Rabbi Shmuel Brazil
The Two Lives of Noach Past and Future | Parshas Noach
What was the secret of Noach's ability to become and remain a צדיק תמים against all odds in a generation that fostered the pursuit of depravity and decadence? We suggest that the Baal Haturim alludes to the answer by saying that the end letters of האלהים התהלך נח are the letters of חכם. That the reason why Noach was able not to be influenced and swayed by his culture but rather to preserve his relationship with Hashem, was because he was a חכם. One might ask how wisdom alone could rescue a person from being swallowed up by his environment which was promoting his antithesis. We could answer that Noach did not acquire merely secular or worldly wisdom but rather he possessed the wisdom of the Torah as Rashi brings (Bereishis 7,2). Chazal tell us that Torah is the blueprints of the world and therefore one who learns Torah acquires a supernatural wisdom that can protect him from succumbing to the forces of nature.
However we can suggest another interpretation to the word חכם which would reveal another type of arsenal that didn't allow the culture to penetrate and hijack his moral compass. Chazal say (Avos 2,9) איזהו חכם הרואה את הנולד who is considered a Chacham one who sees into the future. One of the greatest and available safety nets for an individual to stay out of trouble is his ability to think before he acts of the future liabilities and repercussions that will stem from them. How many relationships have we damaged only because we didn't momentarily press the brake before we spoke, looked, touched, heard, got angry, spent etc. When the yetzer hara turns on the heat of desire for whatever it is, our minds immediately shuts down and the yetzer hara could then sell us even the Brooklyn Bridge as the saying goes. The intervention that is needed during this dangerous process is to step back for a moment and think clearly what the worst scenario outcome of your actions will be. When reason sets in even for a moment, the hot air gushes out from the balloon and one immediately realizes how foolish it would have been to act by instantly gratifying such a desire.
It was about forty years ago that I showed my Rebbe zt"l Rav Shlomo Freifeld a secular article from Newsweek Magazine which spoke about the invention and novel style of digital time where on the face of the watch there appears only the exact hour and minutes. The article was describing how this new presentation of time is disorienting our vulnerable youth in particular, even though the contents of the article was directed and applied to every age bracket. All previous watches had a face that displayed a 12 hour time period. This platform allowed for a red alert cautioning that one must ensure he is not shirking his responsibilities. By looking at what time it is with twelve numbers on its face, one would readily realize that his life and day does not revolve around this hour and minute, but rather around 24 hours. If I decide to occupy myself with a non - scheduled event at this time, I immediately realize that it will make me late for other appointments during the day. These appointments might be with my clients, my spouse, my child etc. If I react on impulse and impetuous cravings I will miss that future appointment. In this way one is forced to make an adult and responsible decision.
However, this caution sign doesn't apply with the face of time displaying only the present hour and minute. This face tells me that there is no past and no future to deal with or consider, just the present, the now. The message that this watch send is if you desire it just do it, as wreck less as it seems. Why worry, there is no future accounting or consideration of relationships that might be damaged because of your choice of one action over the other. That Shabbos my Rebbe spoke at the Kiddush about this issue, lamenting the fact that Man's bechirah has been dwarfed and compromised once again because of digital clocks and watches.
Noach had the power to be רואה את הנולד to look into the future foreseeing the outcome if he would choose to join his environment and become part of its lifestyle. His realization of the repercussions of such a choice was that it would be horrific for him, his family, for the world and mankind. He refused to take any part in this self - destructive behavior.
Let us take a deeper look at Noach's secret of survival – חכם. The Chasam Sofer points out that the word נולד lends to two meanings, one in the past, was born, and one in the future, will be born. He explains that one can only look into the future by experiencing the past. The popular saying goes the older you get the smarter you also get. The more one experiences life in the past the better understanding of what the future experiences hold for him since it already happened before. According to the Chasam Sofer a Chacham must live in what we might call two worlds, one in the past and one in the future the state of נולד. The past in Lashon Hakodesh is called עבר and the future is called עתיד. Only by constantly being connected to נולד, reviewing the עבר and projecting into the עתיד, one can make the proper decisions and judgments for the present. This is hinted in the word of נולד which is also the letters of לדון to judge.
With this explanation we can also understand why Noach is mentioned twice in the first passuk. The answer is because the passuk is stating the secret of why he was able to ward off the constant negative influences of his rebellious society against Hashem. Noach lived his life as a חכם individual, both in the past and in the future. This is hinted in the passuk that the Baal Haturim brings ולוקח נפשות חכם one who takes the platform of two lives past and present for himself attains the level of חכם. These two nefashos of Noach brought him to the heights of the level of bearing fruits and toldos of a highly quality איש צדיק תמים
Look closely at the Rashi on the word התהלך where he goes into lengthy detail to prove from various sources that this same word can be interpreted both in the past and future tenses. Why did the Torah in describing the madraigah of Noach use a word that has these duel interpretations? According to our explanation it has come to describe the מהלך and strategy that Noach used in order to remain wholesome to Hashem throughout this ordeal which his generation brought upon themselves. The answer is חכם, which describes an ultimate form of cheshbon hanefesh. That during every episode and bechirah he involved contemplation on the past and the future in order to fully realize how his particular choice in the matter would result in a positive or negative outcome. Only then he made the judgment call whether to do or not.
Now we can understand why the Zohar Hakadosh calls Noach Shabbos. Shabbos also connects constantly to two worlds. It is מעין עולם הבא a glimpse of the future world while also being in this world with an ever growing past. The Chazal compare Shabbos to the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash. The Ner Maaravi was the center light and on its right and left were three lights each, for a total of seven. Shabbos effects the six days of the week the three days that come before Shabbos and the three that follow the Shabbos. The six lights are kindled by the Ner Maaravi symbolizing Shabbos. The flames of the lights to the right, and to the left, both face the middle one. The influence of the Shabbos to the days before Shabbos, are the days in the past. The influence of the days after Shabbos, are the days in the future. Shabbos too is like the חכם who connects to the עבר and עתיד. It is no wonder why we find the gematriah of יום שבת to be עבר עתיד including the two words. Also רואה את הנולד is gematriah השבת (including the word). Just as Shabbos possesses the attribute of looking in the past and to the future, so too Noach is called Shabbos for he too possessed this maalah as well which saved him from his generation.
- Rabbi Shmuel Brazil