In Parashas Noach, we learn of the incredible chessed carried out by Noach when he cared for all of the animals in the teivah. Chazal tell us that he didn’t sleep during the entire time they were in the teivah. He tended to their needs like clockwork, and, when he was late on one occasion, sustained a lifelong injury from the disgruntled creature.
The world before the mabul was so corrupt, it needed to be reconstructed entirely. Society was so broken that it had to be rebuilt, and it had to be done on the foundations of chessed. Olam chessedyibaneh.
The Torah calls Noach an ish tzadik tamimbedorosav. Noach kept all the mitzvos and learned Torah, all the while building a teivah and imploring his generation to do teshuvah. There is no question that his actions reflected his status as a tzaddik. So how do we understand the Chazal that the phrase of tamim bedorosav can be understood as a genai, that he was only a tzaddik compared to his generation, but next to Avraham Avinu, lo nechshav l’klum – he would have been considered as nothing?
Some say that the genai wasn’t about Noach, but rather was something he, in his humility, thought about himself with regards to his status as a tamimbedorosa – that he wasn’t really a tzaddik, it was only compared to his generation that he looked favourable, but had he been born alongside greater people, he would not have been seen as a tzaddik.
How do we understand the dorshim l’genai? Why would we have a taineh on Noach for not reaching the level of Avraham Avinu? Is that how it works? You’re either as great as Avraham Avinu, or you’re nechshav l’klum?
Both Avraham Avinu and Noach excelled in chessed, but Chazal see fit to emphasize that Avraham’s chessed was on a higher level. So who was Avraham and what was his chessed?
Both Noach and Yosef were called ‘tzaddik’ because they provided people with food. If that is the criteria, why isn’t Avraham Avinu included? After all, he was the consummate machnis orach.
Chazal also tell us that Noach and Yosef’s chessedwas in a different league to Avraham’s. Chazal say tzedakah was yesheinah – dormant – until Avraham Avinu. But what about Noach’s chessed?
Another Chazal tells us that Avraham learned from Noach how to do chessed. How does this fit in with the other ma’amarim?
The chessed of Noach and the tzedakah of Avraham were different to one another.
The medrash in Iyov says that when suffering his hardships, Iyov said to Hashem, ‘why do I deserve this? I provide for the poor just like Avraham did.’ To which Hashem responded, ‘yes, but your chessed and Avraham’s chessed are planets apart. You did chessed because of your human conscience, to provide for the desperately needy. Avraham gave far beyond what was necessary, and in circumstances where he was personally exempt from any hachnasas orchim. He wasn’t doing it for his conscience.’
Noach, similarly, provided for all the animals in the world – but he did it because it was obviously necessary, and the humane thing to do. In an inhumane society, Noach was humane. Avraham’s innate middah of wanting to give for the sake of giving was something different entirely. Until he came along, it was dormant. He took it and turned it into a whole new sugya of selfless chessed.
Chazal call Noach ‘chacham lokeach nefashos’. The last letters of ‘Elokim mishalech Noach’ spell the word ‘chacham’. Why is Noach called a chacham? Because his act of saving the world came from chachmah – he was an intelligent, humane person. Avraham’s actions stemmed from the fact that he was a Yid – a ranchman, a bayshanand a gomel chasadim.
Until the hachnasas orchim in Parshas Vayeira, Avraham’s chessed was not mentioned in the Torah, because the chessed before that was necessary. His hachnasas orchim went far beyond that. It was carried out under unnatural conditions, in a state of great physical pain and weakness, to the nth degree. But Avraham needed to do chessed, and in fact, he would have felt worse if he wouldn’t have been able to do it!
When my rebbi, R’ Pam z’’l, was sick, I didn’t tell him when some of my children were born. Previously, I had told him about these simchos and he came to my oldest son’s pidyon haben. During a period of reprieve from the illness, I went to visit him, and told him that I had had more children. He was aghast that I hadn’t told him. I explained that I had not told him because I hadn’t wanted to bother him during this difficult time. He was genuinely perplexed. “Don’t you understand?” he asked. “If you would have told me that you had a baby, thatwould have made me feel better!”
That kind of chessed is in a different league to the humane – if heroic – act of feeding animals and keeping them alive. That kind of chessed can only be done after a bris milah, once Avraham was a Yid, a rachman.
That’s why Avraham doesn’t belong in the list of people who were meizin the bri’ah. He didn’t just sustain people. He brought down a whole new yesod of chessed, a middah that was domeh l’kono, parallel to the middas hachessed of his Creator.
Noach was criticized for not davening for his generation to be saved. Why didn’t he daven? Because he came to the logical conclusion that they hadn’t done teshuvah, and therefore did not deserve to be saved. That’s a chacham. Avraham Avinu, by contrast, did the opposite. The people of Sodomrepresented unbelievable cruelty, which was completely antithetical to everything Avraham personified – yet he davened for them, because his chessed was without cheshbon. He was an ishchessed, it became a part of him.
We say in Shemoneh Esrei – ki be’or panechanasata lanu toras chaim v’ahavas chessed. Why is toras chaim put together with ahavas chessed?
