Powerful Progeny

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

The Parshah begins by introducing us to Noach,"These are the offspring of Noach." Then, instead of naming Noach's sons, the verse continues, "Tzadik vetamim hayah bedorosov/Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation..., Noach walked with God" before continuing to name his offspring. The obvious question is why did the Torah insert this description of Noach as a righteous man, seemingly interrupting the logical sequence of the narrative?

Rashi offers two explanations. First, that when we mention the name of a tzadik who has passed, we usually follow it with, "May his name be for a blessing/zt"l," before continuing our dialogue. Rashi's second answer is that toldot/offspring refers to a person's good deeds that live on after them.

But Rabbi Bernstein points out, when Rashi cites two explanations, not choosing to cite only one, Rashi usually sees a connection between these two interpretations, especially here, since Noach had already been introduced to us in the previous parshah.

As we often discuss, Man's interactions exist on three distinct social levels: Man's relationship to other people, Man's relationship to God, and Man's relationship to himself. Here, we will begin our discussion with Noach's relationship with others, specifically how he interacted and raised his children, the continuation of the narrative.

The Peninei Daas notes how difficult it is to raise children, especially in a negative environment. The Torah here is praising Noach for being able to raise his children properly, given the corruption of that generation. He was able to be successful, posits the Peninei Daas, because his whole focus was to walk with Hashem. If you want to know about descendants, adds Sifsei Re'em, look at the parents, for children tend to follow the ways and ideologies of their parents. Look to Noach. If we want to ensure that our children are not just our biological offspring, but also our spiritual, ideological and behavioral offspring, we must model that behavior writes Yekutiel Shadovitz in Omek Haparshah. Children pick up on both our deeds and on our priorities. Where do we choose to spend our free time, at a shiur, shopping, or surfing our devices? What we focus on impacts our children and future generations.

It is not enough to focus only on doing good deeds yourself; you must focus on being a teaching model for your children, writes Rabbi Weiss in Shaarei Tuvyah. That was the greatness of Noach, that he took his children in his direction in spite of the mores of his generations. He invested his good deeds in his children. [I would imagine they helped Noach build the ark, just as many children today help build a sukkah. Hopefully, it is done with a laugh and a song, not with a groan and a backache. CKS]

Everything the father does is a lesson the children copy, from how he speaks in his home, to how he sits at the table, to how he walks on the path – all these speak louder than words in impacting our children as they grow up. How we inspire our offspring develop into our offspring.

Along these lines, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt"l offers the suggestion that we should love mitzvah observance and good deeds as we love our children. We should perform mitzvoth with love, not merely out of obligation, just as we care for our children with love. Nor should we expect perfection, although we can strive for improvement both in our children and in our mitzvah observance.

To make our mitzvah observance meaningful and impactful requires intent and focus, writes Rabbi Wolbe. Only then will it achieve its purpose. Work without planning, without a defined goal, usually disintegrates and achieves nothing. However, with the proper focus, the deed lasts and produces results, progeny. In the case of mitzvoth, the results may be seen generations later.

Interestingly, we know that even when a mitzvah is done without the proper intent, not for the sake of Heaven, it is nevertheless not in vain. Eventually it will impact the future and achieve an amazing result. In this context, Vayvinu Bamikra presents the example from the Torah that later positively impacted all of Jewish history. In the desert, when Balak King of Moav hired the Prophet Bilaam to curse the Jews, he was instructed to sacrifice forty two bulls to Hashem. Clearly, Balak's intention was not to honor Hashem, but to ingratiate himself so that the curses for hire would be effective against

Bnei Yisroel. Yet our Sages believe that in the merit of these sacrifices, Ruth, the matriarch of the Davidic dynasty and eventually of Moshiach, descended from him. [Interestingly, it was King David who would prepare the blueprints for, and his Son Shlomoh, who would build the Beit Hamikdosh where Jews would bring their own offerings to God in the future. CKS]. Our deeds create a ripple effect on future generations. A person may do many good deeds by rote, but a tzadik does his good deeds with love and intention, for, like his own children, his mitzvoth are part of his very essence.

What does kavanah/intention/focus look like? It can be compared to the love note attached to the flowers that a chatan/bridegroom sends his bride, writes Rabbi Garfinkel. Without that additional personal verbal embrace, the roses themselves have minimal meaning. [Rebbetzin Smiles takes this metaphor one step further. Can you imagine the groom telling his bride, "My mother told me to send you flowers."] Yet when we perform a mitzvah by rote, simply because we were told and trained to do so, without thought and appreciation for the opportunity of doing a mitzvah to show our love for Hakodosh Boruch Hu, to strengthen our connection, we are not much better. Our reward [and satisfaction] depends more on the quality of our mitzvoth than on the quantity of the mitzvoth.

With this mindset, continues Rabbi Garfinkel, we can turn almost any act into a mitzvah. Any time we smile at someone and lift them up, any time we anticipate doing a small chesed, bringing someone a glass of water or holding the door for the next person entering, if we can train ourselves to think of each of these actions as part of the mitzvah of veahavta lereiacha kamocha/love thy neighbor as thyself, we can transform the simple courtesy to mitzvah performance. We can look for these small opportunities to increase the number of mitzvoth we perform. While they take minimal to no effort on our part, they may be extremely important to the recipient.

The Tosher Rebbe zt"l makes an interesting observation. When the entire community and society are all righteous, it is not difficult to be righteous as well. There are many role models to emulate. However, both Avraham Avinu and Noach lived in societies that lacked these role models. They produced their own righteousness through their connection to Hashem. In that way, posits the Tosher Rebbe, Noach created himself; Noach was his own progeny! That is why we include him in our Rosh Hashanah liturgy.

From time to time, the Torah seems to repeat itself by saying a name twice. In the first verse of this parshah, we have "...Noach, Noach..." (Later, we have, "Avraham, Avraham," "Moshe, Moshe," and "Shmuel, Shmuel.") Rabbi Beyfus points out that indeed each of us exists on two levels, in an earthly persona, and in a spiritual, heavenly persona. His heavenly, angelic persona, his soul, becomes greater every time he performs a mitzvah, for each mitzvah creates an angel. It is this soul that enters eternal life after it separates from the body. Thus, Noach's righteousness created all those angels, his progeny, that ensured the life of his soul.

Many people go through their entire lives and never know who they truly are. We are not cookie cut ginger bread men and women. Each of us is unique. But if one does not recognize his personal uniqueness, his unique attributes, talents and skills, he will never achieve greatness. It is with this concept that Rabbi Weissblum understands Hillel's adage, "If I am not for myself, who is for me," if I cannot access who I really am, who am I?"

Have you actually internalized the lessons of your parents, or are we just following in their footsteps like lemmings? Even more than our children, have we worked on creating our true selves? Noach was able to stand up to others because he knew who he was, he was honest with himself and could therefore walk with God. In fact, as Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz points out, teshuvah means return, return to our true, inner selves.

If a person truly seeks to return to that pure essence, Rabbi Friefeld reminds us, he will indeed be helped by Heaven. We are not limited by how society has identified our limits, but by how we perceive ourselves, and by how we work on perfecting ourselves. This was Noach's greatness. He worked on his inner essence to walk with God, resisting all the temptations and mores of his society to achieve his personal salvation and the preservation of the world.