In the entirety of Scripture, few people have been given as many accolades by Hashem as Noach. The Torah praises Noach’s character, extolling him as a tzaddik, as being tamim (unblemished), and as one who walked with G-d – which is the ultimate excellence of a Jew who allows the decisions of his life to be governed by the will of G-d. Futhermore, the Torah calls him an ish: he was a mentch.
And yet, above and beyond all of these virtues, there is a crown with which Hashem praised Noach that preceded all of the aforementioned traits. The parsha starts off: “These are the accountings of Noach – that he was Noach.” This is explained by the Baalei Tosfos to means that he was an ‘ish neicha,’ a gentle person. Hashem holds the trait of gentleness to such a high regard that He gives it precedence over all the other virtues.
This is a daily lesson of profound importance. In Yiddish, we refer to the gentle person as an ‘eidele mentch.’ This is a wonderful quality to look for when you are dating, when looking for a life’s mate. Consequently, it is a very important characteristic to groom in oneself. However, with today’s hectic and frenetic pace of life, this is no easy task. The competitiveness of the workplace and the myriad of conflicting obligations that daily prey upon us are not breeding grounds for developing gentleness. Unfortunately, even the rigors and pressures of the bechinos and Regents exams that our children encounter put them into a pressure-cooker at a very young age (even though it is true that the educator walks a tightrope in that without the incentives of tests and faheirs, production would ebb mightily). There has to be a happy medium, where our children shouldn’t become ulcer prone at a young age because of an overdose of book reports, school projects, and multiple tests on the same day.
We must be aware of the fact that many people coming into marriages already are tense and have low frustration tolerance – even before the first child is born and the real bills begin to arrive. Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men, taught, “Maneh rach meishiv cheima – The soft answer repels wrath.” The gentle approach has a calming influence on those around us, which bodes well for creating a good equilibrium in a marriage.
In his famous Iggeres (which some people read every day), the very first piece of advice given by the Ramban is that a person should speak gently to all people at all times. He obviously considered this quality to be of paramount importance.
The Zohar, included in the Chok l’Yisroel on parshas Noach, explains that the reason Noach of all the people in the world at the time found favor in the eyes of Hashem was that he was noach, gentle, even to the difficult people of the generation of the flood. The Zohar elaborates that this is why the word chein is made up of a ches and a nun, the same letters that spell the word noach, which means to be gentle.
Let’s remember the litmus test for whether Hashem is happy with us is “If people are at ease with us, Hashem is at ease with us.” People are at ease with a gentle person!
On Shemini Atzeres during Mussaf, when the chazzan petitions for rain, he mentions that the angel in charge of rain is called Af-Bri. This strange word composition, meaning ‘anger and health’ in English, is explained by the Sages to convey the two types of rainfall that can come. It can be an angry contemptuous storm or a healthy life-giving rain. I spotted a fascinating jumble in the name Af-Bri, (spelled aleph, pei, beis, reish, yud). These letters also spell Av-P’ri (spelled aleph, beis, pei, reish, yud), meaning “the father of fruit,” for that is just what rain is. Indeed, the Gemara refers to the seasonal rainfall as revia, which literally means mating, since the rain mates with the ground and produces fruit.
In a larger sense, the commentaries tell us that rain, called geshem, actually refers to all gashmius – all of our material livelihood. Thus, the name of the malach might be alluding to the fact that if there is anger in the home, one will see the angry and unfortunate results, or the ‘Af attribute’ from the guardian angel of sustenance. On the other hand, if there is a healthy, gentle relationship in the home with everyone working diligently to create a calm and pleasant environment, then the ‘Bri attribute’ of the angel will come to the fore with the blessing of a healthy parnassah for the family.
This is what the Gemara teaches us in Bava Metzia: “Honor your wife in order to become wealthy.” We are taught that the grandest crown that one can acquire, above the crowns of royalty, priesthood and even Torah is the crown of a good name. This crown is generally in the possession of the gentle man or woman.
May Hashem give us the ambition and talent to become truly gentle persons, and in that zechus may we all merit life’s many blessings.