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D’var Torah: Parashat Noach

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In this week’s D’var Torah for Noach, the Chief Rabbi explains why we should aspire to live a life like Moshe rather than like Noach.

What would your first action be? Let’s say you’re on a journey to meet a child or a grandchild whom you haven’t seen in a long time. What would be going through your mind?

It would be those first few precious moments. The meeting. The warmth of the hug. The pleasure of being in the presence of that special person.

So let’s now ask, what was going through the mind of Noach in the Ark during the 40 days of the flood as he was contemplating that glorious moment when the earth would be dry once again. What would he do?

We find out the answer because the Torah tells us, “Vayachel Noach Ish Ha’adama Vayitah Karem – Once the flood was over, Noach, man of the earth, recommenced life by planting a vineyard.” And then very rapidly, from the grapes that grew, he made wine and he became drunk. So now we know what was on Noach’s mind – he was looking forward to getting drunk.

Rashi  says insightfully that the word ‘Vayachel’, in addition to meaning ‘Noach recommenced life’ from the word ‘Hitchil – To restart’, also comes from the word ‘Chol’ which is the opposite of ‘Kodesh’. ‘Kodesh’ of course is that which is sacred and holy. ‘Chol’ describes the everyday aspects of life.

Instead of looking forward to adding ‘Kedusha – that which is sacred’ in to this world, Noach was aspiring to a life which was rooted in the ground.

Sforno, one of our great medieval commentators, contrasts the life of Noach with that of Moshe. He reminds us how at the beginning of the Parasha, Noach was described as being “Ish Tzadik – A righteous man.” And by the end of the Parasha he is “Ish Ha’adama – Man of the earth.” Whereas at the beginning of Moshe’s life, he is described by Yitro’s daughters, who run home to announce that there is a new man in town, saying, “Ish Mitzri Hitzilanu Miyad Haro’im – An Egyptian man saved us from the other shepherds.”

Moshe starts out as an ‘Ish Mitzri’, a regular person from within society. On the day of his death, in Parashat Vezot Habracha, we are told he was an “Ish Ha’Elokim – A man of God.”

Therefore Sforno says we should not be like Noach, starting life as an ‘Ish Tzadik’; as angelic children blessed with a great Jewish family environment, a wonderful education, saturated in a glorious world of ‘Kedusha’ – only to be sucked into a life of that which is ‘Chol’ wherein one becomes an ‘Ish Ha’adama’, with material and physical pleasures being the only essence of one’s life.

Rather, says Sforno, on the contrary, we should be like Moshe. Starting out, everybody in this world is born in the same way but fired with potential. Let us therefore ensure that throughout the journey of life, we will become people attached to the Almighty and lead lives of sanctity.

If only we could all be like Moshe, whereby on our dying day, people will say, ‘Now there, there was an ‘Ish Ha’Elokim, a true person of God’.

Shabbat Shalom