Parshas Noach (5773)
Everyone is familiar with the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark and the Flood that destroyed much of the world, and how all the animals came two by two into the Ark in order to be saved. In fact, you can catch this great story live this weekend at synagogues all around the world.
But one story they most likely did not teach you in Hebrew School is about this really strange couple who also entered the ark, as told in the following Midrash:
Said Rabbi Levi: “When G-d said to Noach that he should bring every species, two by two, into the Ark, they all came and entered [the Ark], each one with its mate (see Genesis 7:9). ‘Sheker’ (the force of falsehood in the world) also wanted to enter the Ark. Noach said to him, ‘You cannot enter the Ark unless you have a mate’. So ‘Sheker’ went out looking for a mate. He chanced upon ‘Pachsa’ (lit. ‘depletion; - the spiritual force in charge of depleting human resources and impoverishing men) and proposed a match. ‘Pachsa’ replied, ‘What will you give me?’ Said ‘Sheker’, ‘Everything that I earn’. ‘Pachsa’ agreed to the terms of the match, and so this ‘couple’ was allowed into the Ark. This is the source for the popular saying: ‘Everything which falsehood earns, depletion takes away’. (Midrash Shocher Tov to Psalms 7; See also Da’as Zekeinim to Genesis 6:19)
The moral of this strange but fascinating Midrash is that although a person thinks he can benefit from falsehood and from ill-gotten gains, in the end his money will not stay with him but will ultimately be depleted and lost. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote: “[Like] a partridge summoning together [chicks] it did not bear, so is one who amasses wealth unjustly; in the middle of his days it will leave him, and at his end he will be considered a scoundrel” (Jeremiah 17:11).
The Chafetz Chaim explains [in Sfas Tamim Chapter 2] that for ten generations leading up to the time of the Flood, G-d allowed people to do as they pleased, so they cheated each other and made massive amounts of money through all kinds of scams and trickery. Those wicked people who became wealthy through falsehood saw how they were able to keep and maintain their ill-gotten money for many generations, and this only made them steal and cheat even more. As the Torah tells us in this week’s Torah portion, “… and the earth had become filled with robbery” (see Genesis 6:12). All this changed, however, during the time of the Flood, when G-d decreed that any money or possessions gained through falsehood would not be maintained for long but would seen be depleted. Even in our own times, we are witness to this phenomenon. The Madoffs of the world don’t stay on top for long; eventually they are found out and they lose everything, just as the Midrash says.
If only the wicked people living at the time of the Flood would have paid more attention to Lashon Hakodesh (lit. ‘the Holy Tongue’ - Biblical Hebrew), they might not have descended to such low levels of falsehood, robbery, and cheating, and they might not have perished.
You see, we believe that there is a major, qualitative difference between Biblical Hebrew and all the other languages out there. All the other languages are the product of human beings, while Hebrew was made up by G-d Himself. In fact, we are taught that Hebrew pre-existed the world itself! And the Sages tell us that when G-d created the world, He created it by means of Loshon Hakodesh. Evidence is cited from the Hebrew words ish (man) and ishah (woman). The Torah informs us that woman was so named "because she was taken from man" (Genesis 2:3) - a reasoning which would only make sense if man and woman were created by means of Loshon Hakodesh in which ish and ishah are nearly identical.
This very important difference has many ramifications to it. For one thing, since Hebrew was made up by G-d Himself, it must, by definition, be a perfect language, and must make perfect sense, since G-d is perfect. Other languages, which are the product of human beings, have to make about as much sense as the humans who created them!
Take the English language, for example. It makes no sense at all! And here is a short list of reasons why:
- Why are they called "apartments" when they are all stuck together?
- Why do we play in recitals and recite in plays?
- If people from Poland are called Poles, why aren't people from Holland called Holes?
- Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?
- Why is a person who plays the piano called a pianist, but a person who drives a race car not called a racist?
- Why are a wise man and a wise guy opposites?
- Why do overlook and oversee mean opposite things?
A more significant ramification, as explained by Rabbi Akiva Tatz in his book WorldMask, is this: Hebrew is an objective language - it is G-d's expression of the essence and ultimate role and purpose of all that He created on this earth. If we speak and study the Hebrew language carefully, we will ultimately find out how G-d wants a particular idea to be expressed and carried out in this world.
Other languages are subjective - they are merely human expressions of our limited and somewhat distorted perception of the essence of all that is created for us on earth. And when we study the English language, we are studying a human being's idea of the particular essence of an object or person. [See Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary to Parshas Noach 11:6 where he discusses this concept at length and provides many illustrations.]
It is therefore very interesting to note that in Biblical Hebrew there is no expression “to have”, only yesh li, (lit. ‘there is to me’). This is not an insignificant difference.
The English word “have” comes from the Latin capere, meaning “to seize”. In other words, according to the rest of the world’s understanding, when I seize something, I have it, and it is mine, whether it pertains to me or not. In Lashon Hakodesh, on the other hand, we say yesh li, “there is to me”, meaning that this particular item is connected to me and was given to me (by G-d) to utilize properly and purposefully. It follows that, according to the Torah, I only truly “own” not that which I seize and “have” but that which pertains to me and which is meant for me to use.
The generation of the Flood wanted to “have it all” but in the end they had nothing, because everything which ‘Sheker’ earns, ‘Pachsa’ takes away! And even today there is so much cheating and greed and so many things that truly pertain to others yet that we want to have, often causing so much pain and heartbreak.
What a different world this would be if only we would all read Biblical Hebrew and apply its many true and beautiful concepts – G-d’s expression of the way things ought to be – to our lives.