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Parshas Noach - Nevermore

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 10/12/18

G-d remembered Noach and all the beasts and all the animals, that were with him in the Ark, and G-d caused a spirit to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided.(בראשית ח א)




At this turning point in the history of mankind, when G-d decides to implement His attribute of kindness in recreating the world, by stopping the flood and permitting Noach to begin the rebuilding of humanity as we know it, there are two glaring omissions.




Where are the children? Were they not remembered? Secondly, where are the birds? Weren’t they also saved in the Ark?




The brilliant and illustrious Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, who served as the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, during the period of the British Mandate, offers a magnificent answer.




Rashi informs that G-d ‘remembered’ how the animals that were permitted to enter the Ark had not previously perverted their ways, and additionally had refrained from mating in the Ark.




Yet there were three who couldn’t contain themselves; Cham, one of the son’s of Noah; the raven; the dog, who each mated during the flood.




It is for that reason, the great Rav claims, it omitted listing Noach’s children since one of them failed to be worthy of remembrance. The class of birds isn’t mentioned, as one of their ilk corrupted its way. The dog’s guilt is intimated in the emphasis specifically of both ‘beast’ and ‘animal’, excluding the dog whose identity as beast or animal is uncertain, as the Tosefta records a dispute whether a dog is classified as a beast or an animal.




So it would seem that we merited a renewal of the world due to creation’s ability to refrain from this powerful and natural instinct. Clearly animals have no free will and act out of instinct alone, but in the ‘petri dish’ of the Ark, the animals were so powerfully influenced by the atmosphere of righteousness and kindness that precluded man from indulging in pleasurable acts while the rest of the world was being destroyed, that they too intuitively reflected that sensitivity.




Yet there were two exceptions, the raven and the dog, who succumbed. Evidently their behavior mirrored the deficiency of Cham that found its expression in their failure as well.




What flaw led Cham to his own callous indulgence? What is it in the exact nature of these two creatures particularly among all of animal life that expresses this defect?




Noach was a remarkable person, upright in his character and steadfast in his faith.




He was an innovator, crafting instruments that would be more effective in ploughing more efficiently, bringing humanity relief in their otherwise exercises in futility. He was extremely disciplined in holding off of marriage until the age of five hundred years old, where others married at the age of one hundred, fearing that bringing children into a decadent world would be purposeless. Only when he was assured that he and his family would be saved, did he consider establishing a family. (בכור שור, רד"ק)




He was intolerant of those who wallowed in purposeless indulgence and mindless worship of stone and wood, and berated them for their behavior.(בר" לא א)




He isolated himself from their negative influences seeking to preserve his and his family’s purity.(זוה"ק ח"א נח)




He devoted himself to his parents, grandparents and living ancestors in providing their sustenance. (תדבא"ר טז)




Noach was clearly a high achiever who devoted his ample skill, immense time and powerful energy to accomplishing his personal goals. We can only imagine this father’s influence on his children, starting his role as a father at the ripe and accomplished age of five hundred.




There was one ingredient however missing, compassion for others. We are told that he never prayed for their salvation. The prophet refers to the flood as the ‘Waters of Noach’, casting blame at Noach’s doorstep for not having petitioned on their behalf.




Maybe that was the consequence of his having been so focused on his personal success and self-preservation, investing the energies necessary to get there. But in being wrapped up in one’s own goals, no matter how noble, one must feel compassion for others and pray for their welfare. Despite his need to castigate their behavior lest he become complacent in his own commitment, one must still never give up hope on others.




Perhaps his children growing up in this intense and noble environment of achievement became too engrossed in their personal ambitions as well. But not every child can rise to the success and expectations of their parent. Unless there is a constant reassertion of a parent’s unconditional love when goals aren’t achieved, one is liable to seek artificial success and power, or despair and wallow in self-pity, finding momentary joy in the pursuit of empty pleasures and distractions.




People who lack honest self-definition will cruelly seek to gain credence by demanding respect and allegiance from others.




Cham we are taught, emasculates his father, to assure a fourth son not be born, so he can preserve his stature without any new competition to interfere in his conquests.




The raven is known as an extremely selfish bird, which would turn against its own offspring if they even suspect their lack of allegiance. Noach in fact in his perspective that everything must have purpose and direction dispatches the raven from the Ark with no stated intention other than to rid himself of this bird, in disgust after observing the raven’s failure to refrain from mating, questioning what value this creature can benefit man. (אוה"ק , המלבי"ם)




Cham at times weakens, and when he can’t gain the standing he desperately pines for, and lacking any true inherent character or identity to uplift him with, seeks the soothing comfort of pleasure, as evidenced in his indulging in intimacy while the world withered. He also exhibits his inability to respect himself by finding it comical when he observes his father naked in a drunken stupor.




Perhaps it is the dog that has no clear identity, neither clearly a beast nor animal that finds its happiness in sensual indulgence without any shame that represents this facet of Cham’s blemished persona.




At the end of the day even these three find purpose. The raven will one day bring much needed food to the prophet Eliyahu. The dog turns into man’s best and loyal friend. Pharaoh, a descendant of Cham, becomes the king of Ninveh, leading its inhabitants to become a paradigm of the possibility for genuine repentance even amongst the nations.




May we never lose sight of the forest for the trees. May we always hold out hope that even the most decadent can find their repair.




באהבה,


צבי יהודה טייכמאן