1.

In this week’s parshah the Torah introduces Noach, and we learn of some of the ordeals he encountered during his lifetime. At the outset the Torah describes his personality as that of a Tzaddik — a “righteous man.” The Torah adds, Tamim hayah bedorotov” — “He was perfect in his generation,” and, “et ha’Elokim hithalech Noach” — “with G‑d Noach walked.”

What do these details actually mean? What do they tell us of his uniqueness?

Hashem gave us a Torah which contains the 613 mitzvot. They consist of mitzvot asei — positive commandments — that we are to perform, and also mitzvot lo ta’aseh — negative commandments — which one must be careful not to transgress.

These mitzvot are divided into two categories:

1) Bein adam laMakom — our duties towards Hashem.

2) Bein adam lachaveiro — responsibilities towards our fellow human beings.

Some people are strict in observing their duties towards Hashem. They pray with devotion, study Torah diligently, and keep mitzvot like tzitzit, tefillin, kashrut, Shabbat and Yom Tov meticulously. Although they observe the precepts for Hashem with great care, they may lack sincerity and respect for the rights of others.

Others may be very careful in their inter-human relations, helping those in need, showing respect towards others, and conducting business ethically. However, they may be lax in their duties towards Hashem. They may not say their prayers the way they should, study as much Torah as they can, or take proper care to fulfill the mitzvot.

In this pasuk, the Torah tells us that Noach was a tzaddik — righteous man in every sense — namely, “tamim hayah b’dorotov” — “perfect in his generation” — that is to say he excelled in bein adam lachaveiro — in his relationships with others. And also “et ha’Elokim hithalech Noach” — “with G‑d Noach walked” — he excelled too in bein adam laMakom — he served Hashem properly and faithfully.

Becoming a Bar Mitzvah means accepting all the mitzvot: the ones bein adam laMakom — between man and G‑d — and also the ones bein adam lachaveiro — between a man and his fellow. The two are inseparable. Excelling in both realms earns one the title of tzaddik, something which every Jew should yearn to achieve.

The Midrash (Rabbah 30:5) asks why in the opening pasuk of our parshah is the word “Noach” stated two times? In lieu of saying “eileh toldot Noach, Noach ish tzaddik” — “These are the offspring of Noach, Noach was a righteous man...” surely it should have merely written “These are the offspring of Noach, a righteous man” and listed the names of his children.

The Midrash explains that the repeated word “Noach” is a descriptive term, conveying his essential nature. The word “Noach” is related to nachem — comfort. (His father named him Noach saying “Zeh yenachameinu mima’aseinu” — “This one will bring us comfort — ease — from our work” — 5:29).

Thus, the repeated word “Noach” teaches that he was a source of comfort to himself and to the world. He was “naiycha l’avot v’naiycha l’banim — a comfort to his fathers (predecessors) and a comfort to children; naiycha la’elyonim v’naiycha l’tachtonim — a comfort to celestial being and to mortals; naiycha ba’olam hazeh v’naiycha l’olam haba — a comfort in this world and in the world to come.”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, conducting a lifestyle where bein adam laMakom and bein adam lchaveiro are equally stressed will make you a source of comfort and pleasure to your parents, your children and everyone around you. Also, the Heavens on high and the mortals in the world will be comforted and very proud of you.


2.

This week’s parshah familiarizes us with Noach and the trials and tribulations he confronted. Superficially, everything about him is recorded in this parshah, and when he died at the age of 950 years (9:29) all ended and he entered into history. This, assumption, however, is incorrect.

In carefully analyzing the first pasuk of our parshah the Arizal and other Kabbalists observe that the name Noach is repeated twice. “Eileh toldot Noach, Noach” — “These are the offspring of Noach — Noach was a righteous man.” Furthermore, the Torah describes him as “tamim hayah bedorotav” — “[he was] perfect in his generations.” The obvious questions are why the redundancy, and why does it say “bedorotav” — “in his generations” in plural and not “bedoro” — “in his generation” — in singular? This leads them to conclude that there were, so to speak, “two Noachs.” Noach lived 950 years in his own generation, and Moshe Rabbeinu was actually Noach’s reincarnation.

