Noah’s Ark & Corona Virus
How these two are related, we shall soon find out as the Ois treats you to his own pshat. Ober, let’s begin here.
The Moshiach might finally be on the way. And the Oisvorfer knows this how? Because mamish this past Friday, a small miracle occurred, one that could portend better days ahead, an existential change. In yeshiva parlance, when a miracle of magnitude takes place, we might say “it’s moshaicah tzeytin” (the times of the Moshiach). What happened? The Oisvorfer’s only brother –let’s call him Avi- and taka a good brother he has been when needed, called and said something like this: over the years, weekly I read the thoughts of many different rabbis and, I’ve come to the conclusion that you (meaning me) are one of the best writers out there today. You ask real questions. You address issues that rabbis and others think about but don’t reduce to writing. OMG! A real compliment? The first he ever gave me? Yes! By way of background, when we speak, kimat always, sarcasm dominates the conversation. We rib each other silly, ober a compliment has never been heard. Was he sick or about to die, heaven forbid? Did corona permanently affect his brain? Thankfully he is alive and well, ober the news was shocking enough to get a shout out and the Oisvorfer response is azoy: it’s about time you recognized the galdus of the weekly missives; please continue to enjoy.
Ober the questions on my mind this week are these: were Eliyohu, or the Moshiach himself to suddenly appear, would we go out to greet him? With masks and or other face coverings? Efsher wrapped in perusal protective equipment? Will we push our way to the frontlines to get close and personal? Or, will we –in these corona times- be socially distant? Will we efsher remain reluctant during this pandemic to leave our homes, notwithstanding his arrival? Are we ready to start over again? How does the heylige Toirah -given to us 3332 years ago this coming Friday (if you live over in Israel), or perhaps Friday or Shabbis, ver veyst, if you live in chutz lo’oretz, guide us as we get ready to celebrate the Yom Tov of Shovuis? We shall answer those questions below, ober before we do, you might, or should be asking the following question: why does the title of this week’s review mention Noiach? How is he connected to the current virus? Nu, let’s find out.
In the year 1656, that’s 4124 years ago, the RBSO having been fed up with man’s behavior, had enough. Rashi told us that sexual depravity was normative behavior. Moreover, the people were bad. What could be worse than sexual depravity? Seemingly whatever they were doing wasn’t that bad compared to the one word the heylige Toirah uses to describe what so angered the RBSO. What was that deadly word? “Chomos!” And the world was full of it. Not chumus but chomos. What is “chomos?” The poshit pshat –meaning the translation of the word into Hebrew or English suggests that the world was full of “robbery.” Let us read the words of the heylige Toirah as found in Bereishis 6:12-13.
|12. And G-d saw the earth, and behold it had become corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth.||יבוַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְהִנֵּ֣ה נִשְׁחָ֑תָה כִּֽי־הִשְׁחִ֧ית כָּל־בָּשָׂ֛ר אֶת־דַּרְכּ֖וֹ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ:|
|13. And G-d said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth has become full of robbery because of them, and behold I am destroying them from the earth.||יגוַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֜ים לְנֹ֗חַ קֵ֤ץ כָּל־בָּשָׂר֙ בָּ֣א לְפָנַ֔י כִּי־מָֽלְאָ֥ה הָאָ֛רֶץ חָמָ֖ס מִפְּנֵיהֶ֑ם וְהִנְנִ֥י מַשְׁחִיתָ֖ם אֶת־הָאָֽרֶץ:|
Before we got back to chomos, and since we mentioned sexual depravity, mistama you want to know just what took place, what went down, or who. Says the medrish on the heylige Gemora (Sanhedrin 57a), azoy: Rebbei Yoichionon deduced from the words of the heylige Toirah (Bereishis 6:12) “all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth” that they mated domesticated animals with wild animals, and animals with humans. Need we say more? As an aside, Rav Abba bar Kahana taught that post mabul, they all returned to their own kind, except for the tushlami bird. That bird’s story for another day.
Says the medrish: Rebbe Levi taught that “violence” (חָמָס, chamas) connotes idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder, as well as robbery. It’s the tri-fecta! Shoin, now you know how the Chamas organization selected its name. In any event, chomos was much worse than depravity. Gey veys (go know)! The bottom line was azoy: the RBSO decided to hit the reset button, close everything down, and begin all over again. He brought a Mabul (great flood) which destroyed the gantze velt (entire world) with the exception of Noiach, his family and limited numbers of kosher-and-not animals, and birds. Medrish tells us that Noiach was reluctant to enter the safety of the teyvo (Ark). He did not want to seclude. A number of exegetes tell us that Noiach- based on the words of the heylige Toirah- was perhaps just as reluctant to exit once the flood was over. He was? And why are we discussing Noiach as we get ready to mark yet another wedding anniversary between the Yiddin and the RBSO?
