The Midrash states:1 “At the very beginning of the world’s creation, G-d’s praise came solely from the waters…. When the generation of the Flood arose and rebelled against Him… G-d said: ‘Let these [rebels] be removed and the former [i.e., the waters] arise and come [in their stead].’ Hence it is written: ‘And the rain was upon the earth 40 days and 40 nights.’ ”
Accordingly, it is to be understood that the world’s status at the time of the Flood was similar to the exalted state it enjoyed at the very beginning of creation, when it was “one mass of water,”2 entirely involved in praising G-d.
How can this Midrash be reconciled with the fact that the waters of the Flood were clearly meant to “destroy all flesh3“ — just the opposite of praising G-d?
It has been noted by our Sages4 that “Torah preceded the world,” i.e., although Torah as studied in this physical world is to be understood in its plain context,5 it preceded the world. For every letter of Torah also possesses inner and esoteric meaning. Such meaning emanates from the study of Torah in the higher spiritual realms — worlds that transcend physicality.
Understandably, this applies not only to the Torah’s commandments, but to its stories; although all the stories recounted actually transpired in all their detail, still, since Torah preceded the world, we must perforce say that these tales also contain meanings found in the higher, spiritual worlds.6
This gives rise to the following inescapable conclusion: Since “No evil sojourns with You,”7 we must say that even though the Torah contains things that in their simple context seem undesirable — such as misdeeds, punishments, and the like — in the world above, where it is impossible for evil to reside, these selfsame events are understood as being entirely desirable, holy and good.8
This principle will help us understand a seemingly inexplicable phenomenon associated with the reading of the Passage of Admonition (in the portion of Savo) by the Alter Rebbe , Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi:
The Alter Rebbe used to serve as a Torah reader. It once happened that he was not in town during the Shabbos of Savo , so his son, the Mitteler Rebbe , heard the Torah read by another. His anguish upon hearing the maledictions in the Passage of Admonition was so great that it profoundly affected his health.
When the Mitteler Rebbe was asked: “But don’t you hear this reading every year?” he responded: “When father reads, one does not hear any maledictions.”
Surely, when the Alter Rebbe read the Torah the plain text was heard. What, then, did the Mitteler Rebbe mean when he said “one does not hear any maledictions”? How could he have failed to discern the simple meaning of the verses?
In light of the above, the matter is readily understandable: Maledictions exist in the Torah only as it is studied in this corporeal world. In a completely holy world, utterly divorced from evil (and thus also from the punishment that stems from evil behavior), even such things as maledictions are entirely holy and represent blessings.
Thus, when the Alter Rebbe would read the Torah, his level of inflection was such that his son could perceive even the Section of Admonition as it existed Above — in complete goodness and blessing.
The same is true with regard to the comment of the Midrash concerning the Flood: That the floodwaters came in order to punish the people of that generation was only so in this world. Since the incident of the Flood is related in the Torah , it follows that the event also transpired “above,” in the spiritual world that is wholly good and utterly removed from any vestige of evil, sin, and punishment.
The Midrash thus informs us that the Flood was (also) entirely good and holy, similar to the “very beginning of the world’s creation,” when the entire world was but “one mass of water” and “G-d’s praise came solely from the waters.”
Based on Likkutei Sichos , Noach 5747.
In Praise of Noach
The Torah portion Noach begins with the words: “These are the children of Noach. Noach was a righteous individual….”9 But only in the second verse does the Torah mention his three children, Shem, Cham and Yafes.
Rashi10 explains this seeming incongruity by noting that the phrase “Noach was a righteous individual….” is a parenthetical statement inserted in the first verse — “Since he [Noach] is mentioned, his praises are extolled, for it is written,11 ‘the mention of a righteous individual should be accompanied by his praise.’ ”
This, however, gives rise to the following question: Noach’s name was already mentioned in Bereishis ;12 seemingly, it is there that his name should have been accompanied by praise. Why does the Torah refrain from praising him until the portion Noach ?
Additionally, what is the reason for and the benefit of lauding the virtues of a righteous individual?
The Gemara13 informs us that Lashon Hara , slander, harms not only the teller and the listener, but the person being talked about as well.
Now it is quite understandable that spiritual harm befalls both the speaker and the hearer of slander, for both are engaged in an act which our Sages liken to the combined sins of idolatry, incestuous relationships and murder.14 But why is the object of the slander spiritually affected? Why should he suffer when he had no part in this sin?
Consider. Speech reveals that which was previously concealed as thought. Speaking of another’s evil may thus have a detrimental effect on the slandered person; if the person’s evil had not been spoken about, it might have remained “concealed” and not come to realization.
The reason this is so is that man’s every action — especially speech, whose purpose is to reveal the concealed — has an effect. This may be felt either in a physical sense or on a spiritual plane, where the damage is perceived with higher and more refined senses.15
Thus it is related16 that a person was once quarreling with another in the Baal Shem Tov’s shul. In the heat of the moment, one of the disputants shouted that he would tear the other to pieces. The Baal Shem Tov revealed to his disciples how this act of dismemberment actually took place on a spiritual plane.
Yet “a good attribute is far more efficacious than a harmful one.”17 If speaking of another’s evil has a detrimental effect, then surely speaking of another’s good qualities has a salutary effect on the person being spoken of; he is more likely to realize his goodly potential and qualities.
If this is so with regard to praise by human beings, how much more so with regard to G-d’s praise of an individual, especially when this praise is included in the Torah itself!
This is why “the mention of a righteous individual should be accompanied by his praise”; by praising a person, one is actually assisting him in his righteous behavior.
The reason why Noach is first praised in the portion Noach rather than in Bereishis will be understood accordingly:
While it is true that Noach’s name is mentioned earlier, it is specifically in the portion Noach that the Torah speaks of Noach with regard to the good deeds and spiritual service he attained on his own, as opposed to that with which he was favored from Above.
Since the reason for praising a righteous individual is to assist him in his divine service, and since Noach’s service begins in the Torah portion Noach , it follows that it is here that his name be “accompanied by his praise.”
The lesson to be derived in terms of our own service is obvious: A Jew should do his utmost to perceive the goodness of his fellow, and speak of his good traits and qualities. By doing so, he assists in revealing the goodness of the other, and at the same time helps the other in his spiritual passage through life.
Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. V, pp. 36-46.
1. Bereishis Rabbah 5:1; see also Eichah Rabbah 1:52.
2. Ibid. 5:2.
3. Bereishis 6:17.
4. Shabbos 88b; Pesachim 54a; Bereishis Rabbah 1:4, et al.
5. Shabbos 63a.
6. See Likkutei Torah , Tazria 23b and onward.
7. Tehillim 5:5. See also Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar 3c.
8. See Sefer HaMa’amarim 5679 (p. 515ff), where this concept is discussed at length.
9. Bereishis 6:9.
11. Mishlei 10:7.
12. 5:29-30; 5:32; 6:8.
13. Erchin 15b.
15. HaYom Yom p. 100.
17. Sotah 11a.
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