The reason for the reincarnation was to afford Noach an opportunity to rectify some of his failings.

When the deluge ceased and the waters receded, the Torah says “Vayisha’eir ach Noach” — “Only Noach survived” (7:23). Although “only” means he alone survived, the phase “ach Noach” can be interpreted as if it is a description “only Noach.” What happened to the previous descriptions the Torah (6:9) gives him — “righteous,” “perfect,” etc.?

The Chassidic master Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz (1726-1790) offers the following explanation: The Zohar (Bereishit 67b) says that Noach sinned by not praying for his generation to be saved. Unlike Avraham, who prayed for the Sodomites (18:23-32), and Moshe, who was ready to give up his own life if G‑d would not forgive His people (Shemot 32:11-13, 31-32), Noach was concerned only with saving his own family.

Since Noach ultimately did not act as a truly righteous man by concerning himself about others, in the final analysis he was considered “only Noach” — just a simple person shorn of all his titles and praises.

When the Jews committed the grievous sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe prayed on their behalf, seeking to prevent the threatened destruction of the Jewish people. In his pleadings to Hashem, he courageously and valiantly proclaimed “If You forgive Israel, good! But if not “mecheini na — erase me now — from Your book that You have written” (32:32).

The Tikkunei Zohar (see Yalkut Re’uveini — Shemot) explains that with the expression of “mecheini na” Moshe alluded that He is from Noach. The words “mecheini na” (מחני נא) can be arranged to read “miNoach ani” — (מנח אני) — “I am from Noach” — who was condemned for not pleading on behalf of his generation. Therefore, Moshe said, “This time around I will not repeat the error. Though the Jews provoked You with their sin, and I was not present at the time, I am ready to sacrifice myself on their behalf.”

After Noach survived the flood and safely emerged from the ark, the Torah tells us “Vayachel Noach ish ha’adamah vayita korem” — “Noach, the man of the earth debased himself and planted a vineyard” (9:20) In the ensuing episode he drank wine and became intoxicated. This caused him to be degraded and humiliated, and he lost his own family’s respect.

Noach who at the outset was called “Noach ish tzaddik” — “Noach the righteous man” — now receives a new title of “ish ha’adamah” — “the man of the earth.”

On the other hand, Moshe, his reincarnation, is described in the Torah as “Moshe ish haElokim” — “Moshe the man of G‑d” (Devarim 33:1). Why such an amazing difference in title — a distance from heaven to earth?

The common denominator between Noach and Moshe is that both had an ordeal with water. Noach was confronted with the flood, and Moshe’s life was threatened when his mother placed him in a box among the reeds at the bank of the river.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidut, known as the Alter Rebbe, (1745-1812), writes in his classic work Likkutei Amarim — Tanya (ch. 1) that the appetite for pleasure is derived from the element of water, for water causes all kinds of enjoyment to grow.

Noach experienced Divine Providence for an entire year. Miraculously, Hashem saved him from the fate of the entire world and its inhabitants. Nevertheless, the waters did not draw him to a desire for spirituality and lofty achievements. Rather, he had an appetite for material and physical enjoyment. He thus became “ish ha’adamah” — a man possessed by earthly ambition and yearning.

In contrast, when the baby in the reed basket received his name Moshe, it was because “min hamayim meshituhu” — “he was drawn out of the water.” That is, he rose above the physical desires that water produces and which man’s appetite seeks, and delved into Torah, which is also compared to water. As the prophet says “Ho kol tzamei lechu lamayim — Ho! everyone who is thirsty, go to the water” (Isaiah 55:1 — see Bava Kamma 17a). Moshe dedicated his entire life to attaining spiritual and lofty heights. Thus, he is called an “ish haElokim” — “man of G‑d” — his primary intent was the pursuit of heavenly matters.

Hence, Noach, ish ha’adamah — the mundane and earthly man — was elevated to a new realm by his reincarnation into Moshe. He became “ish haElokim” — the man imbued with G‑dly and spiritual pursuit and convictions.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, today you become an ish — a full-fledged man in the Jewish community. You have before you two paths: the way of “ish ha’adamah” — the man who associates himself primarily with mundane, material matters — or the one who accentuates the pursuit of “ish haElokim” — a meaningful life which prioritizes the spiritual ways the Torah outlines for the Jews.

