Matt Reinstein D'var Torah--Parshat Noah (Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan/October 25, 2014)

Shabbat shalom. Man. Nine months studying. I was NOT excited to begin. But now I realize that it’s not about what you do or sing for your preparation. My tutor who is also  my cousin, Rabbi Victor Reinstein, told me that it’s all about the experience and that you learn “man, that wasn’t that hard.” And he was right. I learned that if you just learn the strategy and the way to do things, it’s going to be easy.

Our portion was the story of Noah (If you couldn’t understand all the Hebrew I was singing, I’m going to give you a summary). If you don’t know the story of Noah, it’s about this guy named Noah who receives this message from God. God says because the world is so corrupt, he will destroy the earth by a flood. And Noah’s just standing there like, “Huh?” he doesn’t know what God’s talking about! So Noah, who’s completely baffled, has to create an ark to hold 2 of each animal in the world so there can be a world filled with animals after the flood.

One of the big debates about this portion is whether Noah was a tzadik, in English, a righteous person. I’m here to talk to you about what a tzadik is. First, lets talk about this big controversy. In a passage at the beginning of the portion, that God said to Noah, “You alone have I found righteous in this generation” IN THIS GENERATION, says God. While God still says that Noah alone God has found righteous, God says, “in this generation.” That’s what starts this big controversy.   Was Noah a tzaddik just in this generation, or would he have been a tzaddik at any other time? And what is a tzaddik, anyway?

A tzadik is a kind and caring person. They are very wise, and they think very hard about everything. In a book I just read, called Watchmen, there was this man named Adrian Veidt.   He wasn’t a tzadik, but he was the world’s smartest man. That’s what got me thinking. A tzadik isn’t the smartest person in the world, a tzadik is one of the wisest people in the world. Tzaddiks make decisions for the greater good of all people. Tzaddiks try to make decisions not that will please everybody, but ones that will help them.  

Some Rabbis say that Noah was only named righteous because he was righteous in COMPARISON to his generation, since his generation was so corrupt. From In the midrash, Genesis Rabbah 31:50, we learn just how corrupt they were. The Midrash states, “When a person brought a basket full of peas to the market place he would be surrounded by a group of people. Each would steal an amount worth less than a pruta (so small an amount that it was not considered a punishable offense). But soon the basket would be empty. The victim would be unable to present his case to a judge because each thief had cleverly taken less than the amount that was punishable by law.”

Other Rabbis say that Noah was not just a tzaddik in his own generation. I wonder if Noah was alive in the 21st century, would he be considered a tzadik? You need to think about it.

If Noah were part of our generation, I would consider him a tzadik. I mean, anybody who would create an ark that would hold 2 of EVERY animal in the world without complaint, WHILE his generation is so corrupt, has got to be a righteous person. Rabbi Morris Adler, an American rabbi in the 20th century, wrote in a sermon called The voice still speaks, “A great leader is not only a person of ideas, not only a person of personal integrity and devotion, but also a person of tenderness, a person of compassion… If he is insensitive to the sorrows of all people, all of his ideals and all of his personal qualities fail to confer greatness upon him.”  Noah would not be a tzadik in our day, according to Rabbi Adler because he only told his family about the Flood, but he didn’t tell anybody else about the flood.

A righteous person isn’t one who would do something unthinkable like fight a bear, a righteous person would fight a bear for other people. That’s a big difference. A righteous person puts family and friends before their life. Noah didn’t put friends before him.

Still, he is the only person that the Torah calls a tzaddik.

A tzadik could be serious, to try to keep everybody safe, or they could be funny to give everybody joy. They could be a little mix of both, but the main thing is that they care for other people. If you have someone who doesn’t care about other people’s feelings, I wouldn’t consider them a tzadik. If you have someone who’s cocky, and thinks too highly of themselves, I wouldn’t consider them a tzadik. They need to be humble. That’s one of the reasons why I think Noah was a tzadik. He was very humble. He just did as he was told. He never fought with God, he listened to him. That’s why I think Noah was a tzadik.  

In this process of learning what a tzadik is, Rabbi Penzner kept asking me, “How can you relate to being a tzadik? Is there anyone you know?” Well, yeah there are. For my mitzvah-project, I worked with Moreno and Benita. I think that Moreno and Benita are both tzadiks. Moreno and Benita help out around the Hebrew school, and the temple. They keep the school clean, they get food for the school, and they help get new furniture and they do the paperwork for the school and the projects that the shul is trying to do. For instance, I spent a lot of time working for  the farmers market down on Corey. Right near where that bank of America is. Man, they both do a TON. Benita helped with Amir to set up his stand, and she helped sell with him, and Moreno brought all the supplies that the shul needed to set up their stand. They have all the requirements to be a tzadik. They really care for the faculty and children who go to the Hebrew school.

Yes, there have been some times where I have been sent out of the classroom to go to Benita’s office and every time she would stop what she was doing no matter how important, and she ALWAYS helped me out to get back in shape. Moreno, He will do ANYTHING to keep our Hebrew school and the projects that HBT does clean and organized. They both have a great attitude for the Hebrew school and the community and that makes the shul a great place to be.

I learned a lot from this portion. I learned more about the story of Noah (of course) But most importantly, I learned what a tzadik is. I also learned what Rabbi Reinstein told me. When I was just getting into all this torah and haftorah stuff,  I wanted no part of it. I just thought it would be too hard. And don’t get me started on my reaction when I saw my first aliah. Terrified. My eyes were about to jump out of their sockets, they were so big. I looked up at Victor, and said, “Wait, that’s for me?” he looked down at me and said, “Yup” like it was no big deal. To me it was huge. Then he told me something that I’ll never forget. “You think NOW, it’s gonna be hard, tomorrow it’ll be nothing.” He was right. It was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. I look back on my preparation, it was no big deal just like Victor had said.


Posted on October 29, 2014 .