heart

Rebbe Yisrael of Ruzhin zt"l once stayed in a town called Sanek during one of his travels. Of course, everybody came out to greet him since the reputation of the Tzaddik preceded him everywhere he went. Among those who came to greet Reb Yisrael were some Jews who were not adherents of the Chassidic path. These Misnaggdim decided to vent their hostility on Reb Yisrael.

"Tell us", they challenged, "It is very difficult for us to understand. Our custom is to arise well before the break of dawn, to pray the morning prayer at sunrise according the custom of the Vasikin. After we finish praying, we remain for some time in the Shul, still wrapped in Tallis and Tefilin and we learn Chumash and Mishna before we leave. Even as we put away the Tallis and Tefillin we learn chapters of Tanach by memory. The rest of the day, we maintain fixed times when we gather for additional study in the Shul. For this behavior we are labeled Misnaggdim?! (opposers).

You, (the Chassidim) your way is to pray the morning prayer long after the prescribed time for doing so, and immediately after the prayer, instead of dedicating time for study, you race to set the table. You bring out cake and brandy, and you sit together drinking, eating and singing. For this you are called Chassidim?! (pious) It seems to me to be quite the opposite."

Reb Leib, the attendant of the Rizhiner after hearing these accusations could not hold himself in. "I'm not surprised," he imputed. "Your whole service is performed with so little heart, in such a calculated, chilly and lifeless manner, it is no wonder that you learn Mishnayos afterwards, for that is what one learns in memory of the dead! (Mishna has the same letters as the word neshama, N*Sh*M*H) Not so the service of the Chassidim. Whatever we do, no matter how much, or how little, wedo with devotion, warmth and vitality. A living man needs a drink of brandy once in a while."

But before he could go on, the Rizhiner interrupted him. "You should realize that he is just joking. I will tell you the real reason for our way of praying and the secret of L'Chayim.

It is well know that since the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash our prayer takes the place of the sacrifices which were offered there. As it is written, (Hosea 14:3), "The prayer of our lips shall replace the oxen of the sacrifice." Our three daily prayers correspond to the daily burnt offerings. Just as a sacrifice was rendered invalid by undirected thoughts, so too is our prayer.

When a man stands in prayer before his Creator, the Yetzer Hara wants nothing more than to confuse him and introduce all manner of strange thoughts into his head. How is it possible to stand in prayer in face of that? In the end, we are not successful in replacing the oxen of the sacrifices with our prayers. What did the Chassidim find to remedy the problem, and with which to battle against the tricks of the Yetzer Hara?

After the Prayer, the Chassidim sit together, raising their glasses in L'Chayim, and pouring out their hearts in blessing. "Yankel, you should find a proper shidduch for your daughter," exclaims one. "Beryl, your business should have have customers like the eyes on a potato," exclaims another.

The Yetzer Hara, regales in his victory over having confounded the prayer of a congregation of Jews. Seeing them eating and drinking, he concludes that their prayer is finished for the meantime, and he retires for the morning.

Now, it is a Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), that prayer can be said in any language that one understands. (Orach Chaim 62:2) Therefore when Jews gather to say L'Chayim and to bless one another from the depths of their hearts, it is the real Tefilah, and it goes straight to the heart of the Master of the World.
(Based on Nesivos Shalom, Parshas Bereishis)

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