Shabbat shalom. I want talk about some of the questions about how righteous a person Noah really was. One of the questions that comes up is, did Noah do enough by building the ark and saving his family and the animals as God commanded? Should he have done more?
In one of the commentaries that I was reading, the eighteenth-century Chasidic master Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk said that there are two different kinds of tzadikim. One of them is “genuinely righteous” and the other is a phony tzadik. Both of them are like people who are suffering a cold winter and need to keep warm. Rabbi Elimelech taught, “One will go out and collect wood for a fire.” And the other one “will wrap himself in his fur coat.” The one who starts the fire “invites others to warm themselves in the fire. He not only warms himself but others too” while the other “tzadik” in the fur coat is only warming himself, and the others around him will freeze.
Many rabbis have compared Noah to Abraham. Rabbi Elimelech seemed to think that Abraham was like the wood collector—that is, the genuine tzadik --because he cared for others around him., Noah is like the man in the fur coat. The wood collector helps others and the man in the fur coat helps only himself. Noah was missing something. And that something was collecting wood for others. Any time you see someone, or even the WORLD struggling, you should make an effort to help.
Was Noah like a tzadik in a fur coat? I think he was because he didn’t fight like Abraham did, he didn’t really care about all of the people that were going to die. He showed that he didn’t care by not saying anything about the flood to the people in danger,
I that it was a test. I think God set Noah up to see if there was some righteous quality in the “most decent” man in the world. I think Noah failed the test. Why? A real or genuine tzadik looks out for others, not for just himself. Yes. Noah should have protested, just as Abraham did, when he heard that the world was going to be flooded. I do not think that Noah was a tzadik. But I do think he was a mensch.
I know Noah was a mensch because he followed directions and he saved the animals by building the ark. Rabbi Harvey Fields wrote in A Torah Commentary For Our Times Noah “did not doubt God’s commandment but faithfully carried it out.” Because he followed directions, Noah fixed the world. One mensch can fix the world.
This brings me to my own life. I know I’m not a tzadik, but I try to be a mensch. From all that I can remember from growing up, the thing that stands out as I’m reading this d’var Torah is every morning when I went to school my dad dropped me off saying -- sometimes yelling across the field—“Be a mensch!” I used to hate it. I hated that word. Mensch. It made me feel religious. My family wasn’t that religious, so that’s why I hated it. Whenever I would wake up I would say,
“Dad?” and he would say, “Yes, Ben?”
“Um, can you not say mensch?”
He would always laugh. And then when we would get to school he would say it again. He still says it. And even after school, he says “Were you a mensch today?” I always say yes.
But now I don’t care whether he says the word “mensch”. I’ve learned that I’m a Jew and one Yiddish word shouldn’t bother me. As I’ve grown up, I’ve shown that I’m a mensch by holding the door for people as they leave a building, picking something up if somebody drops it, and even saying please and thank you.
Lately, to prepare for our bar mitzvah. Matt and I have been trying hard to be a mensch. For our mitzvah project we have been helping Moreno and Benita do their jobs. When you went in this sanctuary this morning, the books were perfectly organized—Thank you Moreno. Now, they are probably disorganized. No, you don’t have to fix them this second, but next time you should make an effort to keep them neat. Benita does all the paper work and really keeps this synagogue running. We have been doing work with them like cleaning up after a bar or bat mitzvah or helping at the farmers market. It was pretty hard work if you ask me, but in the end, even when I was worn out from all the heavy work I still had a good feeling because doing a mitzvah always gives me a good feeling.
I’ve learned many life lessons from Moreno and Benita. 1. Sometimes, just do as you’re told without complaining. 2. If the work is easy or hard, it’s still worth doing. 3. You need to know when it’s time to relax and when it’s time to work. The lessons that I’ve learned are very important to me and I will cherish them deep down.
My brother and I would first like to thank all of our friends for all the help and support that you gave to us. We would also like to thank Rabbi Penzner for putting all that time she helped us to write this D’var Torah and the preparation. We would like to thank Victor for all the hard work and all the fun snacks and treats and really helping us learn the strategies and the Hebrew towards this Bar-Mitzvah. And you still have one of the best handshakes that we know of. We would like to thank grandparents Nana and Papa for all of the support and for getting us these amazing Tallits. Also we would like to thank our Mami who came all the way from France just to be here. Merci beucoup je taime. We would like to thank the relatives who have been there and have watched us grow up. We would also like thank Moreno and Benita for making our mitzvah project fun and easy. Also we would like to thank our sister who insisted on her thank you to be a page long, but because of time we can only get a couple of sentences in. Becca, you might be the world’s best schmeicheler. You’ve taught us a ton of things and thank you for all of the support. We would like to thank our parents for making this all possible and for the support you have given us during the past year. Lastly, thank you all for coming and attending our Bar Mitzvah. Shabbat Shalom.