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by Michael Gros    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

It’s Monday morning, 7:30 AM, and the sidewalks are packed, as Joseph walks from the subway to his Manhattan brokerage firm. As he approaches the office building where he works, he nearly trips over a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk.



It’s Monday morning, 7:30 AM, and the sidewalks are packed, as Joseph walks from the subway to his Manhattan brokerage firm. As he approaches the office building where he works, he nearly trips over a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk. Joseph thinks to himself what a little hard work and a bit of luck can do for a person. Joseph’s private school education, a distinguished undergraduate career at Princeton, and an MBA from Harvard earned him all of life’s rewards. He looks with disdain at this simple beggar living on the street. For a brief moment their eyes cross, and in that moment they seem to form a connection.

During that moment, the beggar also feels a connection with Joseph, but does not know why. From his usual 7:30 A.M. position on the sidewalk, Mark eyes the spiffy-looking, upper-class stockbroker who approaches him with suspicion. They are all alike, Mark thinks, this millionaire in his perfectly pressed Armani suit, crocodile leather briefcase and Italian silk tie, hurrying off to his important job. In the moment that Joseph’s and Mark’s eyes met, each felt that there was a connection between them. In fact, a bond exists between the two: Mark and Joseph are twins who were separated at birth, one subjected to a life of poverty, drugs, and gangs; the other treated to a life of glitzy social events, limousines, and all of life’s materialistic perks and opportunities. Mark and Joseph are identical twins, but a lifetime of growing up in vastly different environments has left them with little in common.

Such a strong example shows the gigantic impact that the environment can have on one’s personality. Psychology teaches that our genes lay the foundation for our personality, but the environment plays a crucial role in influencing who we are. In this week’s Torah portion , one can find this same message repeated again and again. At the end of last week’s portion, we learn that the entire human race had become wicked, save for one family. G-d says that He "regrets" creating the human race, and decides to destroy everyone, except for Noah and his family. Parshat Noach begins, "Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations" (Genesis 6:9). Out of the entire human race, only Noah and his family were judged to be righteous, and to merit salvation. This point is clear, but what does the Torah mean when it says that Noah was "perfect in his generations?"

Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, explains that the sages of the Midrash differ as to what this line means. Rabbi Nechemia is quoted in the Midrash saying, "If in his age he [Noah] was righteous, then how much more so would he have been in the generation of Moses." If Noah could become a righteous man in an age of wicked people, how much more righteous would he be if he lived in a more moral generation? The level of Noah’s righteousness was limited by the morality of those around him. Why is this?

In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers 1:7) we learn from Nittai of Arbel, "Distance yourself from a bad neighbor; do not associate with a wicked person." We learn from this that even a mere encounter with an evil person can negatively affect our personality. We need to be careful in our daily lives to avoid wicked people or situations. For any experience we have with such a situation can affect who we are. Such an idea is open for argument. It is easy to say, "No, not me. I won’t be affected. I will rise above the negative experience and will not let it affect me." It is easy to believe that we can control how life affects us, but this week’s Torah portion shows us the falsehood of this belief.

When G-d brought the flood, he did so to destroy all life, not just human life. "And G-d saw the earth and behold it was corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth" (Genesis 6:12). We learn that all land animals and fowl were destroyed because they too had become corrupt. As Rashi explains, "Even cattle, beasts, and fowl mated with those who were not of their own species." The sins of the humans spread to the animals, until all creatures were acting in a perverted way. Though the animals did not intend to be influenced by humans, their exposure to humans influenced them in a negative fashion. Thus, mere contact with a wicked person or a corrupt situation can negatively affect one’s personality and behavior.

In our daily lives, we need to be aware of our surroundings, and of any influences which could affect us. Often we can be influenced in subtle ways which we or others do not recognize. Even so, we will be affected. We need to take heed in our lives to put ourselves in a place where we can be positively influenced. As the sages teach us "Let your house be a meeting place for sages, sit in the dust of their feet, and drink in their words thirstily" (Ethics of Our Fathers 1:4). We need to position ourselves -- both mentally and physically -- in places where we can be positively affected, where we can grow, and where we can become more righteous.

Noah, as righteous as he was, could have become much more righteous if he lived in a more righteous generation. Following the flood, Noah’s children repopulated the earth, but sadly, another generation arose to sin against G-d. This was the generation that built the Tower of Babel. From the midst of this unfortunate situation came the future salvation -- we learn that Abraham was alive at this time, and had already recognized G-d as his Creator. Following this episode, the next Torah portion begins with the famous words "Lech lecha -- go for yourself." G-d commanded Abraham to leave his home, to travel to the land of Israel. Abraham had a mission, which he was unable to achieve where he was located, so G-d commanded him to go to a better place.

Throughout our lives, we often find ourselves unable to achieve our missions in our current situations. Therefore we may need to change our physical and spiritual locations, and ascend to a place that is better suited for our needs. By doing so, we can ensure that we have the positive influences we need to grow and to achieve our goals, and in so doing, we can become one of the righteous of our generation.


Michael Gros is a recent graduate of Emory University. After four years in the "holy city" of Atlanta, he has decided to ascend to Jerusalem, where he is studying at Yeshivat Darchei Noam.

You are invited to read more Parshat Noach articles.

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