We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
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Parshas Noach #1
"These are the generations of Noach. Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations. Noach walked with G-d. Noach had three sons, Shem and Cham and Yafes" (Bereishis 6:9-10).
The Torah is never redundant. Why does it add the apparently superfluous words, "These are the toldos (generations) of Noach," instead of beginning more directly with "Noach had three sons," followed by their names?
Midrash Aggadah explains that the word toldos refers not to Noach's children, but to another aspect of his legacy: his good deeds.
Rashi says even more: a tzaddik's righteous deeds are in fact his most important toldos. This is why "these are the toldos of Noach" is immediately followed by the words, "Noach was a righteous man." Noach's personal piety was even more significant than the children he left behind (Sifsei Chachamim).
The Maharal explains why this is so. Parents can only bring children into the world with the aid of Hashem; He is the indispensable third Partner Who plays the major role in the conception and birth of a child. Good deeds are different - they are the product of our personal efforts, making them all the more our own (Gur Aryeh ibid.).
Dr. Williams devoted his life to providing medical treatment to the underprivileged, free of charge. His home and practice were conveniently located over a liquor store in a poor neighborhood. Instead of the conventional doctor's shingle, a simple sign in front of the store read, "Dr. Williams is upstairs."
After years of volunteering his services to the needy, Dr. Williams died penniless. He had no family; friends and grateful patients chipped in to cover his burial costs. Unfortunately, a tombstone was beyond their means. It appeared that this dedicated man would be buried in an unmarked grave, until someone came up with the perfect solution. The sign from the liquor store was nailed to a post over the grave, with the few words that said it all: "Dr. Williams is upstairs."
Question for Discussion:
It is said that "Your deeds are your monument" - we will be remembered primarily for our actions. Noach's good deeds were a beautiful, eternal monument for this righteous man. Given a choice, what kind of deeds would you want to serve as your own life's monument, and why?
"And the land became corrupted before G-d, and the land was filled with theft" (Bereishis 6:11, Rashi).
In the generation leading up to the Flood, theft and dishonesty had become a way of life. It was for this crime above all that they were sentenced to destruction (see Rashi 6:13, citing Sanhedrin 108a).
Theft, even of the smallest sum, is a Torah-ordained prohibition (Vayikra 19:11). If the victim is a non-Jew, the severity of the transgression is even greater, due to the added element of chillul Hashem (Tosefta Baba Kama 10:15; see also Rabbeinu Bechayye, Vayikra 25:50). However, even worse than the theft itself is accepting it as an inevitable part of life and business.
By Mutual Agreement
A question presented to Rav Yair Chaim Bachrach, author of Responsa Chavos Yair, reflects the unusual relationship of a group of Jews in seventeenth century Germany. They were all fierce competitors in the clothing business, but they still got together every day to hear a shiur from a local rav. By mutual agreement, they would present any disputes over unfair business practices to their rav - and they were keeping him very busy with their frequent dinei Torah. The group's gabbai, himself a talmid chacham, hit upon a novel suggestion. Instead of investing so much time and money in endless litigation with the rav, why not decide up front that come what may, they agree to excuse each other's infractions and forfeit any losses they might cause one another? This way, they would save themselves the headache, as well as the legal fees, of straightening out each individual case.
The group asked the rav if this was an acceptable option. However, he felt that he could not issue an impartial ruling, because he stood to lose the income from their dinei Torah if they adopted this agreement. The question was instead sent to the Chavos Yair, a prominent posek, for his opinion.
The Chavos Yair wrote that while the cutthroat competition among these men was certainly wrong, and at times might involve outright theft, the idea of accepting improper or dishonest behavior upfront as standard business practice was even worse. It was no less than the sin of the Generation of the Flood, where society as a whole had turned corrupt. In their case, the inevitable result would be greatly increased enmity, chillul Hashem, and theft. Even if they agreed to do so for only a limited time, the dishonesty would quickly become entrenched as second nature, lingering on long after the time they set had passed (Responsa Chavos Yair 163).
Question for Discussion:
Theft, unfair competition and other forms of unethical dealings are intrinsically wrong; institutionalizing them as standard practice is much worse. Unfortunately, certain behaviors, practices and attitudes which are contrary to Torah law and ethics are now so prevalent in society that they are viewed as acceptable. What is an example of one such behavior, practice or attitude?