It is well known that there are infinite facets to the Torah, and so it should come as no surprise that there are several interpretations of the opening words of Parshat Noah: “Noah was a righteous man, pure in his generation.”

Rashi presents two contradictory opinions. One states that Noah was righteous only in his own generation of lawless people, but had he lived in the generation of Abraham, he would not have stood out. The other opinion states that since he was righteous in a generation of lawless people, he would have been all the more so outstanding in the more elevated generation of Abraham.

Shem miShmuel resolves the apparent contradiction. He states that there was no question that Noah was a tzaddik—indeed, Parshat Noah states so clearly. The issue was his “strength of heart”—that is, his resolve.

Shem miShmuel suggests that it is one thing to have an opinion and let yourself be convinced otherwise, and it is quite another to hold an opinion with resolve because you know that you are right. Noah lacked the strength of his conviction, and the reason for this weakness was his great humility.

Noah was so humble that, according to the Midrash, he wasn’t aware of any difference between himself and the others of his generation; he thought that only the kindness of the One Above saved him from the flood, rather than his own spiritual achievements.

Unfortunately, such a high level of humility can also stand in the way of 17 a realistic assessment of other people. A person this humble can easily fall prey to the wiles of others.

Another example of one who possessed such great humility was Joshua. When Moses realized this, he added the letter hey to Joshua’s name, so that it became Yehoshua, meaning “G-d will save him.” Moses thus strengthened Joshua’s resolve in the confrontation with the spies who advised the Jewish people against entering the Land of Israel. Without Moses’ help, Joshua’s humility might have caused him to capitulate in the face of their opposition.

So, it was possible that Noah, exposed to the opinions of his generation, would have altered his own moral position in favor of the others.

Not so Abraham. This giant of a man was as humble as Noah. Abraham said about himself that he was nothing “but dust and ashes.” Nevertheless, no one could shake him from his monotheistic view of G-d. No one could convince him that anybody but the One Above created and ran the world.

He had such strength of character that it spilled over to other people, and he was able to convince them of his beliefs. Rather than being persuaded to adopt their position, he was able to pull them over to his side.

The Chassidic master Rebbe Shlomo Kluger has another take on the question of Noah’s greatness. He links this dispute to another one
concerning G-d’s commandment to Noah to make a tzohar, or “light for the ark.” One opinion says that the tzohar was a window, allowing light to enter the ark, while the other says that it was a precious stone that allowed light to enter, and emanated light of its own, as well. Rebbe Shlomo Kluger suggests that this corresponds to the two different opinions of Noah’s personality.

According to one opinion, Noah was like a window, in that he allowed light to enter and to exit, meaning he allowed the people of his generation to watch as he built the ark, and he answered their questions as to why he was building it. But, he did not actively try to influence them. According to the second opinion, Noah was like a precious stone. He added his own illumination by actively trying to persuade his generation to take the path of connection to the One Above. In other words, he was a tzaddik like Abraham, who went out of his way to encourage the people of his generation to change their ways and come closer to G-d, but they were more wicked than the people of Abraham’s day and would not be persuaded.


After the flood, G-d gave the world seven universal mizvot, which became known as the Seven Laws of Noah or the Seven Noahide commandments. Jews and non-Jews alike must keep these laws (though Jews are also obligated by the Torah to keep many more—to a total of 613).

The Noahide commandments are general mitzvot, eminently sensible and practical: Do not murder, do not steal, do not engage in sexual improprieties, do not worship idols, do not blaspheme, and create a system of justice to make sure all live by these laws. There is one surprising exception—the law forbidding consumption of a limb severed from a living animal. Why would anyone want to do such a thing? Furthermore, if this is a Noahide commandment, what does it have to do with Noah?

There are some things that the Torah says that simply cannot be understood until you look into its deeper, hidden levels. As the great sage
Rameh m’Panov put it, “The Torah speaks primarily in supernal or spiritual terms, and only hints at the physical world…”

Shem miShmuel seeks to explain the mitzvah of not eating from the limbs of a live animal by alluding to its counterpart in the spiritual reality above.  He recalls that the issue of not eating a limb severed from a live animal comes up when Joseph brings negative reports of his brothers to his father, Jacob. Joseph hints that his brothers are transgressing this serious Biblical command. Of what exactly was he accusing them?

Shem miShmuel explains that Joseph was a tzaddik on a higher level than his brothers, who were also tzaddikim. Joseph was the tzaddik yesod olam, the righteous man who is the foundation of the world—in other words, the leader of the generation upon whom its spiritual welfare rests. Each of his brothers was on the level of tzaddik tachton, a righteous person who set a good example but whose main task is to help common people form a connection with the leader—in this case, Joseph.

