Noach lived through three different historical periods. The first was before the flood, when he demonstrated faith in Hashem, spending 120 years building an ark. The second was the 12 months of the flood itself, with Noach busy around the clock providing for all the animals in the ark.
And the third was after the flood was over when Noach emerged from the ark to face a destroyed world and brought korbanos. (The Medrash Aggadah says Noach wanted Hashem to make a covenant with him never to devastate the world again.)
The Medrash Tanchuma writes that these three time periods are alluded to in Bereishis 6:9: “These are the children of Noach, Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation, Noach walked with Hashem.” Noach’s name is mentioned three times in this verse since he saw the world when it was settled, he saw the world when it was destroyed, and he returned to see the world resettled.
The Torah tells us (Bereishis 9:20) that “Noach, the man of earth…planted a vineyard.” The Rambam understands the word “vayachel” in this pasuk as an expression of “beginning,” but Rashi understands it as an expression of debasement since Noach shouldn’t have planted a vineyard.
But why not? He had just witnessed the destruction of the world and was utterly disheartened. Doesn’t Mishlei 31:6 state, ”Give strong drink to the dispirited and wine to those of embittered soul?”
The great rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ohr Elchonon, R’ Simcha Wasserman, zt”l, explained that one who escapes devastation must look ahead, envision a great future, and build from the ruins. Noach was not supposed to drown in his personal grief, and that’s why the Torah describes him as “the man of earth.”
No matter the trials or tribulations we experience, we must not sink into depression. We must be confident that Hashem will help us, as Tehillim 113:7 states, “He lifts the pauper from the dust, from the trash heaps He raises the destitute.”
Rav Wasserman noted that his generation, like Noach, lived through three historical periods. They saw a world of Judaism in Europe, with many centers of Torah and chesed, chachamim, and tzaddikim. They saw that world destroyed over six years. But Baruch Hashem, they also saw a new world arise from the destruction with the growth of Torah, yeshivos, Bais Yaakov schools, chesed organizations, and a new kiruv movement, which continues to expand. They saw the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy of teshuvah that will occur in the end of days.
Rav Wasserman learned in Telshe, Lithuania, which is located near the Baltic Sea, opposite Sweden, where the nights would be short and the days very long. He described a scene he once saw when he went towards the end of the city. To the north, the sky was dark and the stars were out. When he turned southwest, though, the sky was red as the sun was setting. And in the east, the sun’s rays were beginning to break through the darkness as a new day began. Simultaneously, Rav Wasserman saw three different phases – sunset, darkness, and sunrise.
Rabbi Moshe Gerlitz in HaGoral HaYehudi writes that following the war, the Klausenberger Rebbe paid a visit to survivors of the Holocaust who were housed in a sanatorium outside of Munich. The Rebbe brought along four packages of kosher tzitzis strings as a gift. He was totally unprepared, though, to find over 150 Jews clamoring for the tzitzis.
As a result, it was decided to conduct a lottery to determine who would get the pairs of tzitzis. Everyone agreed except one Gerer chassid from Lodz named Mendel Tshtitik who came over to the Rebbe and asked for one of the packages.
“Are you more worthy than anyone else here?” asked the Rebbe with a smile.
With two quick yanks on each side of his shirt, the young man made two vertical rips and then said, “Yes, I now have a garment that has four corners, for which I am obligated by the Torah to have tzitzis, unlike everyone else here who is not required by Torah law to wear tzitzis.”
The Klausenberger Rebbe thought about it for a moment and then said, “If your intentions are truly sincere, I’m sure that you will be one of the winners of the lottery.”
The tension in the air was palpable. Every one present deeply desired the precious tzitzis. To the amazement of everyone, one of the lucky winners was Mendel Tshtitik!