Yishai Keller
Montreal Kollel 2005

The Midrash Rabbah on Parashat Noach comments, “Noach is so named because of his sacrifice [that he offered after the flood], as it says: ‘Vayarach Hashem et rei’ach ha’nichoach’ [‘Hashem smelled the pleasing aroma’].” The name “Noach” thus stems from the word “nichoach” – the term used by the Torah to describe the korban he offered after emerging from the ark. Why is Noach named for this korban? Wasn’t the story of the flood and the ark far more central to Noach’s life? The korban, seemingly, served merely as an expression of thanksgiving upon the conclusion of the story of Noach.

The Shem Mishmuel, the Rebbe of Sochatchov (grandfather of my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Shabtai Rappaport), offered a beautiful explanation of this Midrash. Towards the end of this parasha, Hashem makes a promise to never again bring a flood to destroy the earth: “I will never again curse the earth… and I shall never again smite all living beings as I did.” The Shem Mishmuel asks a very basic question regarding this promise. The purpose of the flood was to purge the earth from all the evil that prevailed upon it at the time. After Hashem’s vow never to bring another deluge, how will the earth be purified should mankind once again reach such a point of corruption, Heaven forbid? The answer is that Hashem here promises to never again allow mankind to reach such a situation where He will find it necessary to destroy the earth.

This is precisely Noach’s great achievement in offering the sacrifice. The word “korban” stems from the Hebrew word for closeness – “kiruv.” The Zohar writes that the Torah describes Noach as a “tzadik” because he brought heaven and earth closer together, a closeness that ensures that mankind will never deteriorate to such a low point ever again. If we do sin and become somewhat corrupt, the Almighty punishes us and then erases the sins, so as to prevent us from deteriorating to the point warranting our destruction. This is what it means that Hashem will never again bring a flood upon the earth. He will never allow us to reach a situation necessitating a flood, in the merit of Noach, the “ish tzadik,” who, through the offering of his korban, brought us closer to Hashem, thereby preventing our spiritual decline. It turns out, then, that the most critical and eternally relevant message of the story of Noach lies specifically in the korban he offered to Hashem.

Yet another important question also arises when carefully studying this parasha. How is it possible that the rainbow serves as a sign introduced by Hakadosh Baruch Hu in the aftermath of the flood? Wasn’t the rainbow created as part of the natural order, a result of the refraction of the sun’s rays through the raindrops?

The Seforno addresses this question and explains that, indeed, the phenomenon of the rainbow existed even before the flood. What Hashem introduced, however, was the human perspective towards this phenomenon. From now on, they looked upon the rainbow as a sign of Hashem’s covenant with the world.

In light of what we saw earlier, we might explain that after the flood, humanity was elevated. Prior to this catastrophe, the rainbow was nothing more than a meteorological event. But now, after the flood, whenever a person beholds a rainbow, he is reminded of the covenant God made with the world.

He remembers that we may never deteriorate to such a point where a flood becomes necessary, God forbid.

This idea concerning the rainbow may be extended to all of nature. Our problem is that we forget that Hashem is behind the natural order. The fact that rational explanations can be found does not leave God out of the picture. We believe that Hashem renews creation at every moment and enforces the laws of nature.

The period of the Yamim Tovim is now behind us, and we have begun a new year. Hakadosh Baruch Hu forgave us on Yom Kippur for all our misdeeds, and we have thus drawn closer to Him. It is well worth reminding ourselves of the beautiful comments of the Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva (chapter 7) regarding the status of a ba’al teshuva: “Yesterday, he was despised by the Almighty, repulsive, distanced, and abominable. But today, he is cherished, adored, close and beloved.” Through the process of teshuva, Hakadosh Baruch Hu brings us closer to Him. But it is important for us to realize that closeness to God is not only a privilege that we received in the merit of Noach and in the merit of teshuva, but it is also – and primarily – a responsibility cast upon us to maintain this close relationship. Now, after the Yamim Noraim, we are close to Hashem, and we thus bear the responsibility to continue this closeness by observing God’s word and fulfilling the mitzvot, so that be’ezrat Hashem, we will not need Him to bring us closer to Him once again next year, but we will rather progress further without regressing at all.