Nu, as it turns out, of late, the heylige Ois has been enjoying drawing comparisons between then (Toirah times) and now, and specifically, corona times. Once again, he went back to the heylige Toirah and found mamish incredible lessons of the past that are seemingly being played out today. As the President and the CDC continue to amend guidelines in general, and specifically as they pertain to the opening of shuls, churches and even mosques, and taka as of Friday afternoon, houses of worship finally joined the list of essential services, certain –well intentioned rabbis- are perhaps harkening back to Toirah times and behaving in Noiach-like fashion. What’s pshat? What can we learn from Noiach? Let us go back and review what took place in the years 1656 and 1657.
The rains came (in 1656), the downpour continued for 40 days and forty nights until the face of the earth was submerged covering the summits of the highest mountains with waters 15 cubits deep. Finally, the rain subsided, but the waters continued to churn for an additional 150 days. After this period of time, the water level slowly began to recede, until the ark rested on the mountains of Ararat. Of course, exactly where that is, ver veyst? To determine the extent of the water’s retreat, Noiach sent out a raven, but the bird did not fly that far and merely circled the ark. Next, he sent out a dove for a total of three missions. The first time the dove left the ark, it returned without any results. The second time, it returned with an olive leaf in its beak, indicating that new growth had begun to sprout. The third and final time, it did not return, having found rest outside the confines of the ark.
Finally, on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei of the year 1657 (2104 BCE), the water completely subsided. Close to two months later, on the twenty-seventh of Cheshvan, the ground fully dried, allowing Noiach and the rest of the ark’s inhabitants to emerge. Noiach, his mishpocho, and the selected animals spent 365 days in the ark, or one solar year, and one year and 11 days on the lunar calendar. Let’s dig in a bit tiffer (deeper) into the time period after the rain stopped and Noiach finally emerged from quarantine.
They heylige Toirah (Bereishis 8:4) tells us that the ark came to rest on the mountains in the seventh month. So why not leave the ark then? Logic dictates that once the danger was over, Noiach would rush the door and get off. He didn’t! Next we learn that in the tenth month the mountain peak was visible. Why not leave the ark then? Ober, still no sign of Noiach. 54 days later the dove couldn’t find anywhere to land. What was wrong with the mountain peak? If the mountain tops were visible 54 days earlier (we assume that if the rains stopped, these peaks would have been dry), why did Noiach remain put indoors. A week later, in the twelfth month, the dove found an olive branch and Noiach knew the waters had gone. Aside from the question of how a new olive tree grew that quickly – shoin, we don’t question the RBSO; He did create the entire world in six days. Was an olive tree beyond His reach? I don’t think so. Why didn’t Noiach go out? Why didn’t he let the animals walk around outside for the first time in a year? If the coast was clear for the dove, why not disembark? Ober more time ticked away. The Toirah then tells us azoy: the waters had dried up in the first month and still no Noiach. A month later, in the second month, we are told azoy: the ground dried up again. Why was a second drying of the land germane? And the bomb question is this: if, in the end Noiach wasn’t leaving until instructed by the RBSO to leave the ark, why did he bother sending out birds on reconnaissance missions to find out if the ground was dry?
The bottom line of this timetable –mamish given to us in the text of the heylige Toirah is azoy: it does appear that although Noiach knew the rains stopped, that the mountain tops were visible, and that the dove came back with an olive branch, that Noiach still wasn’t sure about coming out. Was he concerned for his safety? Was he having trouble believing the experts? Did he stay put because he did not have a mask? What’s clearly obvious to the Oisvorfer is this: though conditions on the ground were safe, from the wording of the heylige Toirah, our sages concluded that Noiach was epes a shtikel reluctant to exit and resume normal operations. Grada with sexual relations verboten while in the ark; Noiach did not chap on board –efsher the first recorded case of social distancing- would we not logically think that Noiach would jump at the opportunity to skedaddle out and then in, if you chap? Instead, he needed a push which came in the form of these instructions from the RBSO.
