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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Noach 5777 "What You Do With It"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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The owner of one of the largest kosher American confectioners was also a major supporter of the famed Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, NJ. On one occasion, at a large function, he had the privilege to introduce Rabbi Shneur Kotler zt’l, the then Rosh Yeshiva of Bais Medrash Govoha.

The businessman began by explaining that he and the Rosh Yeshiva had a great deal in common: “Both of us went to cheder in Europe, survived the war, and now run major institutions. Both of us provide the public with an excellent product that is sweet and enjoyable. Many people stand in line to speak with me, and many people stand in line to speak with the Rosh Yeshiva. We are both well-known and try to help others.”

Then he paused and smiled, “However, there is one fundamental difference between us. You see, I produce lollipops; the Rosh Yeshiva produces men!”

“And all the days of Noach were nine hundred fifty years.[2]

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zt’l[3] notes: In our day and age one who lives to the age of one hundred has been blessed with longevity. In fact, the Mishna[4] states, “At one hundred years old one is as if he had died, passed on, and become irrelevant to the world.” Yet during the first twenty generations from creation people lived many hundreds of years. Before the flood, most of the personages mentioned in the Torah lived past 900 years old. After the flood their life expectancy was ‘reduced’ to 200-400 years (with the exception of Noach)[5].

The great Rambam[6], with all his writings and the incredible legacy he left behind, lived a mere seventy years. We can only imagine how much more he could have accomplished if he lived as long as Noach. In fact, he would still be alive today and we would be able to personally ask him the myriad questions that have been asked about his teachings throughout the centuries.

Thus, we must understand what were the original generations doing throughout their elongated lives?

The Ramchal[7] explains that the generations living before the flood (and the first few generations after the flood as well) possessed tremendous insight and wisdom into the esoteric secrets of creation and the workings of G-d, as it were. The older they became the more privy they were to deeper and more penetrating secrets of the world. G-d granted them added years to allow them that wisdom so they could utilize it to raise the world to its ultimate rectification and sanctification.

Ironically however, the more wisdom they attained the more corrupt and morally depraved they became. The sardonic truth was that their greatness in wisdom was in direct proportion with their spiritual decline.

After the flood, as each generation continued in the iniquitous path of its forbearers, G-d began to shorten their years so they would not have the opportunity to cause as much malice and wrongdoing. After twenty generations, with the birth of Avrohom and a far shorter life expectancy, there was a tremendous shift in the ‘content of life’. From that point onwards no one was privy to those secrets of life and of the Ways of G-d unless he toiled and invested unyielding effort to achieve it. The first to utilize that approach to life was Avrohom Avinu, and that is why he was worthy to become the first patriarch. The later patriarchs, and consequently all of his descendants, followed the precedent that Avrohom had begun of searching and seeking G-d in every facet of life and creation.

The lesson that emerges from the discrepancy between the life of Avrohom and his predecessors is that it does not matter how much one knows, but rather what one does with that knowledge. What truly counts is how much one internalizes the wisdom he attains and consequently seeks to inculcate that knowledge into his soul and essence.

This is a concept that appears on numerous other occasions as well. Most notably, the infamous prophet Bila’am merited an incredible level of prophecy and tremendous levels of divine revelation. Yet instead of becoming a person of noble character he became the total opposite. “Those who have an evil eye, an arrogant spirit, and a greedy soul, are disciples of the wicked Bila’am.[8]” His knowledge and prophetic sagacity did not make him into a greater person, but rather caused him to become nefarious, arrogant, and self-centered.

Bila’am’s foil was Moshe Rabbeinu who, despite his lofty level of direct prophecy, remained the most humble person on the face of the earth[9]. The difference lay in the fact that Moshe saw his knowledge and prophecy as a responsibility that he had to live up to. Bila’am on the other hand saw his virtues as proof to his own greatness and, therefore, it led him to become hedonistic and relentlessly demanding honor and aggrandizement.

In the Military chapel at the United States Military Academy at West Point, the soldiers recite the “Cadet Prayer”:

“Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won. Endow us with the courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.”

Greatness does not come from material possessions, vapid praise, or even great breadth of knowledge. Rather it comes from inner pondering and soul-searching, and a passionate drive for truth. Avrohom ‘discovered G-d’ because he earnestly pined to know the truth and he was unsatisfied with the mendacity that the world had accepted. He infused that search into his progeny.

Avrohom became a great man during the 175 years of his life, while his predecessors became increasingly wicked, despite staggering knowledge, during their lifetimes of hundreds of years. The legacy he taught us is that the hallmark of a Jew is not how many pages he has studied, but how much of his learning he has internalized. That is the way one produces a nation of great people.

“Look to Avrohom your father and Sarah your birth mother[10]

“A good eye, a humble spirit, and a meek soul[11]

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR

Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

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[1]The following essay is based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, parshas Noach 5770, on the occasion of the Bar Mitzvah of Binyamin Pomerantz.

[2] Bereishis 9:29

[3] Shiurei Chumash (Bereishis)

[4] Avos 5:21

[5] With them living for so long, we can only imagine how big the dais was at their children’s Bar Mitzvos. With so many generations still living they must have needed to add so many extra aliyos…

[6] 1135-1204

[7] Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, 1707-1746; Adir Bamarom

[8] Avos 5:22

[9] Bamidbar 12:3

[10] Yeshaya 51:2

[11] Avos ibid

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