Parshas Noach – Falling in Love With Everybody

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פרשת נח

In Mesichta Eiruvin (65a) it states the following: כל המתפתה ביינו יש בו מדעת קונו – “Anybody who allows himself to be persuaded by his wine – that means that he allows himself to get a little tipsy when drinking wine, and now he’s willing to do some things that a few moments ago he would have never even considered – that person has the same middah, the same attitude, as his Creator.”
The Gemara continues: From where do we learn this? And the Gemara points to a posuk in this week’s Parsha: וירח השם את ריח הניחח – “And Hashem smelled the sweet savor [of the korbon of Noach],” ויאמר השם אל לבו לא אסף לקלל עוד את האדמה בעבור האדם – “And [Hashem] said to His heart ‘No longer will I curse the earth because of man’ ” (Bereishis 8:21).
Now, what does this pasuk mean? Here is Noach, a man who just survived the most devastating destruction to ever befall mankind, and so, in gratitude to Hashem he builds an altar and brings up offerings to Hashem. And when Hakodosh Boruch Hu smelled the pleasant savor of the korbon, He said, “Just because of that, because of that sweet scent that I smell, I will never again curse mankind.”
Now, when Hakodosh Boruch Hu decided to bring a mabul to destroy all of mankind, He did it for His reasons; and they were very good reasons; otherwise He wouldn’t have taken such drastic measures. And so, there is no question at all that He was justified in what He did. If Hakodosh Boruch Hu determined that the behavior of mankind warranted such punishment, then it was a most justified decision.
So now we must ask ourselves: If Hashem was justified in His decision, why is it that when He smelled the savor of Noach’s offering – which of course means nothing at all to Hashem – did He changed His mind? Could it be that merely because Noach brought up an offering, that “Hashem smelled the sweet savor,” and said, “Never again will I bring such a catastrophe on mankind”? Is Hashem such a fickle G-d that some sweet smelling steak, could effect a change in His attitude?
And the answer is that Hakodosh Boruch Hu tells us things about Himself as a model for the world to follow, for people to learn from. Everything that is written in the Torah about Hakodosh Boruch Hu is not intrinsically true – it’s only a model for us to learn from. And that’s why understanding the Torah is so important. It is full of advice for how to lead a truly successful life. I’m not talking about fanciful explanations that are meant merely to tickle your nerves. I’m talking about the פשוטו של מקרא, the words of Hashem. You have to study these ideas because these are the attitudes that Hashem wants you to develop. And so, this posuk, וירח השם את ריח הניחח, is supplying a most important lesson for us to follow. So pay close attention to the following.
Hakodosh Boruch Hu understood the necessity of bringing retribution upon man for his sins, and nevertheless, when He smelled the ריח ניחח, the sweet savor of Noach’s korbon, He gave His word, His covenant, that never again would He destroy all of mankind. And He did that for us to learn from. Anybody who sits down at a place where people are imbibing some good wine, should use the effects of the alcohol that is getting to his head, to be persuaded to overlook people’s faults that are nagging at him. Even if you feel you are justified, if you want to be a person who learns from Hashem, you will allow the effects of the wine to overcome those sober attitudes.
I’ll give you a mashal. Here’s a man who is not so friendly with his neighbor. He has some sort of תרעומות , some sort of complaint, against his fellow. Maybe his neighbor blocked his driveway one day for a few minutes. Or maybe his neighbor forgot to invite him to his daughter’s chasuna. Whatever it is, he’s upset at his neighbor. And now it’s Purim time, and they both end up here in the shul at the מסיבה, and they’re sitting near each other, and drinking. And the wine is getting to this man’s head, and he’s thinking, “What am I so upset about already?! What’s the big deal? So he blocked my driveway. What’s a driveway anyway? I’m not going to be able to take it with me to the Next World anyhow.” You know that by the way don’t you? They don’t let you take your driveway with you. It doesn’t fit into the ארון, the coffin.
So this man is letting the alcohol influence him to become friendly again with his neighbor. I saw it happen here in my shul, at our Purim mesibah. I told the man, “Here, have another cup of mashkeh.” And then, when it finally got to his head, I told him to give his neighbor a big hug and to say, “I love you.”