Says the heylige Toirah (Bereishis 8:15 and 16), azoy:
|15. And G-d spoke to Noah saying:||טווַיְדַבֵּ֥ר אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶל־נֹ֥חַ לֵאמֹֽר:|
|16. “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons, and your sons’ wives with you.”||טזצֵ֖א מִן־הַתֵּבָ֑ה אַתָּ֕ה וְאִשְׁתְּךָ֛ וּבָנֶ֥יךָ וּנְשֵֽׁי־בָנֶ֖יךָ אִתָּֽךְ:|
Did you read that raboyseyee? Though the waters had receded and the storm was over, Noiach waited. He waited until the RBSO instructed him to leave. Noiach then brought offerings to the RBSO from the animals which were carried in the ark for this purpose. The RBSO vowed never again to flood the entire world and gave the rainbow as a sign of this covenant. Ober, what was Noiach thinking? One medrish tells us as follows: Noiach should have left the ark. However, Noiach said to himself, “I entered with the RBSO’s permission, as it says, ‘Go into the ark’ (7:1). Shall I now leave without permission? The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, ‘Is it permission, then, that you are seeking? Very well, then, here is permission,’ as it is said [Then G-d said to Noiach,] ‘Come out of the ark.’”
Ober, said Rebbei Yehudah bar Ilai azoy (Tanhuma, Buber, Noach, 13-14): If I had been there I would have broken down the ark and taken myself out. And with that medrish, we ask again, why did he tarry? And if had intended to stay until permission was granted why the bird charade? Said the Lubabitcher Rebbe azoy: what was the purpose of seeing if the land was dry by sending out these birds? The answer is that since the RBSO had entrusted him with the survival of life, Noiach felt responsible to take whatever natural steps would encourage G‑d to hasten the renewal of life on earth. In other words: safety above all.
With the dangers of the virus seemingly waning, there are already several, and there will be many more different opinions as to when to leave the safety of our own arks or homes, and head back to our local shuls, shopping and all else. Certain rabbis and organizations have already resumed normal operations. This past shabbis, on my 8:00AM walk, I came across people heading to various minyonim, one open shul and three street minyonim. Yet, compared to what shabbis used to look like at that hour, it was quite apparent that things are not yet normal. Ober, not to worry; a new normal will quickly emerge and shuls will operate under those norms. All that being said, other rabbis –to include rabbis the Oisvorfer has great respect for- are continuing to recommend –but not insist- that we remain inside our cabins. These rabbis, efsher taking a page, or leaf, out of Noiach’s playbook, remain reluctant. Few would argue that conditions on the ground are certainly safer today that in the previous nine weeks, and that most are itching to resume normal operations. Yet they remain reluctant to give the green light. And the question is why? Could it be because they feel the burden of their constituents on their shoulders, and are acting –as did Noiach- with an abundance of caution? Are they waiting for a sign from the RBSO? For clear instructions? For the Moshiach to arrive and deliver us? Ver veyst?
The bottom line: rabbis of larger congregations feel Noiach’s angst daily; decisions they made, and will still make, are wide open to second guessing. Angst is a constant component of the Jewish psyche; it was given to us when we married the RBSO on Shovuis 3332 years ago. It all goes with being chosen. Rabbis are paid to make difficult decisions. The medrish tells us that Noiach agonized over his reluctance to leave the teyvo: Says the medrish (Bereishis Rabbah 34:6) azoy: “But he [Noiach] was reluctant to go out [of the ark], saying, ‘Am I to go out and beget children (be fruitful and multiply) [only for them to be consumed] by a curse?’ Only when the RBSO swore to him that He would not bring another flood upon the world, was he ready to disembark. Says the Novee (Isaiah 54:9): ‘For this to Me is like the waters of Noiach as I swore that the waters of Noiach would never [again] flood the earth. You will indeed be fruitful and multiply.’ Shoin, efsher we can assume that Noiach chapped what came with being fruitful; boy was he ready. Those were the magic words.
What is the right call today? For certain rabbis, it’s to stay the course and remain indoors; no shul for their members. Others feel it’s time to get out and move about the cabin. Whose opinion is correct? Ver Veyst? For the most part, Yiddin are optimistic. Without such optimism, they could not have overcome the many obstacles they faced for thousands of years. The RBSO imbued us with the ability to rise up; this virus too shall be overcome. Moreover, if the Ois’s brother called with kind words, how far off could the Moshiach be? Not very. Get your suits and shirts ready.
Chag somayach and a gittin Shabbis!
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv