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By Virtue of Self-Sacrifice

The destruction humanity brought upon itself that was wiped out in the Flood, resembles that created by Hamas in Gaza * The scent of Noah’s sacrifice, reminded of the self-sacrificers in all generations, who sustain the world * The heroism of Abraham, Chanania, Mishael and Azaria, facing the pagan world * The IDF fighters today continue the chain of heroism and self-sacrifice that will bring the redemption

The Flood Came As a Result of the Violence

In this week’s Torah portions, Bereishit and Noach, there are hints to the great challenges facing us.

After Adam’s banishment from Gan Eden, a clash ensued between the true faith of clinging to God’s attributes and adding goodness and blessing to the world, and idol worship whose main purpose is satisfying the desire for money, honor and lusts. In practice, the hand of the wicked prevailed, and instead of settling the world and fixing it, they robbed and murdered to their utmost ability. Just as in the pagan narrative the strong gods use their power unrestrainedly to satisfy their desires, so too the human leaders, the powerful, considered themselves godly, and exploited the weak as they pleased. Humanity deteriorated increasingly.

“Now the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth became full of robbery (in Heb., hamas). And God saw the earth, and behold it had become corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth has become full of robbery because of them, and behold I am destroying them from the earth” (Genesis 6:11-13).

Like then, today’s Hamas members exploited their rule to rob and murder. They presented themselves to the whole world as pitiful people in need of donations, and with the huge sums they received from various countries and “charity organizations”, they manufactured weapons, and dug tunnels for warfare. Instead of bringing blessing to the population under their control, they educated them to be hateful murderers, and use the wretched among them as human shields for murderous purposes. This is the quintessential example of idolatry today – to use faith in God to raise generations of children full of hatred and murderous desire. To take the word “holiness” meant to add life, and use it to sow death.

Returning to the Flood narrative – even the weak and wretched who did not murder and steal, perished in the Flood. For they too believed in that same wicked perception. Had they been able, they too would have acted like the leaders who filled the land with violence (hamas).

Today too, tremendous suffering has befallen Gaza’s civilian population who are not active participants in the war on Israel. However, they have no one to blame but themselves, for most voted for Hamas, and supported its positions.

Noah’s Righteousness

Noah was righteous and wholehearted in his generation. He made his living through hard work and was involved in yishuvo shel olam (settling the world). Our Sages said he invented the plow, so instead of people robbing others and plundering nature, they would learn to make the earth yield abundant crops.

Therefore, Noah found favor in God’s eyes, and God commanded him to make an ark to save the world from complete annihilation in the Flood.

Likewise today, the Jews of Israel are involved in adding life and blessing to the entire world. In the State of Israel, Jews develop agriculture and water purification systems saving many from hunger and thirst, medicines giving relief to numerous patients, and technological developments benefiting all mankind. While our enemies specialize in murder, robbery and rape. With God’s help, by walking in God’s ways of adding goodness and blessing to the world, we will defeat our enemies and emerge from this war, stronger and better.

By Virtue of the Holy Ones the World was Saved

After the Flood, when Noah left the ark, he built an altar and offered sacrifices upon it.

“And the Lord smelled the pleasant aroma, and the Lord said to Himself, “I will no longer curse the earth because of man” (Genesis 8:21).

“And God said to Noah and his sons with him, saying: And I, behold I establish My covenant with you and your offspring after you…and there shall no longer be a Flood to destroy the earth” (ibid. 9:8-11).

What was the unique scent arising from Noah’s sacrifice, by virtue of which God forged an eternal covenant with the world to never again bring a Flood to destroy it? After all, if Noah was spared for not stealing and being violent but settling the world, if, God forbid, thieves and violent people become prevalent again, logically, a Flood should come again.

Our Sages answered that in the pleasing aroma of Noah’s sacrifice ascended the scent of the self-sacrificers for monotheistic faith, the source of truth and good. And since there are people in the world willing to sacrifice themselves for this, the world’s continuity is assured.

“And the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma – He smelled the scent of our patriarch Abraham arising from the fiery furnace…the scent of Chanania, Mishael and Azaria from the fiery furnace…the scent of the persecuted generation” (Bereishit Rabbah 34:9).

In other words, in Noah’s offering was embedded his willingness to sacrifice himself for belief in One God – willingness revealed in times of crisis by his select descendants, who followed his path, and with self-sacrifice, saved the world.

Abraham and Haran’s Self-Sacrifice

The first was Abraham our forefather, who preferred being cast into the fiery furnace over surrendering to the falsehood and evil of idol worship, thereby meriting becoming the first patriarch of the Jewish people.

