It’s been now approximately five years since Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg has been placed in חרם shunned by his community, by his local Rabbis. These five years has been his best and his worst.
His best: His mission of cleaning up the streets, the schools, the mikvahs, etc. has come a very long way. Parents are educated, kids are educated and the general public is gradually listening and understanding what’s on tab and what this plague has done to generations of our youth and how it affected them for life.
His worst: Let’s face it. It’s not a lot of fun to be in חרם , isolated, shunned and be barred from every synagogue especially when he knows he is doing the proper thing and when 90% of the public knows it as well, but are scared to speak out because they can't fight city hall. In all due respect, it is getting better by the month. The public has realized that the “Cheirem” is a joke, the public recognizes that he is 100% right and furthermore the public appreciates what he does and is thankful for his courage and stance against this terrible plague in our community.
Last week in parshas Noach, we read in the portion of the torah תמים היה בדורותיו (Noach ( נח ) was a tzaddik in his generations) Rashi makes comparisons between נח and אברהם. The first time is in his famous analysis of the Torah’s use of a qualifier when describing נח’s piety, “נח was a tzaddik in his generations. "Rashi quotes two opinions: 1) If in his generation he was a tzaddik- —how much greater of a tzaddik would he have been in a righteous generation! 2) In his generation he was considered a tzaddik—were he to have lived in the times of אברהם he wouldn’t have been important.
Two points of interest: 1) Even if it is true that נח was a lesser tzaddik than אברהם, Chazal (our Sages) stress that the righteous leaders of each generation are equally vital and important, even when, on an objective scale, they don’t measure up to those that proceeded them. Yiftach in his generation [was as vital] as Shmuel in his generation. יפתח בדורו כשמוא' בדורו (Rosh Hashana 25b)” so the questions is, what purpose is served by stressing that נח would not have been anything special in אברהם times? 2) Why does the first opinion use “a righteous generation” as a basis for comparison, while the second one states, “had he lived in the generation of אברהם he wouldn’t have been important?” Both opinions should use the same point of reference for their comparisons.
The second time Rashi contrasts נח with אברהם is when the Torah states (6:9), “נח walked [together] with G-d.” Rashi notes that with regard to אברהם, the Torah writes (17:1), “Walk before me and be whole.” Where אברהם is described as going before Hashem, נח walked together with Him. אברהם's piety was so robust that he needed no Heavenly assistance—he could take care of himself, so to speak. This is the idea of going before Hashem. נח needed Hashem’s support in maintaining his righteousness; he is seen as walking together with Hashem.
Again there are two interesting points: 1) When Hashem tells נח to enter the Ark, He says (7:1), “Come into the Ark…for it is you that I have found righteous before me in this generation.” Hashem’s statement seems to contradict the previous one—did נח go with Hashem or before Him? 2) Where in fact do we find proof in אברהם actions that אברהם walked before Hashem, while נח walked with Him? In what way does Avraham’s higher level manifest itself?
The Midrash (Tehillim 37) describes the famous meeting between אברהם and מלכי צדקMalchi-Tzedek (found in this week’s parsha [14:18-21]). Chazal teach that מלכי צדק was in fact Shem, the son of נח . “Tell me,” אברהם asked him, “in what merit did you deserve to leave the Ark?”
“In was in the merit of the tzedakah (charity) we did.”
“But there were no poor people there!” אברהם asked. “It was just you and your family? With whom did you do tzedakah?”
“With the animals and the birds,” מלכי צדק answered. “We did not sleep at night. We would go from one animal to the next making sure they had enough to eat. Once we were late, and my father was injured [by one of the animals (see Rashi who says it was the lion)].”
At that time, the Midrash concludes, אברהם said to himself, “If they were only saved by the charity they did with the animals and the birds, and [even so] for the one time he was late he was ‘repaid’ and injured, then if I perform charity with people, who are formed in the image of the angels, surely in this merit I will be protected from injury!” Immediately אברהם planted a tent, and provided his guests with food, drink, and lodging!
This, writes the חיד"א (Chida), is the difference between נח and אברהם. אברהם hears a story—about a person who was saved in the merit of charity and kindness—and he understands from it how esteemed charity must be in Hashem’s eyes. The first thing he does is plants his tent, beginning his legacy of charity and kindness. נח didn’t just hear the story—he lived through it, yet he did not learn its lesson.
The חיד"א doesn’t explain what he means; how do we see that נח didn’t learn the lesson?
The first thing נח does after leaving the Ark is to plant a vineyard. “נח, the man of the earth, defiled himself and planted a vineyard (9:20).” Rashi explains that he defiled himself in that his very first planting was grapes (who’s fruit intoxicates); he should have planted something else first.
