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Release My Soul From Bondage

Harav Yehuda Amital
21.09.2014

Summarized by Rav Eliyahu Blumenzweig

 

 

"When Noach was in the ark, he would constantly pray to God: 'Release my soul from bondage (Psalms 142:8).'"  (Midrash Tanchuma 58:11)

 

            This prayer succinctly expresses the tragedy of Noach and his generation.  The Zohar tells us that when Noach disembarked from the ark and saw the terrible results of the destruction, he turned to God and asked:  "You are known as a merciful and compassionate God.  Is this desolation an expression of your mercy?!"  God replied reproachfully:  "When I told you, 'The end of all flesh is coming before Me,' 'I will destroy the land,' 'Behold I will bring the flood,' what did you do?  Instead of praying for the salvation of your generation, you busied yourself with building an ark to save yourself and your dear ones.  And now you show surprise at the destruction!?"

 

            The Zohar thus expresses the rebuke that Noach received for his lack of concern for his generation.  A person can only pray when he feels the need to do so.  One can only pray for the welfare of the community if he considers himself a member of the community, and shares in its pain and suffering.  If Noach felt distanced from his community, how indeed could he pray for their welfare?

 

            Noach stood alone, separate from his neighbors.  Only after he closed the doors of the ark did he begin to realize the extent of his isolation.  With the closing of the doors of the ark, he suddenly became aware of the rift between himself and his generation. But his realization came too late;  his isolation was complete.

 

            At that moment Noach began to cry out to God:  "Release my soul from bondage!"  Not merely from the physical, external bonds of the ark, but from the spiritual shackles which bind the tzaddik (righteous person) and isolate him from his surroundings.

 

            Noach observed the depraved and violent world which surrounded him and attempted to separate himself.  He feared that if he came too close to his neighbors, he might find his own soul and behavior corrupted by them.  Noach escaped from the chance to redeem his neighbors, and instead built up an "ark" to protect himself, hoping that his neighbors would observe his righteous behavior and change their ways.

 

            In contrast to Noach, Avraham symbolized the involvement of the tzaddik with his surroundings.  The moment Avraham heard of God's intention to destroy Sodom, he began to beg and pray for mercy.

 

            The Jewish people came into being through Avraham, and not through Noach.  The children of Avraham must feel a connection to their surroundings, and attempt to improve the entire world rather than isolate themselves from their neighbors.

 

            According to the Zohar (Parashat Mishpatim), Noach's generation was worthy of receiving the Torah.  They possessed tremendous energy and drive, but their potential strengths were channeled in negative directions, towards evil and destructive behavior.  Noach saw his generation's external negative traits and was quick to distance himself from them.  If he had taken the time to look closer, he would have discovered the tremendous positive potential that lay dormant behind the outer wrapping, potential awaiting the tzaddik's touch to uncover the goodness and bring it to fruition.

 

 

(Originally delivered on leil Shabbat, Parashat Noach 5733. Translated by Gila Weinberg.)

 

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