May Hashem imbue you with the spirit and wisdom to live a Torah life and earn the title of ish haElokim — a person attached to G‑dliness and G‑dly pursuits.


3.

There is a well-known aphorism of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), the founder of Chabad Chassidism: “Men darf lebin mit di zeit.” — “One must live with the times.” This is explained to mean one should live according to the weekly parshah.

The Rebbe explained that Torah is not to be viewed, G‑d forbid, as a history book or a compilation of interesting stories. Rather, the etymology of the word Torah is hora’ah — which means teaching and guidance (see Radak to Psalms 19:8). Thus, a person is required to study and reflect on the weekly Torah reading, deriving lessons and instructions for his own life.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, I wondered what lesson is there for you, a young by of 13, in the account of Noach’s life story and the flood, discussed at length in this week’s parshah.

Moreover, G‑d promised humanity that there will never again be a flood destroying the entire world. Even though we do experience hurricanes and other disasters, they are no comparison to what occurred in Noach’s days and the precautionary steps we take are very different from those Noach employed.

According to the Chassidic interpretation, though we do not see such floods around, nevertheless, the concept is relevant and it is something we experience on a daily basis. The worries, trials and tribulations in obtaining a livelihood and physical existence in modern-day society are symbolically called mayim rabim — many waters — and they threaten the spiritual well-being and spiritual existence, so to speak, of man (see Torah Ohr, p. 16). In addition there are powerful “winds” blowing in secular society that can carry a person away from his attachment to ways of our forefathers.

Hence, my dear Bar Mitzvah, while the story related in today’s parshah may superficially seem irrelevant, it is indeed current and applicable to modern day society. In fact, today, the evil waters, raging currents and alien winds are worse since a threat to our spiritual existence is worse than a threat to our physical life.

So what is the escape route? How does one rise above the powerful tides and stay afloat?

Hashem gave Noach the instruction “Bo el hateivah” — “Come into the ark” (7:1). The Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) interpreted the term “teivah” to refer to the “words” of Torah and prayer. “Come into the teivah,” thus means, to “enter” the words of Torah and prayer, to be surrounded by them. Hence, one can be confident that nothing will inundate him, and “Noach, the righteous man” along with the members of his household will remain intact.

As such, the everlasting message of the teivah is that when the raging waters of our materialistic world attempt to wash away our enthusiasm and commitment to Torah and Mitzvot, we should enclose ourselves in the “teivah,” words of Torah and tefillah — prayer.

Now, exactly at the end of the solar year, Noach received a call from Hashem, instructing him, “Tzei min hateivah” — “Go forth from the ark” (8:9). According to the Baal Shem Tov’s interpretation that “teivah” means “words” of Torah and prayer, how are these two Divine messages reconciled?

In a farbrengen Parshat Chaya Sorah 5737, the Rebbe explained, Hashem’s goal for man was not confinement and seclusion, but rather involvement and leadership. However, before dealing with the “outside word,” a person must fortify himself with Torah and prayer. This will strengthen his immunity and prepare him to be one who influences and not one who succumbs to negative influence.

This is a particularly important message to you my dear Bar Mitzvah. Now you are entering your formative years. “Bo el hateivah,” — immerse yourself entirely in Torah study and prayer. Then, with G‑d’s help, when you will reach the stage in life of “tzei min hateivah” — you will leave the confines of the yeshivah, and thanks to your vast Torah knowledge and avodat haTefillah — service of Hashem — you will be a shliach of the Rebbe. As a powerful dedicated Chassid, yerei Shamayim — G‑d fearing Jew — and lamdan — Torah scholar — you will elevate society and the world around you to reach spiritual heights by making them proud observers of Torah and Yiddishkeit.

Follow the Baal Shem Tov’s Chassidic explanation of Hashem’s directive to Noach, and you, too, like Noach, will experience much success in your mission in life: “L’taken olam b’malchut Sha‑dai — To perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Al‑mighty.”