June 21, 2024
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June 21, 2024
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In this week’s parsha, a relatively famous Gemara mentioned by Rashi prompts additional thought and consideration.

Commenting on the Torah’s description of Noach as a righteous man “b’dorotav,” “in his generation,” Rashi cites the Gemara Sanhedrin 108a, which notes two ways to understand the comment “in his generation.” Some suggest it to be extra praise: if Noach was righteous amongst a generation of sinners, he would have been even greater in Avraham’s generation of tzaddikim. Others contend it to be a criticism: Noach was only righteous compared to his generation of sinners. However, had he lived in and been compared to Avraham’s generation, he would not have been considered righteous.

This comparison of Avraham to Noach raises a fundamental question to consider as we read these parshiyot. Why does God choose Avraham to be the father of Am Yisrael? What was it about Avraham that convinced God that he was the one, as opposed to the many tzaddikim who came before him—particularly Noach, a “completely righteous” person?

I would like to focus on one answer given to this question by many commentaries. If we look carefully at the lives of both Avraham and Noach, a crucial pattern emerges. Noach was a righteous man, but was “self-focused”; his sole concern was caring for himself and his family. In contrast, Avraham was “other-focused,” always looking to help and impact those around him.

God command Noach to build an ark to save himself and his family as He destroys the world, and Noach does exactly what God tells him. He doesn’t challenge God to save others, nor does he attempt to influence those around him. He worries solely about himself and his family—and saves those whom God commands him to save.

In a somewhat comparable situation, God informs Avraham that He will destroy Sodom and Amora. Although Avraham and his family won’t be impacted negatively, Avraham challenges God in order to save the citizens of these cities. “Hashofeit kol ha’aretz lo ya’aseh mishpat? Will the arbiter of Justice not act justly?” Avraham’s arguments border on disrespectful—but are fueled by an innate desire to help his fellow man.

Avraham discovers extraordinary, he discovers God. His reaction is not to pull away and insulate himself from those around him, but instead to set up a tent with four open sides and share his newfound gift with those around him.

This, suggests many, is why God chose Avraham. As great as Noach was, the father of the Jewish people needed to be someone who was not just righteous, but whose life was defined by chesed, by care and concern for those around him.

In Pirkei Avot 1:14, Hillel declares, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am [only] for myself, then what am I?” First and foremost, a person needs to understand their uniqueness—and that if they don’t bring into the world what they’re meant to bring, then no one else can. However, if we are only focused on ourselves, if we don’t take who we are and share that with others, then “mah ani,” what are we as people?

We’ve noted before that one of the greatest challenges of our generation, the “selfie” and “I” generation, is the total focus on oneself, and one’s personal needs. We live in a world of complete personalization; everything a person has, and does, is customized to their specific wants and needs. On social media, everyone shares their opinion about all things going on, as if each person is an expert on all topics. While this focus on oneself has some positive outcomes—as people are more “self-aware” and in touch with their own personal needs—it’s led to many negative consequences as well. One particularly problematic result of this societally manufactured narcissism is an inability to respect another person’s needs or viewpoints; it’s become much harder for kids (and adults!) to share with others, or to tolerate those who disagree with them.

As we raise our kids in today’s world, we must push hard against these trends. We must imbue within our children, from a young age, an ability to see beyond themselves and be aware of others and their needs. Obviously, we must ensure that our children have a healthy self-esteem and take care of themselves and their own personal needs, but we also must teach them to care about someone else’s needs, and to respect others’ viewpoints. By raising our kids to be aware of others, and to help and care for those around them, we help them actualize the Godly spark within their own souls and enable them to experience the wonderful feeling that only comes from helping another. We also prepare them for life, developing within them an ability to have healthy relationships, a successful marriage and raise a family.

Noach was a great man, “a completely righteous man.” But he was missing one major ingredient required of the father of the Jewish people: a natural disposition to care for those around him. Avraham, the prototypical “ish chesed,” personified this trait through and through—and therefore God ultimately chose him as our forefather. It is this trait that we must strive to cultivate within our children, particularly in a generation where such sensitivity and compassion is so extremely rare.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!


Rav Yossi Goldin is the menahel tichon at Yeshivas Pe’er HaTorah, rebbe at Midreshet Tehilla, and placement advisor/internship coordinator for the YU/RIETS Kollel. He lives with his family in Shaalvim and can be reached at [email protected].

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