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Rosh Chodesh I - Friday, 30 Tishrei 5775 – October 24, 2014
Rashi, in a perplexing and oft-quoted passage in his commentary to Parashat Noach (7:7), cites the Midrash’s description of Noach as “mi-ketanei amana” – “among those of deficient faith.” Noach, in Rashi’s words, “believed but did not believe that the flood would arrive, and thus he did not enter the ark until the water compelled him to do so.”
Many writers have raised the question of how to reconcile the Midrash’s
comments with the Torah’s description of Noach as an “ish tzadik” –
“righteous man.” If the Torah itself
called Noach “righteous,” why would Chazal question his faith, the very
foundation of religious commitment?
One possible solution may be found in another context where Chazal
use the term “mi-ketanei amana” and apply it to righteous people. The Gemara toward the end of Masekhet
Sota (48b) cites Rabbi Eliezer’s comment, “Whoever has bread in his basket and
says, ‘What will I eat tomorrow?’ is among those of deficient faith [mi-ketanei
amana].” The Gemara then adds
that this was the intent of Rabbi Elazar when he said, “What causes the
tzadikim to receive cheaper tables in the next world? Their deficiency, as they did not
believe in the Almighty.” In this
passage, the Gemara explicitly speaks of righteous people who are “mi-ketanei
amana.” These are people of
genuine faith and piety, but their faith is deficient in the sense that they
worry about their long-term financial stability despite having what they need in
The Midrash perhaps had a similar idea in mind when it described Noach as
“mi-ketanei amana.” Noach
believed that the flood would come, but he was apprehensive. He would have to live with his family
and all the world’s animals in a hermetically sealed ark for an unknown period
of time, and would then be charged with the responsibility of building the world
anew. The uncertainty of the
situation, and of what the future would bring, unnerved Noach and caused him
anxiety. Like a patient who requires
painful surgery and delays scheduling it out of fear, Noach remained outside the
ark as long as he could. He knew the
time would eventually come, but he was frightened and anxious, and so he stalled
as much as possible.
Noach was thus “mi-ketanei amana” just as one who worries about his finances despite having his needs cared for at the present. Certainly, we can and should be responsible and plan for long-term financial stability. But the Gemara warns against fretting about the uncertainty of the future. We are to act responsibly but at the same time trust that God can and will provide our needs. As the Gemara notes, even tzadikim are sometimes guilty of misplaced anxiety about their livelihood in the future, and thus it comes as no surprise that Noach, too, despite being a tzadik, is described as having had deficient faith, which was manifest in his anxiety and fear about how he would survive the Flood and its aftermath.
Rav David Silverberg
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