אברהם planted and נח planted (va-yita). אברהם planted a tent (or tree for shelter) in which he could give others food, drink, and lodging. נח planted grapes. From the first fruits of his labor, he got drunk. What drove נח to drink? Perhaps he found it difficult to cope with the Earth he found upon leaving the Ark. It was not the place he had known. Everything and everyone had been eradicated by the scorching waters of the flood. To escape this bitter reality, he drank.
Had he been paying attention (like his son Shem), he might have found a lesson to be learned: You were saved by charity and kindness; make sure the new generation, which you head, is one built on the foundations of charity and kindness. Plant a tent, open a hachnosas orchim (guest house), and teach your children and descendants—the Earth’s new inhabitants—the importance of kindness.
The two opinions quoted above, says the Chida, don’t actually disagree. No doubt, had נח been in a generation of tzaddikim, he would have been an even greater tzaddik. But had he lived in the generation of Avraham, who built a life of chessed (kindness) based on the story of the Ark and its lesson, whereas נח —the story’s main participant—failed to do so, he would indeed not have been a factor.
Perhaps this is expressed in the difference between walking before Hashem or with Him. נח was saved by his kindness to the animals, but it was not as a result of any conscious commitment to chessed. Hashem put him in a situation which left him no choice—it was either feed the animals or suffer their wrath, as Shem told אברהם. Thus, although נח did a virtuous thing, he is described as walking with Hashem—he did good, but only when coerced by Hashem to do so.
אברהם didn’t wait for Hashem to lead him by the hand. He heard the story, and figured the rest. He went before Hashem—by finding hidden allusions how to improve his character and service of Hashem without having to be pushed into it.
The holy Zohar is critical of נח for not praying for his generation. How was he to have known that Hashem awaited his prayers?
“Come into the Ark…for it is you that I have found righteous before me in this generation.” Hashem does not give gratuitous compliments. He was trying to hint to נח : Kindness has the power to save. If you have compassion on your brothers, and pray for their salvation, you and they will be saved in the merit of that kindness. You too have the ability to be a tzaddik before me—take the hint and pray for your generation! Noach should have realized that Hashem was calling him a tzaddik in order to empower him with the strength of the righteous; to annul decrees. ( ישמח משה Yismach Moshe).
אברהם and נח —two tzaddikim, each one a giant in his generation. The difference? נח did what was right, and he did it with great commitment and fervour, but only when it stared him in the face. אברהם knew how to take a hint. He didn’t wait for mitzvos to come his way, he went looking for them (“And he stood by the tent”—looking for wayfarers that he could care for.
Sifrei chassidus (Hasidic literature) call this phenomenon רמיזא דחכמתא (hints of wisdom) that can be found in every aspect of life. “Do not be like the horse—like the mule who understands not, and whose mouth must be closed with bit and bridle and reins—they will not approach you…I will instruct you, and enlighten you—this is the way to go; I will guide you with the movement of My eye—like a man who hints to his friend through the movement of his eye (Tehillim/Psalms 32:8-9 with Malbim). Hashem guides us every moment of our lives; it’s up to us to open our eyes and hearts and find the hints.
I am taking the liberation, authorization and the courage to relate the above mentioned connection Between נח and אברהם, and do the same connection between Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg and sages of previous generations. Because we don’t have an אברהם in our generation anymore.
We all know the pain and suffering that the בעל שם טוב (Baal Shem Tov) endured while teaching the world of chassidus. We all know that in the late 1700’s the Baal Hatanya was tortured by מתנגדים (anti-chassidus movements), when at that time Lithuania was the center of the מתנגדים (opponents of חסידים Hasidism), and Rabbi Shneur Zalman faced much opposition. In 1774 he and Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk traveled to Vilna in an attempt to create a dialogue with the ווילנער גאון who led the מתנגדים and had issued a ban against the חסידים, but the ווילנער גאון refused to see them and they had to leave town in order not to get stoned. In his seminal work, Tanya, he defines his approach as "מוח שולט על הלב" ("mind ruling over the heart/emotions").
In 1797 following the death of the ווילנער גאון, leaders of the Vilna community falsely accused the Hasidim of subversive activities - on charges of supporting the Ottoman Empire, since Rabbi Shneur Zalman advocated sending charity to support Jews living in the Ottoman territory of Palestine. In 1798 he was arrested on suspicion of treason and brought to St. Petersburg where he was held in the Petropavlovski fortress for 53 days, at which time he was subjected to an examination by a secret commission. Ultimately he was released by order of Paul I of Russia. The Hebrew day of his acquittal and release, 19 Kislev, 5559 on the Hebrew calendar, is celebrated annually by Chabad Hasidim, who hold a festive meal and make communal pledges to learn the whole of the Talmud; this practice is known as "Chalukas Ha'Shas" He was also arrested 2 more times at later dates, by people who did not like his wiews of torah which we now know is pure and holy!