There’s humane chessed and toras chessed. Our Jewish mothers taught us about toras chessed – complete, selfless chessed. That’s why we say ve’altitosh toras imecha, and that’s why Torah and chessed are put together in sim shalom. When someone learns Torah properly, it becomes a part of him, and gives him a love of chessed.
Piha paschah b’chachmah, v’soras chessed al leshonah – the Jewish woman has chachmah, just like Noach, but she also has toras chessed, the innate chessed that goes together with Torah.
We say titein emes l’Yaakov, chessed l’Avraham. Why do we say it in this order? Avraham came before Yaakov. One can’t have real chessed without Torah, which is emes l’Yaakov. Once you acquire Torah, you can acquire the middah of chessed.
R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkel, z’’l, told over the following story when he visited Mir alumni in New York. There was a children’s shoe store near the Mir Yeshiva. When R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz passed it, he would gaze through the window. When asked by his talmidim why, he explained that he was watching Jewish mothers completely devoted to their children, tending to their every need. He wanted to absorb and take in this selfless devotion, which was in fact ruchniyus. That’s toras imecha.
The act of kevurah is known as chessed shel emes, because it’s done without any retribution. The SfasEmes explains that chessed shel emes means chessed that comes from Torah. When someone absorbs Torah, he does chessed for its own sake, not for any ulterior motive. The Torah teaches a person to become a selfless giver.
The medrash asks ‘what was missing in the dorhamabul? It was missing Torah.’ What does this mean?
Chazal say that the people of the dor hamabulwould steal less than a shaveh perutah. As long as they hadn’t done anything illegal, it was considered okay. The Torah, by contrast, has a completely different set of rules that go according to bein adamlachaveiro, not solely based on legal obligations. When an entire generation disregards the notion of bein adam lachaveiro, it descends to the worst depravities and needs to be destroyed.
Chessed is not just about what you do. It’s about how you do it. Hachnasas orchim doesn’t mean feeding guests. It means bringing a guest into your own home.
R’ Mordechai Schwab, z’’l, told me that everyone would come to his grandfather in Shanghai for chizuk. He only had half a tiny apartment that, according to the laws of physics, should not have been able to accommodate the throngs who flocked there. It was only possible, he explained, because his grandfather didn’t just admit these people into his house. He took them into his own heart, and when the heart is big enough, there’s room for everyone.
I remember that my grandfather z’’l, was always makpid that guests wouldn’t sit at a separate table, but they would always sit with the rest of the family, because they were considered part of the family. One of our regular guests was a talmidchacham who suffered a breakdown due to hardships in the war, and whose personal hygiene left a lot to be desired. At one of the meals, my grandfather noticed that nobody wanted to sit next to this guest. He moved over his own chair and brought the guest to sit next to him at the head of the table, like he was also the baal habayis.
The passuk says that Noach was told ‘bo atahv’chal beisecha lateivah’. What does beisecha refer to? Some explain that it means his wife. But when Noach was given the initial command, it says ‘atahv’ishtecha’. Why the change in lashon from ishahto bayis?
The Malbim explains that beisecha means possessions from the home. Why was it necessary for Noach to take his possessions into the teivah? He didn’t even take a year’s supply of food with him, and it was provided for him every day. Hashem understood what it meant for Noach to leave his home for a year. It’s like going into galus. In His infinite chessed, Hashem told him to take the contents of his home with him, to mitigate the hardship of leaving his house. That was part of olam chessed yibaneh.
Rabbi Hecht told me that when Russian immigrants came to America, no one wanted to work with them. He came to my grandfather to express his frustration that he had nowhere to place these unfortunate people. My grandfather responded, ‘I, too, am a Russian Jew! Bring them to me and I’ll help them out.’
Indeed, my grandfather spent a lot of time with them, giving them chizuk. One day, my grandfather asked Rabbi Hecht to bring him some Russian magazines. Rabbi Hecht was incredulous. Why would my grandfather want such publications?
My grandfather explained that his Russian visitors would wait outside his office in a waiting room surrounded by sefarim. Many of them were not familiar with them, and my grandfather worried that they would feel out of place. He wanted to put a stack of Russian magazines there so they could feel at home. That’s toras chessed.
One of the mispallelim in my shul has a teenaged son who is very sick r’’l. In Lakewood, there is an organisation called Mesameach, which brings singers to sick people for their enjoyment, and would always offer to facilitate a visit for his son. However, his son kept turning down their offers and his father kept telling the volunteers that his son wasn’t up to it. The tireless volunteers kept persisting, but the child never accepted their offers.
One day, I received a call from the organisation. One of the big-name singers was in CHOP, just 2 doors away from this boy. They asked me to call up his father and ask him if his son wanted a visit. His father, once again, told me that his son didn’t want it. These volunteers didn’t stop, though. They were determined to show this boy that they cared, and they went to buy two pens, which they gave to him as a gift. That’s called chessed – searching for ways to help out another person. The choleh might not have been up to the visit from the singer – but the volunteers of Mesameach wanted to do something for him. That’s the ahavas chessed that only a Yid has.