And you shouldn’t think that this man is a silly man. Don’t say, “Is that really the measure of a smart person; a person who can so easily yield the attitudes that he formed when he was sober, when he was still able to reason rationally? At that time he decided not to be friendly, and now, just because he’s under the influence of some alcohol, he’ll decide to be friendly?! Is that a proper reaction?!”
So we say, Yes! That’s the best possible reaction a man can have to wine. If you allow yourself to become persuaded by wine, and now you’re becoming friendly with that neighbor who you didn’t even want to look at; that is the middah of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. That’s learning from the ways of Hashem! Hashem allowed the sweet savor of Noach’s korbon to persuade Him, solely so that you should learn to not be such a stickler, such a rough and tough arrogant fellow, and instead allow yourself to be persuaded, just like He did.
We’re learning from here that wine is supposed to be a persuader, to persuade yourself to let go of your wrong attitudes. Of course, wine can persuade people to do wrong things too. Wine causes a lot of trouble as well. It gets many people into serious trouble. Because they’re allowing themselves to be persuaded to do all wicked things. I already told you this once, but I can repeat it now because it’s part of our subject: What is it when you see three ambulances racing past you on the street with their sirens blaring? What’s going on? It’s the end of a Puerto Rican wedding. And it’s true. They drink and argue and fight, and they end up stabbing each other.
Now, I’m not recommending that all of you should drink wine. No, not at all. Nowadays, too many of you will be persuaded the same way the brown people are persuaded. So it’s enough one day a year, on Purim, when you’re sitting in front of your Rebbi – that’s enough.
But the lesson that Hashem is teaching us by smelling the sweet fragrance of the korbon, is still applicable to all of us, all the time. Here’s a man, who got angry, and he slapped his wife. A wicked thing! It’s terrible. He was shouting at her, and he got excited and he slapped her. He realized that he had made a terrible mistake and that he had to make sholom. And in order to apologize, he bought her a small gift box, a box of candy or chocolate, whatever it was. And she accepted it. She accepted it! Now, is a box of chocolate enough to appease a wife for a wicked thing like a slap?! But she was a smart woman and she accepted it. A woman who allows herself to become appeased over a box of chocolate, and to use it as an excuse to forgive her husband is emulating the example of her Creator. She is wiser than all the fools who call me on the phone and tell me about how they’re going to go to court and break up their marriage because of this or that. They’re setting themselves up for a life of unhappiness, while this wise woman is still happily married and dancing at her grandchildren’s chasunas. It’s a terrible cheit that he did, but she was smart enough to learn from the attitude of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
Here’s a man whose wife did something wrong. Whatever it was is not important. And so when he came home from work, she baked him some fresh cookies. And she offered it to her husband. “Chaim’ll, I baked this for you.” And he smelled the sweet fragrance of the cookies, and he accepted it. And he made up his mind to forget about what his wife did wrong. Now, that’s a smart man! כל המתפתה ביינו יש בו מדעת קונו. A box of chocolate and a plate of cookies may seem like a poor reason to alter an attitude that was already acquired, yet it is no less a reason than the savor of an offering to Hashem. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is teaching us an attitude for life. And acquiring the דעת קונו, the attitude that Hashem is modeling for us, is your success as an עבד השם.
And this doesn’t apply only to a husband and wife. It’s your friends and your neighbors. And your boss and your coworkers. Your children and your employees. Your daughter-in-law and your mother-in-law. Everyone you come in contact with. You have to train yourself to accept the small things that others do, and look at them with a forgiving eye. Let yourself be נתפייס. And it’s not a silly thing at all. To ignore this lesson, is just arrogance, and an unwillingness to learn from the attitudes of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
And it doesn’t have to be only when your fellow Jew is trying to appease you. A person must learn to be נתפתה, to become seduced, by his fellow Jew’s good deeds, the favors that he does for you, even when that fellow is not trying to appease you. Let me explain. Here’s a neighbor who makes too much noise late at night when you’re trying to sleep. He decides to build his Sukkah at two o’clock in the morning. Or maybe his children are always running into your yard, ruining your lawn. And in your heart, you’re still upset at him. And now, he sees you carrying a heavy package up the steps, and he offers to help you. Or when you need a tool to finish putting up that last wall of the Sukkah, and he lent you his new drill for the day. Now, he wasn’t doing it to make up for what he did to you. He doesn’t even remember it. Only that you’re staying up late at night, gnawing your teeth about him, so you haven’t forgotten about it. And anyhow, you should make use of his favors to become appeased to him. You should learn the attitude of נתפתה from Hashem.
