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DIVINE SUPPORT SYSTEM

by Rabbi Shimon Wiggins    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

People often think that the life of a tzaddik, a righteous person, is filled with palpable spirituality; that somehow a tzaddik experiences Hashem's presence in every mundane aspect of life. Let us examine the truth of these ideas.

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People often think that the life of a tzaddik, a righteous person, is filled with palpable spirituality; that somehow a tzaddik experiences Hashem's presence in every mundane aspect of life. Let us examine the truth of these ideas.

In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Noah is described as a righteous and complete person. The Torah then adds the following phrase, "Noah walked with G-d" (Genesis 6:9). Presumably a righteous person is someone who carefully follows Hashem's will. Therefore, what is this phrase teaching us about Noah that we do not already know?

Rashi, the fundamental Torah commentator, answer this question by first comparing this phrase to a similar clause written about Abraham. Hashem introduces the mitzvah of brit milah (circumcision) to Abraham with the words, "Walk before Me" (ibid. 17:1). The two phrases seem similar, yet there is a subtle difference. While Noah is described as a person who walked with Hashem, Abraham is told to walk before Hashem. What is the distinction between walking with Hashem and walking before Hashem? Rashi explains that walking with Hashem implies that Noah needed Hashem to support him. Noah truly wanted to be a righteous person and indeed became a righteous person through his own abilities and strengths. Abraham did not need Hashem to support him. Abraham, in Rashi's words, "mitchazek me'elav - became strong on his own".

The Maharal of Prague, a leading Jewish thinker of the 16th century, asks the following question on Rashi's explanation. How does the phrase, "Noah walked with G-d," actually imply that Hashem helped Noah? Where do we see Hashem's reaching out to Noah in this phrase?

The Maharal explains that Noah's walking with Hashem is not to be understood figuratively, but quite literally. Noah walked with Hashem because Hashem allowed Noah to connect with the Shechina (the Divine presence). Noah literally clung to Hashem's spiritual presence and thus found strength and support in a hostile environment. Without Hashem's support, Noah could not have survived.

Abraham, on the other hand, did not have the same connection with the Shechina as Noah did. In fact, Abraham was intentionally precluded from any such connection with the Shechina in order that he be tested and challenged. Despite many difficult obstacles, Abraham remained steadfast in his commitment to Hashem and literally reshaped the world's attitude towards Hashem, without any direct support from the Divine presence.

From Abraham we can learn an essential lesson for everyday living. Life is not always sweet. Spirituality is not always palpable. Mundane activity does not always seem meaningful. But, if one is steadfast in his commitment to doing Hashem's will, then surely one has chosen the path of righteousness.

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Rabbi Shimon Wiggins is a teacher at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta.

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