You thought that the Flood, the Mabul, was something that happened a long time ago. I did too—until I saw the Radak on a pasuk in this week’s haftarah.
“For this to Me is like the waters of Noach. Just as I swore that the waters of Noach shall never again pass on to the earth, so too I swore never to be completely irate or fume at you.’ (Yeshaya 54:9)
The Radak addresses the following issue. What does one thing have to do with the other? If Hashem wanted to say that He will never again become supremely angry with the Jewish People, why not just say that? Why allude to Noach and the Flood? Of course, the fact that the Mabul is mentioned here gave Chazal a convenient link allowing for this perek in Yeshaya to be the haftarah for Parshas Noach, but that obviously was not at all part of the equation.
So what is the connection between Hashem’s anger at Klal Yisrael and the Mabul? The pasuk could have said many things, such as, “Just like the sun will never stop rising and setting, so too will I, Hashem, never become irate with you.” There must therefore, be a clear link between the Mabul and Hashem’s anger at the Jewish People. What is it?
The Radak tersely says that the exile of the Jewish People is compared to being in the Flood. Hashem swore to Noach that He will no longer bring another Flood to destroy the world, and here the pasuk tells us that Hashem swears He will never completely destroy the Jewish People. He has placed us in the Flood of this long exile, but He will never completely abandon us. We will be redeemed from this galus and that redemption will be everlasting.
This pasuk fits the broad context of the haftarah, part of which is also the haftarah for Ki Setzei, one of the shiva d’nechemta, the seven haftaros we read after Tisha B’av which Chazal instituted to comfort ourselves. The haftarah discusses the wondrous future of the Jewish People, the comforts, consolations and joys which we will all experience. It is true that the pain and suffering of this temporary exile are real but when contrasted with the comforts and rewards of eternity, it will seem “as like a dream, hayinu k’cholmim,” as we say in the Shir Hama’alos (Tehillim 126) before bencthing.
As the pasuk in the haftarah (54:7) says, “For a brief moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercy I will gather you in.” The year in the teivah must have seemed like an eternity to Noach and his family, as if Hashem abandoned him. Yet in actuality what Hashem did was bring Noach salvation with the world’s re-creation and re-birth.
Just as Noach’s very difficult experience was also his deliverance and rescue from the devastation, so too, our long exile, with all the suffering we endure, is part of Hashem’s Heavenly calculations to ensure our survival. While we cannot understand why we need to suffer and while we can never explain the reasoning behind the pogroms and holocausts, we trust that it is all necessary and that one day, after Moshiach comes, Hashem will explain it all to us. At that point, we will understand why it all had to happen. As a friend once told me after his father died relatively young, “The one thing which keeps me going is that now I know that my father understands why it had to happen to him and not only that, he is happy that it happened to him.” In Shamayim, all is understood.
When seeing the Radak’s comparison of our galus to the Flood, the following came to mind as well.
The Rambam (Hilchos De’os 6:1) paskins a halacha:
“The nature of man is to be pulled by his nature and actions after his friends and to adjust to the customs of the people of his country. . . . Therefore, if one was in a country where there were bad customs and whose citizens did not follow the straight path, then one should go to a place whose citizens are righteous and who have good customs. If one heard about every country that one knows that it has bad customs. . .then one should live alone. . . If there were bad people and sinners around who would not leave someone alone unless one mixes with them and follows their bad customs, then one should go and live in a cave. . .and one should not accustom oneself to the ways of sinners.”
Rav Yaakov Hopfer tells the story of when the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, met the Chazon Ish. In their conversation, Rav Yoel lamented how with all the immorality and evil throughout the world, it seemed impossible to fulfill the aforementioned Rambam. Are we left with no choice today but to run to the caves and live a primitive life?
The Chazon Ish answered that there is still one place to go in order to escape the negative and immoral sway of the world and fulfill the Rambam—we must run to the yeshivos and batei midrashim. The Chazon Ish said that despite the power of negative influence in the world, the holy power of Torah learning can ward off any of the damage.
Rav Hopfer used the Chazon Ish’s comment to explain why G-d had Noach build a teivah. Couldn’t Hashem have saved him in some other, less complex way? Why couldn’t Noach be told to run to the highest mountain top, settle there, and Hashem would prevent the water from coming? Rav Hopfer explained that in order for Noach to survive he had to escape to a place totally removed from the evil of the generation of the flood. It wasn’t enough to run to a mountain top. Noach had to be completely protected and insulated from any of the spiritual pollution through the sanctity of the teivah’s walls of protection.
In our lives, we must also remain protected from the immoral influences of the world and find our own teiva and sanctuary from the flood waters and negative influences of exile around us.
And these are some of the happenings in this week’s haftarah.
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