Noach: Flood Lights

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Flood Lights

Consider a simple verse that describes the opening of the floodgates [7,11]:

… on that day, all the wellsprings of the great deep, burst open, and the windows of the heavens were opened.

One chapter later, God closes up shop [8:2]:

… The wellsprings of the deep were closed, and [so were] the windows of the heavens …

The careful reader will note two adornments in the first verse that are absent in the second. Rashi is sensitive to both differences. We will focus on one. (I’ll leave you guessing on the other)

When they were opened [7,11] it was written: “All the wellsprings” whereas, here [8,2] “all” is not written.

So what’s the solution? Rashi proceeds to paraphrase the Talmud (1).

This is because some of them remained [open] those for which the world had need, such as the hot springs of Tiberias and the like.

In other words, the precise omission of the word all is to indicate that not all of the flood wellsprings were resealed; some remain open for business (to this very day); most notably, the hot springs of Tiberias.

A cute answer – but what’s the depth of this Midrash?

Four days ago, a woman unexpectedly shared with me a painful personal episode – one that had happened over 50 years ago. As she told her sad tale, I watched an incredibly sophisticated mother, grandmother and matriarch of a stereotypical perfect Jewish family, unravel into the vulnerable twenty something year old she was describing. Her tears and trembling voice taught me that one may move on but never beyond. At any rate, I was grateful to be a part of her catharsis.

Her closing words greatly moved me:

Rabbi as I look back on my life, it is clear to me: all that which I have achieved (“perfect family and all”) would have been impossible if not for those terrible years.

Al tivieinu lo lidei nisayon. Each day in our morning liturgy, the Jew beseeches the Master of the Universe, do not test me. And yet, the Lord’s incalculable ways don’t always conform to our wishes. Ah mentsch tracht und Got lach. Man plans and God laughs.

Can you imagine the loneliness of a Noach? Consider his fatigue and overwhelming depression. How poignant is the midrash (2):

Noah argued: Just as I entered the Ark only when I was permitted, so may I not go out save with permission. R. Judah b. R. Ilai said: Had I been there I would have broken it and gone out! Noah, however, said: I entered with permission and I will leave with permission. Thus: Come thou into the ark- And Noah went in; Go forth from the Ark-And Noah went forth.

Sans a command, no one would have left the ark. Not the people, nor the animals. Who can blame them?

And yet, compelled by Divine mandate, Noach & company summon the courage to carve out a new life in a lonely world (3).

R. Levi said: Everyone of whom it is said that he ‘was ‘ (hayah) saw a new world. Said R. Samuel b. Nahman: And they are five. Noah: …And the sons of Noah that went forth, etc. (Gen. IX, 18)! Joseph: yesterday, His feet they hurt with fetters (Ps. CV, 18), while now, And Joseph was the governor over the land (Gen. XLII, 6)! …Moses: yesterday he was fleeing from Pharaoh

How many Noachs has our generation seen! How forlorn must the Klausenberger Rebbe have been, emerging from the European inferno to start again – after losing his wife and 11 children. His fate, like that of so many others so closely parallels the Noach story.

And yet from the millions of destroyed worlds emerged a courageous and resilient people. Individuals who knew no answer for lamah (why) chose instead to focus on lemah (for what). They saw what was important, learned nobility of spirit and the value of an exalted life. They saw how power can poison man, that wealth and fame is ephemeral and no one can really know what will be. Emerging onto a lonely new world they transformed their trauma into triumph, built Torah on new shores and developed Eretz Yisrael beyond anybody’s wildest dreams.

No, not all the flood springs were closed. Davka from destruction, a new edifice emerges – for it is the crucible of crisis that creates greatness.

And so it was and so it is – the Tiberian hot springs, remnants of a destroyed world, now serve constructively to heal and bathe, warming the world with their therapeutic powers (4).

Good Shabbos, Asher Brander

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FOOTNOTES:
1. Sanhedrin, 108a: אמר רבי יוחנן: שלשה נשתיירו מהם: בלועה דגדר, וחמי טבריא, ועיניא רבתי דבירם
2. Bereishis Rabah, 34:4
3. Bereish Rabah, 30:8
4. A related notion of emerging from personal defeat is highlighted in a famous and remarkable letter from R. Hutner [Pachad Yitzchak: Igrot U’ketavim – 128]. He responds to a struggling student who had left the yeshiva and wrote: “I will never forget the desire that I once had to succeed and to climb ‘from strength to strength,’ but now, my hope is lost.

Your letter reached my hand, and your words touched my heart. Know, my friend, that your very letter belies the descriptions that it contains. Now, let me explain this statement. It is a terrible problem that when we discuss the greatness of our gedolim, we actually deal only with the end of their stories. . We recount their untainted ways, but omit any mention of the inner battles which raged in their souls. The impression one gets is that they were created with their full stature… we all express amazement at the verbal self-control of the Chofetz Chaim. But who knows all the wars, the struggles, the pitfalls, the failures, and the defeats which the Chofetz Chaim encountered as he struggled with his evil inclination… Your letter testifies that you are a faithful warrior in the army of the yetzer hatov. In English there is a saying, “Lose the battle and win the war.” You surely have stumbled and will stumble again, and you will be vanquished in many battles. However, I promise you that after you have lost those battles, you will emerge from the war with a victor’s wreath on your head.

The wisest of all men [King Shlomo] said [Mishlei 24:16], “The tzaddik will fall seven times and will rise.” The unlearned think that this means, “Even though a tzaddik falls seven times, he will rise.” The wise know well that the meaning is: “Because a tzaddik falls seven times, he will rise.” On the verse [Bereishit 1:31], “And Elokim saw all that He had made and it was very good,” the midrash comments, “‘Good’ refers to the yetzer hatov; ‘Very good’ refers to the yetzer hara.” If you had written to me of your mitzvot and good deeds, I would have said that it was a good letter. Now that you tell me of your falls and stumbles, I say that I have received a very good letter from you.


Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.