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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Noach 5773 "When the Chips are Down"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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The following stories are just a few of the experiences that my Bubby, Rebbitzin Fruma Kohn related to me from her personal experiences as an adolescent in Siberia during World War II:

“It was freezing in Siberia during the winter; at times it reached forty degrees below zero. They made us do grueling work to fill impossible quotas. If we didn’t we wouldn’t receive our meager rations of bread. Yet men would wake up early to daven shacharis with a minyan.

“On Yom Kippur, a group of men secretly gathered in a secluded room to recite Kol Nidrei, and whatever prayers they could remember by heart. A fellow Jew, no doubt trying to prove his loyalty to the accursed communists, ratted on them. In the middle of their prayers, soldiers burst in to the room and took them to jail.

“As the spring approached and the air began to get warmer, we began to think about how we could possibly have matzos in Siberia. Normally even entertaining the thought was ludicrous. But just before Pesach the ‘bakery’ burned down and they could not provide us with bread. Instead they gave us raw flour. We constructed an oven out of iron and divided it with the Poles who were prisoners with us. They baked bread on their side of the oven and we baked kosher matzos on the other side. On the night of Pesach we conducted a Seder while the Poles kept a sharp lookout for soldiers. Then when it was their holiday, we would keep a lookout as they would celebrate.”

The unwavering dedication that was displayed for Torah and mitzvos boggles the mind. What wouldn’t these Jews do to serve G-d even in the bleakest of times? The myriads of stories of Jews standing on long lines in death camps to shake a Lulav, those who sang ‘Ani Ma’amin’ on their way into the gas chambers of Aushwitz, those who gave up half their meager bread ration to don a pair of tefillin for a few moments in Treblinka, those who would not entertain the possibility of converting to Christianity even in the face of persecution of the Auto-da-fe, etc. are all testaments to our unyielding dedication to our mission and destiny as the bearers of the Torah and G-d’s ambassadors to the world.

One thousand years had passed since the creation of the world. G-d decided that the world had to be eradicated and started anew. Noach was chosen to sustain the remaining minority of the world while the rest of the world was completely flooded.

When the rains finally subsided and the land was dry enough to replenish new life, Noach opened the door of the ark and all of its inhabitants departed to repopulate the world. Immediately Noach decided to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to Hashem.

The verse (8:21) states, “G-d smelled the pleasant odor (of Noach’s sacrifice) and He said to Himself, ‘I shall no longer curse the land because of man, for the inclination of man is evil from his youth and I will not continue to smite all the living beings which I have created’.”

Why was the sacrifice of Noach so potent? What was it about its smell that caused G-d to immediately vow that he would never again destroy the world?

The greatness of Noach’s sacrifice was that Noach had to make the greatest self-sacrifice in order to bring them.

One can only imagine what it was like to be inside the Ark during the flood. If one has ever smelled horse’s stables they can only imagine how much more magnified that smell was.[1] Every single type of bird, amphibian, mammal, reptile, fish, fungi, protozoa, bacteria, algae, and plant life (not to mention demons and spirits) had to be nourished and sustained for the duration of the flood. Noach and his family did not have a solitary moment of rest from the moment he sealed the ark until he allowed the animals out. The one time he came a moment late to feed the lions, he was rewarded with a sharp strike in the leg that caused him to limp for the rest of his life.

Noach emerged from the Ark a tired man[2]. The sight that greeted him when he opened the door of the Ark must have been terrifying. When he entered the Ark and G-d sealed the doors as the rain began to fall, Noach saw myriads of people amassed near the Ark menacingly. In the distance were buildings and society. Now he saw nothing but the utter silence of desolation.

The animals Noach and his family had cared for in the Ark were sustained with every last ounce of their energy and dedication. He had nourished each animal individually with precision. Now Noach took from those animals and slaughtered them in appreciation of G-d’s salvation. That was the ultimate sacrifice.

Normally when one wanted to offer a sacrifice to G-d he went to a local farmer to purchase the animal. He then ascended to Jerusalem where he commissioned a Kohain to offer his sacrifice upon the Altar. Here however Noach took an animal that was only alive because of his own herculean efforts and offered it to G-d. That was true sacrifice. It was the odors of those sacrifices which prompted G-d to pledge to never destroy the world again.

The Mishna[3] states, “Rebbe said…Be as scrupulous in performing a minor mitzvah as in a major one, for you do not know the reward given for the respective mitzvos.” I once heard the Mishna explained in the following manner: We conceptualize there is a ‘point system’ for mitzvos. We think Shabbos must be worth a lot of points while standing up for an old man is probably worth much less. In truth however, one mitzva is not greater than another[4]. The value of a mitzvah is wholly dependent on the effort invested in its performance. Two people can perform the same mitzvah, yet one will receive a far greater reward for it. What really matters in the celestial courts is the feeling and motive one had when performing a mitzvah. This is the message Rebbe is conveying to us: Do not think one mitzvah is minor or major, because in truth every mitzvah is major; it just depends how much you put into it.

Any person involved in a serious relationship knows that the durability of the relationship can only be seen from how they are able to manage and deal with challenges and difficult situations. When things are going well and everyone is happy, any relationship can prosper. It’s not a true measure of marital success to see a bride and groom blissfully happy with each other. But if things become difficult and there is pressure involved and they are able to steer through those difficult times together, that shows that the relationship is concrete and solid.

On a deeper level the same holds true in regards to our relationship with our Creator. Our dedication to G-d is not proved when it is easy for us to keep the mitzvos. Rather it’s when the chips are down and one doesn’t feel that same sense of spiritual bliss that he felt during the holidays. Is he still able to produce and maintain his values and spiritual commitments?

The greatness of Noach’s sacrifice after the flood was that he was willing to sacrifice the fruits of his greatest efforts out of love for G-d. That is the true measure of righteousness and dedication.

“G-d smelled the pleasant odor”

“For you do not know the reward given”

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Please have in mind our dear friend Chaim Yisroel Pinchos ben Shaindel for a refuah shaleimah in all of your tefilos. He is in need of tremendous rachmei shomayim. May we hear good news soon IY”H.

[1] A friend once described it as a floating Bronx Zoo without a proper sewage system.

[2] Not to mention that he was six hundred years old.

[3] Avos 2:1

[4] To be sure, there are unquestionably certain mitzvos which carry greater significance, precedence, and value than others.

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