April 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
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Speaking Positive to the Positive

Usually the way to “fix” something is to see the problem with it and thereupon create a solution to deal with that problem. However, when it comes to spirituality, this natural tendency of focusing on the problem is not always the proper method when attempting to inspire others and lead them on the correct path. Many times, if not most, we should perhaps consider the power of helping others spiritually by seeing the good in them and taking a positive approach to lift them up.

The very first pasuk in this week’s parsha opens up by declaring that Noach was a tzaddik and tamim, and as the Ibn Ezra explains, Noach was a “tzaddik” in deed and “tamim” in his heart. Indeed, he was pure. Yet the very last pasuk in last week’s parsha ends off saying that Noach “found favor in Hashem’s eyes” (“finding favor” in this context is a reference to Hashem showing mercy, as Targum Onkelos translates). Why did Noach need to find favor in Hashem’s eyes? Isn’t it obvious that he has found favor if he is a pure tzaddik? Seforno explains that Noach needed this extra measure of “favor” from Hashem in order that his family also be saved from the impending flood, because although Noach was a tzaddik, he was still not deserving of this “favor” from Hashem. However, the question still remains: If he was a complete tzaddik, why wasn’t that enough to grant him the merits for his family to be saved? What was he lacking? Seforno again explains that although Noach rebuked his generation for their corrupt ways, he didn’t attempt to educate them to know Hashem and to go in Hashem’s ways, and therefore he needed this extra merit. This is because one who has perfected himself only deserves that he himself be spared [of harm], whereas one who has perfected others deserves that others should be spared [of harm]. (Therefore, since Noach refrained from teaching others about Hashem, he lacked in helping to perfect others and thus did not deserve that others should be spared of harm. Hence, he needed this extra merit of “favor” in order that others [i.e., his family] be spared).

It is evident from this Seforno the following two critical ideas:

1) In order to help someone spiritually and to perfect them in that sense, one needs to utilize a positive approach: to inspire them to “know Hashem,” i.e., what it means to have a relationship with Hashem, the beauty of Torah and Judaism, the potential we possess to improve, change and harness our character traits. To educate our brethren on “going in Hashem’s ways”—which perhaps means to enlighten them with the importance of kindness, graciousness, generosity, helping others, being honest and just, patient, and compassionate, tolerant and forbearing, merciful and other-centered etc.

2) Although the people of Noach’s generation were heavily steeped in the depths of immorality, even they still contained a spark of positivity and internal goodness to the point that Noach should have had a greater belief in them. Even they contained an aspect of Godliness within them, and Noach is perhaps blamed to an extent for not seeing that positivity in them, thereby educating them in a more positive way [i.e., by teaching them about the above, mentioned in idea “1”], instead of just responding to their evil side and rebuking them.

It’s easy to see bad behavior and reprimand. We like to think that we are helping the person, yet many times we’re just helping them change a behavior but not change their internal dissonance. It’s much more difficult, yet more rewarding, to see the positive in a person doing a wrong behavior or living a misguided lifestyle and to respond in an uplifting and empowering way. By doing this we speak to their essence, which is Godly, and hopefully they can begin to believe in themselves and ultimately “go in the ways of Hashem.” Noach was pure, but on some level he perhaps lacked in seeing this good in people and implementing a strengthening approach to helping them. Instead he only made them aware of their evilness. When one sees the good in others it means he believes in their potential. Such an educator can now inspire people to reach for that which is higher than the ways they are used to. Such an educator can now inform them that even they can be Godly and “go in the ways of Hashem,” that even they can begin to understand the eternal meaning and pleasure of having a close bond with Hashem and Torah. We can learn from Noach to strive to focus our attention on the Godliness in others—even if such people are steeped in terrible deeds—and to help them spiritually by taking a more positive and lofty approach.


Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He currently learns in Lakewood and is the author of the Sephardic Congregation of Paramus’ weekly Torah Talk. He can be reached at [email protected].

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