Our Sages said that due to Abraham’s rebellion against idol worship, his father Terach handed him over to King Nimrod, who demanded he return to idol worship. But Abraham persisted and argued with him about his belief in God, so Nimrod said: “I only bow to fire. I will cast you into it, let the god you bow to, come save you from it” (Bereishit Rabbah 38:13).

But Abraham our forefather would not relent, and preferred being burnt in the fiery furnace over compromising his faith. As the furnace was prepared, the regime’s representatives asked Haran, Abraham’s brother, who he sided with – Nimrod, or Abraham? Haran was conflicted, saying: If Abraham is saved I’m with Abraham, if Nimrod prevails and Abraham is burnt, I’m with Nimrod. Since Abraham was saved from the fiery furnace, they asked Haran – who are you with? He said: with Abraham. They took him and cast him into the fiery furnace, and he was burnt and died before his father Terach.

We learn from this that a believer in God must believe wholeheartedly, truly willing to sacrifice himself, and only then, perhaps, God will perform a miracle for him. But one who sacrifices himself so that God will perform a miracle for him, will not succeed.

In the end, Haran merited that his legacy continued. His daughter was Sarah our matriarch, his daughter Milcah was Rebecca’s grandmother, and from his son Lot, who travelled part of the way with Abraham, descended Ruth the Moabite, mother of the Davidic dynasty, and Naamah the Amonite, wife of King Solomon.

Chanania Mishael and Azaria

Our forefather Abraham was saved, his offspring descended to Egyptian exile and left Egypt as a nation, received the Torah at Sinai, entered the Land of Israel, and built the Temple. But iniquities prevailed, and the Temple was destroyed; Israel went into exile, and it seemed there was no more hope for Israel’s faith, the prospect of bringing rectification and redemption to the world was lost. As a result, many of those exiled abandoned the Torah and its commandments.

Years later, Nebuchadnezzar decided to erect a giant golden statue, representing the might of his rule and reign. He set a date for an impressive ceremony where all would bow to his statue. Chanania, Mishael and Azaria who were prominent ministers, could have slipped away, and thereby escaped the obligation to bow to the statue. But they decided to remain and sacrifice themselves over this. They knew the Jews’ bowing to his statue would express the final loss of faith in God, and Israel’s redemption. Therefore Chanania, Mishael and Azaria decided to exemplify self-sacrifice, in order to strengthen the generation to cling to Israel’s faith.

The Persecuted Generation Who Sacrificed Themselves for the Torah

After the Second Temple’s destruction, when the Romans sought to abolish Israel’s faith and assimilate them among the nations, they were saved by the self-sacrificers of the persecuted (in Heb., shmad) generation. Of them it states: “But showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:6) – “these are Israel dwelling in the Land of Israel, sacrificing themselves for the commandments. Why are you going out to be killed? For circumcising my son. Why are you going out to be burnt? For reading the Torah. Why are you going out to be crucified? For eating matzah.” “Why are you going out to be burnt? For observing Shabbat. Why are you going out to be killed? For eating matzah. Why are you being beaten with iron bars? For making a sukkah, taking a lulav, laying tefillin, wearing tzitzit, for fulfilling the will of our Father in Heaven” (Mechilta Yitro; Vayikra Rabbah 32:1).

In Noah’s sacrifice, ascended the pleasing aroma of the holy ones, sacrificing themselves to observe the Torah and its commandments. By their merit the world endures, and by their merit the Jewish people continued its arduous path, clung to its ancestral faith and Torah, and succeeded surviving the lengthy exile.

Today’s Heroes are the Soldiers

It is impossible to describe the tremendous merit of our era’s heroes, the soldiers endangering themselves for the redemption of the Nation and Land. For generations, our holy ancestors were tortured and killed, just to survive. How much would they have paid to merit fighting, and even being killed, for Israel’s revival! Now our soldiers merit defending the Nation and the Land. May it be God’s will that we merit a great victory, elevating Israel’s pride, and deterring all its enemies.

By Virtue of the Holy Ones the World Endures, By Virtue of the Soldiers We Will Be Redeemed

Our Sages expounded regarding the kedoshim (the holy ones) the verse: “Gather unto Me My pious ones, who make a covenant with Me over sacrifice” (Psalms 50:5) – ‘Gather unto Me My pious ones’ – these are the righteous of each generation, who make a covenant with Me – these are Chanania, Mishael and Azaria, who sacrificed themselves into the fiery furnace; ‘over sacrifice’ – these are Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues, who sacrificed themselves to be slaughtered over words of Torah” (Sanhedrin 110b).

It seems that in our times, owing to the soldiers’ heroism, it is fitting to expound the verse’s continuation “and the heavens will tell of their righteousness” – these are those who sacrificed themselves to defend the Nation and the Land. And in their merit, we will merit redemption, as it states “For He is a God who judges. Selah”.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles and Torah by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: https://en.yhb.org.il/

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