Parshat Noach: Seven times the righteous man falls and gets up
Time and time again, the Almighty God proves to us we must allow our weaknesses to show, that we must admit our sins, that there are no perfectly righteous people, and that there is no one opinion in the Torah. Anywhere anyone tries to voice one opinion, one view, or one truth, or espouse one tzaddik, or one party is immediately beset by the Jewish spirit, which spreads peace in the world in only one way – through disagreement.
Rabbi Shlomo Vilk is the Rosh Yeshiva of the Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva
In biblical stories about tzaddikim, righteous individuals, the protagonists constantly fail and falter, as in God’s act of creation. The wagon always breaks down, along with the family it was carrying. They always err, but Hashem chooses them nonetheless. They proceeded to become the forefathers of the Jewish people because they were role models, and they gave us hope because they showed us that we can both stay human and be chosen by God.
There was one fully righteous individual that was chosen by God to continue the human race. It was this same individual that lay naked in his tent after getting drunk and passing out, after which he cursed his son and grandson. We are his descendants. We descend from the one who survived the flood. Unlike Abraham, who, according to Israeli poet Yehuda Amihai, had passed on to us the “dagger in the heart”; the progenitor of mankind, which was restored, left us alcoholism as an heirloom.
These were the righteous of yesteryear… but we’ve improved in recent years. Tzaddikim are perfect. They don’t make mistakes. They fully espouse the views of the Torah, and the voice of God passes through their mouths with utter precision. They always know the truth, and they always do the right thing. If one of the servants exposes the truth about a Rebbe, or if some heretic publishes a more human biography about one of these tzaddikim, a tremendous outcry ensues to protest this terrible falsehood.
Today’s tzaddikim aren’t really human beings. They don’t have an evil inclination. In fact, they are greater than God Himself, who has occasionally admitted to making a bad judgment call. We’ve progressed, and today, being human is no longer acceptable, because that would mean that we are rather weak, and we may no longer let our weaknesses show.
The tzaddikim beseech the masses to make progress, but they bar the entranceway to the ark. Sinners may not enter, and only the faultless are allowed in. We should keep our distance from anything vaguely resembling a sin, or what we’d otherwise call real life. The church has already done so, many years ago. Several years later, Islam followed suit, and about two hundred years ago, it was the Jews’ turn to enter the age of perfection. There is no tzaddik in the land who will only do good, and not sin, so we will simply not live on this earth. We’ll live in heaven, instead.
Time and time again, Hashem proves to us that we must allow our weaknesses to show, that we must admit our sins, that there are no perfectly righteous people, and that there is no one opinion in the Torah. Anywhere anyone trying to voice one opinion, one view, or one truth, or espouse one tzaddik or one party is immediately beset by the Jewish spirit, which spreads peace in the world in only one way – through disagreement. We consistently reject attempts to “unite the clans” with a common tongue and common words. We tear down new towers of Babel erected by the right, or by the left, at yeshivot and at universities, before God scatters us throughout the world.
Truly, the biggest question concerns boundaries. When do we consider a dispute to be for the sake of heaven, and when does a dispute begin to resemble that of Korach and his congregation? Which opinions are legitimate, and which will not be allowed into our house of study? Who will we call the “worst” thing imaginable – a Reform Jew – after immediately sensing the clear and present danger, and whom can we come to love, at the end of the dispute, to the point that we’d be prepared to marry his daughter? When is a person like Shammai, and when is that person more like Elisha Ben Abuyah? Since the only one who can answer this question is the “minister of history”, we ought to tighten our control over the borders, and seal off our students’ ears, lest they learn to lie, causing us to incur the penalty of exile.
In such a case, we may even stop being afraid. After all, we have no way of sealing off our gates and our senses, and anything that passes through, inadvertently and stealthily, will end up as a sin, and cause us to go astray. We’ll learn that there are lights everywhere. We’ll peel off the outer layers and focus on the interior, and we’ll seek out a benevolent glance when we tread across a narrow and intimidating path. The sins of yesterday will be the answers of tomorrow, and things that needed to be kept concealed in the past will now become a way of life for us to follow.