Friday, March 24, 2023

As a child I was fascinated by submarines. Nuclear submarines can remain underwater for months, but the crew does need water and oxygen. These amazing vessels are equipped with technology to actually filter the seawater to make it drinkable. And oxygen is created by putting seawater through a process of electrolysis.

I do wonder if my fascination with submarines began with my learning about the Great Flood that covered the world!

In Parshas Noach, the world was destroyed by the Mabul (flood) because that entire generation was filled with decadence and chamas (robbery with force). The Maharal explains that in fact, the world was destroyed because they violated the three cardinal sins: idolatry, adultery and murder. The Gemara notes that decadence (“vatishacheis ha’aretz”) refers to the crimes of idolatry and adultery. The crime of forcible robbery was rampant and the most extreme crime which can be committed in the course of robbery is murder.

Why are some sins so consequential? We may see an answer in the Mishna in Avos which says that the world is supported by three pillars: Torah, avodah and gemilus chasadim (Torah, Divine service, and acts of kindness). The three cardinal sins are the opposite of these three pillars. The opposite of gemilus chasadim is murder, where one is so absorbed in oneself that the other person’s existence is considered insignificant. The opposite of avodah—serving Hashem—is idolatry. And the opposite of Torah is adultery, where a person is entirely consumed by the pursuit of physical pleasure and is disconnected from a life of higher purpose.

When society is engaged in these three sins, the world no longer has any pillars to support itself; hence, we had its destruction by the Mabul. These three sins were also the cause of the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash. This concept gives us a deeper understanding of why the Torah commands a person to violate any of the commandments in order to save one’s life, with the exceptions of murder, adultery and idolatry. These prohibitions are contrary to the very pillars that support the world.

Hashem saved Noach, his family and a number of each kind of animal from the Mabul by protecting them inside the teiva, ark. The Maharal explains that the teiva was not just a protective cocoon, but rather a vehicle for Hashem to recreate the world. As such, Noach and his family had to re-establish the three pillars inside the teiva. Noach and his sons were active 24/7, feeding and tending to the animals’ needs. They were the first chesed organization, with serious responsibilities to the extent that when Noach was delayed in bringing food to the lion, the hungry beast whacked Noach on his thigh, crippling him for life. Noach’s laxity was a small imperfection in his chesed, causing him to be an imperfect person. He exited the teiva with a permanent reminder that he lacked chesed in a small way.

We live in a world in which one is numb to hearing news of homicides and adultery. The lack of belief in Hashem is rampant. We truly need to create a protective environment for ourselves—a healthy vibrant world of our own in which the three pillars are strong and steady.

The Zohar compares Shabbos to the teiva. Shabbos is a teiva—a bubble, a spaceship, a submarine. When we’re inside the Shabbos bubble, we are in a world of our own. It’s a time that we focus on strengthening the three pillars that support the world. Shabbos is a time of increased avodah/prayer. It’s a time that we must designate for significant Torah study, as we have no work obligations. And it’s a time of chesed, when we give special attention to our family and our guests.

Let’s all walk happily into our well-appointed Shabbos “teiva” to connect with the Almighty and with our loved ones.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit pti.shulcloud.com.

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