Wednesday, November 02, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In parshas Noach we are reintroduced to the great tzadik, Noach. The Torah recounts that as the world degenerated into a morass of depravity, immorality and dishonesty, Noach found favor in the eyes of Hakadosh Boruch Hu.

The posuk says that Noach was a righteous man, a tzadik tomim, in his generation. There are different interpretations as to why the Torah uses this qualifying expression “in his generation.”

Some interpret it derisively. They say Noach was only great in comparison with the people around him who were far beneath him. Had he lived in the generation of Avrohom Avinu, he would not have been considered anything special.

Others interpret the expression as a mark of added respect. If he remained good in a generation of evil, he would have been even better in the generation of Avrohom.

In the words of Rashi, yeish dorshim oso leshevach veyeish dorshim oso legenai, some look at him favorably and some with disfavor.

Many have asked what the purpose is of belittling Noach and appraising him so critically. Among the many answers given, I would like to suggest that the Torah is reminding us that no one is perfect; genai, disparaging information, can be found about anyone.

If a committee had been formed to find someone to build a teivah and then rebuild the world, how likely is it that that Noach would have been chosen?

The selection committee would have said he has the wrong accent; they would have said he has no experience in construction and thus is ill-suited for a job which requires putting a boat together over a period of 120 years. He was never a carpenter and never apprenticed in any of the trades. Who in their right mind would deem him an acceptable candidate for building a ship upon which the survival of mankind and the animal world depended?

Others would have complained that he was not known for his expertise in animal care. How could he be expected to live in close quarters with all the animals of the world and care for their needs if he didn’t specialize in veterinary care?

Part of his job description was that he would stand in his driveway for 120 years building the teivah, prompting passersby to ask him what he was doing. He would tell them that a mabul was coming and that they should repent in order to save themselves.

The selection committee would have sat around the table facing their candidate with glum faces. They’d ask him what kiruv experience he had; did he take any public speaking courses? What made him think he was qualified to preach to the world for over a century?

People tend not to see the big picture when examining a candidate for an important position. They look for flaws, they look for external factors; they look for education and degrees. They don’t generally look into the person’s soul and determine if he is a righteous, G-d fearing man; if he has fire in the soul and if he is made of the right stuff.

They get caught up with the genai and don’t get to see the shevach.

The Torah specifically wrote about Noach in a way that is open to interpretation to teach us that even though to superficial observers Noach may not have been the most qualified candidate and could have been perceived bederech genai, in the eyes of Hashem he found favor. Hakadosh Boruch Hu looked throughout the world and found this one man, a tzadik tomim, and selected him for the job of building the teivah.

Don’t look for the genai in a person. If you do happen to find it, don’t let that blind you from allowing him to move up the ladder of life and responsibility, because shortcomings can even be found in a person the Torah testifies was pure and righteous.

Many years ago my rebbe, Rav Mendel Kaplan zt”l, brought me a gift. It was a crumpled yarchon - journal he had found in the sheimos. Its brown pages crinkled as he handed it to me. I looked at him quizzically and asked what type of gift he was giving me. “There is a very good article here written by your great-grandfather.” he replied. “I want you to read it and remember it.”

A passage written in that journal by my great-grandfather, Rav Yaakov Haleivi Lipschutz of Kovno, Lithuania, in the year 1887, comes to mind:

“An illness which plagues the masses is their faulty judgment in choosing whom to respect and whom to disrespect. They live calm, boring lives and they respect people who are apathetic and indifferent.

“They lack sensitivity for anything good, nor do they lift a finger to contribute to the public betterment. As far as they are concerned the entire world can be destroyed, but they will not go beyond their own daled amos and their own closed circle to worry about anything besides themselves.

“These people praise themselves to others by openly declaring that they do not get involved in any causes. The masses in turn heap honor upon them and present them as paragons of virtue and righteousness. When these people die, they are eulogized for never having offended anyone and never having hurt a fly.

“Such praise is deserving of blocks of wood or inert stones, not of a human being with a living soul inside him. Such people who can only be praised as good husbands don’t care a wit about the local Bikur Cholim; nor do they care about helping yeshivos, the elderly, the hungry and/or the indigent.

“If there is a local dispute or any communal problem, these people don’t lift a finger to try to alleviate the situation.

“Such people who work only to stuff their own mouths, never getting involved or performing any acts on behalf of the community at large, are praised by the masses.

“Meanwhile, those who ignore their own personal egos, who, while seeking no honor for themselves, freely give their time and energy and spend their days working on behalf of others, are targeted and derided by the masses.

“They are called kanaiim, baalei machlokes; they are accused of not being serious people, of seeking to cause others to fail. Sometimes malicious gossip is spread about these good people. Their family members get fed up and complain about their communal involvement, referring to the slander and negative publicity their work has stirred up.

“If these good people manage after much hard work and heartache to finally accomplish something good, their detractors rise up in indignation. Included among them are the aforementioned “indifferents” and those who supposedly seek to find good people for positions of communal responsibility even as they lament that such people don’t exist.

“They are small-minded, jealous and suspicious. Instead of being honest and forthright and throwing their support behind men of action, they permit their negativity and cynicism to overcome them.”

We should always seek out excellence and we should always strive for the best. When seeking to fill positions of leadership and responsibility, we should definitely search out the preeminent person for the job.

People of character do not bend in the wind nor do they bow to convention. They fight for what is right. At times they roll up their sleeves and get dirty. Sometimes they offend certain people by their unyielding stances, but when they are right, they do not crumble.

Nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Imperfection should not automatically discredit or disqualify a person.

Parshas Noach teaches us to ignore the drashos of genai. Noach was an ish tzadik tomim and he was not diminished in the eyes of Hashem because he had detractors.

When we find ourselves in a position to judge, hire or appoint people, we should take heed of the Torah’s lessons regarding Noach. If the person is righteous and upstanding, with a heart and soul aflame with kindness, goodness and a passion for good causes, we should look upon such a person with chein – favor and grace.

We may not be able to save the world, but we can make it a better place in which to live.


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