If you’re a wise man, you’ll use these ideas we are speaking about, and you’ll learn how to erase negative feelings from your heart. You’ll learn how to get along with everybody. You have to be on the lookout for the good things that your fellow Jew is doing for you. And use them to be persuaded. Of course, there will always be people who you think have wronged you. And maybe they have. But the man who learns this מאמר חז”ל in Eiruvin, will use the fact that he once helped you with your package, or lent you his tools, to be נתפתה and to forgive.
Whatever it is, there is always something you can find. But you have to keep your eyes open. You have to keep your mind attuned to what’s going on around you. If you live your life, thinking only about yourself, אני ואפסי עוד, then you’ll always be a failure. You can’t wait around for someone to offer you a box of chocolate and ask your forgiveness. You’ll be waiting forever. You have to keep your eyes open to all the good things that people are doing for you. Your wife is doing things for you all the time. Your children. Your neighbors. Your coworker. The gabbai in shul and the grocer on the corner. They might have done something to upset you, but you should focus on the good they do for you and be נתפתה from all these favors. And the more you pay attention to the benefits that you are gaining from others, the more you will be appeased and the more you will be seduced to love them.
And this is one of the secrets of successful living with others. כי מי אשר יחובר אל כל החיים יש בטחון – “For one who is attached to all the living – all the living, not just those who don’t rub you the wrong way – he still has hope” (Koheles 9:4). Your hope for success in this world is to get along with everybody! It’s not an accident that people are different from one another. כשם שאין פרצופיהן שווין זה לזה כך אין דעותיהן שוות. Hashem made every single human being different than the next one. Why? Wouldn’t it have been easier if Hashem had made us all alike? And He could have done it. He could have. But that’s not why Hashem brought you into this world. No; He wants you to make something out of yourself. What, are you going to remain the same clump of clay that you were born as?! Hashem wants you to smooth out your rough edges. Your rough edges, not your friend’s rough edges! Not your wife’s rough edges or your husband’s rough edges! It’s you that has to change. Hashem wants you to be able to overlook all the idiosyncrasies of your fellow Jew, to take in stride all those things that make him a little – or even a lot – different than you. That’s the greatness of a person. To be pleased with everyone, and to get along with everybody, even those who are different than you.
You’re going to run into many people in your life. And none of them are going to be perfect. Everyone has that little something, or that big something, that is going to bother you. People are going to irk you, one way or another, I guarantee you that right now. Because that’s how Hashem made this world. בחכמה יסד ארץ. And your job, while you’re still here, is not to change your fellow – it’s to change yourself. And the way that you’ll accomplish smoothing out your rough edges, is by being נתפתה in the same way that Hakodosh Boruch Hu allowed Himself to be נתפתה from Noach’s korbon.
But how can we accomplish this? How could we be נתפתה and succeed at being happy with everyone? The way to do it is by training yourself to see a person with his מעלות, all his positive traits. How you look at people has to change. Even if a person never did anything to help you personally. So what?! Contrary to what you believe, this world doesn’t revolve around you. You have to be wise enough to locate that good in your fellow, and to use that good middah that he possesses, or that הנהגה טובה that he’s commited to, to allow yourself to be נתפתה to get along with him. Everyone has a נקודה טובה, a good point, that can be appreciated, and used as a פיתוי, to fall in love with. And it doesn’t have to be a big thing. But you have to be willing to look and to think.
I’ll give you an example. Here’s a man in shul who leaves his dirty tissues on the table. Ok, he’s not so thoughtful. And it’s not conducive to healthy living either. There’s no mitzvah to share your cold germs with your fellow מתפללים. But why do you have to harp on that? So he puts his tissues on the table. But he smiles at you all the time. A smile is a valuable gift. And he gives a quarter to every משולח, every collector, who comes into shul. אל תשוב דך נכלם. It’s a beautiful thing. And you must use those good things that you see, as a פיתוי. Use them as opportunities to cover up his misdeeds, and still love him, notwithstanding what he’s done. You’re still obligated to love your fellow Jew that leaves his dirty tissues on the table. You know that, don’t you?! And the one who blocks your driveway, as well! And that’s how you’ll smooth out your rough edges.