19 Joseph could see the greatness of his brothers. Because he was aware of their righteousness, he was convinced that they also were aware of his higher level. When they failed to recognize him for who he was, he felt that they were acting as “severed limbs.” They were guilty of separating themselves from the “living,” the tzaddik who is the foundation and the life force of the entire creation in his time. Therefore, they were guilty—in the spiritual sense—of “eating of a limb severed from a live animal.” And because he felt that they were guilty in the spiritual sense, he assumed that they must be guilty physically as well.

Noah was also the tzaddik yesod olam in his generation. He was the righteous person upon whom his entire generation depended. However, the people of his generation were so wicked that they had no connection with him whatsoever. They were like “severed limbs,” without any link to the live body, the leader of the generation—Noah.

Noah’s strength was that he fended off all the temptations of his times. Shem miShmuel says that this was not an easy or natural achievement for Noah, who had to work hard to escape the vices of his generation and not act like a limb “severed” from G-d. When he succeeded, G-d established his achievement as a mitzvah—a commandment for all times.

Never again would the leader be tempted by the “limbs”—by the nonbelieving people of the generation. From now on, it is they who would come to him, to the tzaddik who is their foundation. Anything else corresponds to “eating from a severed limb,” separating oneself from the leader of the generation.


At the end of Parshat Noah, we find some very interesting information about Abraham and his family. We are told that he had a brother named Haran, who “died in front of his father.”1 Rashi tells us that when Abraham was thrown into the fiery furnace (for destroying the king’s idols), Haran took a big chance and sided with his brother. As a result, he was thrown into the furnace too. But unlike Abraham, Haran wasn’t saved by a miracle. He was burned alive in the furnace. Thus, he “died in front of his father” (who was present at the time).

This kind of interpretation, which not only explains but elaborates upon the simple (pshat) meaning of the verse, is called exegesis (drash or drosha).

Now let’s go on to the deeper or hidden (sod) meaning of the verse.

The Ari says that more happened here: The soul of Haran transmigrated into the body of Aharon the Kohen, and subsequently Aharon’s sons (Nadav and Avihu) died in front of their father while offering a foreign incense on the altar. Moreover, they also were consumed by fire.

What was the connection between Haran and Aharon, such that fifteen  generations later, Aharon should on some level be relive the events of Haran’s life? The answer comes from a variety of sources.

The Maharal of Prague points out that the Hebrew letters of the name Haran appear in the name Aharon with an additional letter—aleph—preceding them.

Shem miShmuel suggests that the added aleph at the beginning of Aharon’s name alludes to Alupho shel olam—the “Commander in Chief of the Universe”—G-d Himself. The added aleph indicates that unlike Haran, Aharon always cleaved to G-d. (This is an example of another level of Torah interpretation known as remez or clue/hint). The letters of Haran’s name indicate that he was full of good (since they are the same as the letters of Aharon), and we do indeed see that many great souls descended from him, including Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, as well as King David. But, he was not constantly cleaving to G-d, as was Aharon the Cohen.

Shem miShmuel tells us that Haran’s problem was that he lived in the Tower of Babel generation, which was a mixture of good and bad. The generation united (their good side) in opposing G-d’s will (their bad side).

Their influence made it impossible for Haran to cleave unequivocally to G-d. The way he achieved this unity was by being burned in the furnace, sanctifying G-d’s name. Even if this wasn’t his intention, his death in the fiery furnace purified and cleansed his soul, allowing him to cleave to G-d. 21 (Haran allowed himself to be burned in the furnace only after seeing that Abraham was miraculously saved. Many people had thought that Abraham’s salvation was due to a “magical” spell by Haran. When Haran was not saved from the furnace, it became clear that it was G-d who saved Abraham. Thus, Haran sanctified G-d’s Name by dying in the fire.)

When Haran was burned, whatever bad was in him was eradicated, and he returned to earth as the soul of Aharon the Kohen, clinging to G-d at all times.

What is the lesson for us? As long as there is a little negativity in us, a little ego, the Alupho shel olam can not illuminate our souls. The “bad” gets in the way. If we wonder why we cannot remain on the same high level all day as we may have achieved during prayer, or during the High Holidays of the month of Tishrei, the answer is, there’s still some bad in us. We haven’t eradicated it  all, and that’s why we can’t cling to G-d at all times!What’s the solution?

Parshat Noah is read in the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, also known as Mar Cheshvan, whose numerical value (gematria) is the same as “Torah” (when Cheshvan is spelled with two vav’s and one takes into account the collel). This is the answer for those who want to cleave to G-d.

Learning Torah is equivalent to immersion in a fire which purifies and cleanses the soul. This is evident in the parsha. When G-d tells Noah, Bo el ha teva, He is telling Noah to “come into the ark” and “enter into the words of Torah” since teva means “ark,” and “word.”

If you’re swamped with worries, errands to run, important things that must get done, remember at least on Shabbat to “enter the ark”—to immerse yourself in the words of Torah and prayer! Then, you will begin to experience unity with G-d.

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