Here’s a man at work. He’s always taking the credit for everything. And it grates on your nerves. He’s too arrogant for your liking. But you can focus on his good points, and begin smoothing out your rough edges. He fills up the urn every morning. Or he sets up the coffee and the cups. When the water runs out, he refills the water cooler. Or he’s always nice to the janitor, always saying good morning.
And the neighbor who blocks your driveway. Or the one who steps on your lawn. So what if he never lent you his hammer? And even if he never saw you struggling with a package and offered to help. So what?! But he sets up shalosh shudis in shul. And his children are gems; each one of them! He’s doing a good job with his children. Only, that in your mind, it’s all covered up by that time he parked in your spot.
You must use all these things as opportunities to fall in love with your fellow Jew. You can’t walk around harboring negative feelings about those around you forever. And it’s not even enough to just feel neutral about a person. When are you going to finally fulfill the mitzvah of loving your fellow Jew? It’s always tomorrow or the next day. Are you going to wait till next year? Or until you retire and finally have some time to serve Hashem? Spend some time thinking about the מעלות of this one Jew. And tomorrow, about a different fellow. It’s never going to happen unless you get working on it. If you’re lazy and you’re not willing to activate your mind, then you’ll never get anywhere in this world. And the ideas we learned tonight will just be another מאמר חז”ל that is almost worthless to you. If you want to be a success, you’re going to have to put some effort into this avodah. You have to be willing to think about the נקודה טובה, the good point, in all the people that you come in contact with.
All this is easier said than done. But if you’re willing to work on this, then listen to me now. You’ve been looking at your neighbor for years. Or this tissue man. And every time you see him, that’s who you see. The neighbor who is a pain. The man who leaves tissues around. The coworker who is arrogant and leaves the extra work to you. That’s how you see them. And that’s what you have to change. You have to spend some time thinking about the good that this person does. He smiles all the time. He sets up shalosh shudis in Shul. He loves lending his tools or his seforim. Whatever, it is, you study him, and find the good. And then you practice the following. Every time you see him, you think about that good. Every time you pass him, you think, “This is the man who fills up the urn every day.” Or, “This is the man who gives a coin to every outstretched hand.” And continue doing this without fail. And slowly but surely, it will sink into your mind, and your perception of this person will change. You’ve attached positive traits to him instead of the negative ones. He’s not the tough neighbor anymore; he’s the man who lends you whatever you need. He’s not the dirty tissue man anymore; he’s the one who gives tzedaka without fail. Or the one who sets up shalosh shudis. Or one who always smiles.
I’ve told you this before, and it’s a wonderful piece of advice – if only you would be willing to do it. You should keep a notebook with you, and whenever you have a moment, write down a positive aspect that you see in your fellowman. Think about those who irk you, and put some time and effort into studying their good points. You can have one page for you father-in-law, another page for your neighbor. Another page for that fellow who sits at your table in shul. And so on and so on. And as you begin to make note of people’s good points, and you dwell on them, you will be creating this opportunity to be מתפתה ביינו. You’ll begin to overlook all of the faults and idiosyncrasies that everyone has. And you’ll begin to look at your fellowman with an עין טוב. Your whole perception of people will begin to change.
And I don’t mean only someone who one time touched your nerves the wrong way, and now you want to love him again. I’m also talking about that fellow in shul who you never even think about, that person on the block whom you never even paid much attention to. With a little bit of paying attention and thinking, you can fall in love with him as well. There are so many people whom you come in contact with all the time, but you never even think about them at all. If you would only be willing to pay attention and look for the good things, you can find the מעלות of these people as well, and begin seeing the good in everyone around you. And you’ll be able to appreciate your fellow man like never before.
And by doing so, you will have succeeded in that great achievement of acquiring the דעת קונו, the same attitude that your Creator has. That’s why Hashem smelled the sweet fragrance of Noach’s korbon. Not because He liked the smell. And not because He appreciates being served by a human being. וירח השם את ריח הניחח because He wanted to teach you this most important lesson, in how to deal with all the people around you. Hakodosh Boruch wants you to follow in His ways, and gain that attitude of always being willing to yield your attitudes already formed, and to accept even the most superficial actions, even the most superficial behavior, of your fellow Jew. And the more you do that, the more you have acquired the attitude of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, and the more you have achieved the perfection of being as similar as humanly possible to Hashem.
Have a wonderful Shabbos