This week’s music: יהודה כ״ץ ״ עד העולם״ Ad Haolam
The word “tov,” good, has a central place in “parshat Bereshit.” Starting with, “ vayar Elohim et ha’or ki tov,” and Hashem saw that the light was good (Bereshit 1.4). This is followed by Hashem’s statement (Bereshit 2.18) “lo tov heyot Adam l’vado,” it is not good for man to be alone. Later on we learn about the “etz hada’at tov v’ra,” the tree of knowledge, good and bad, that gave the possibility to man to know good from bad (Bereshit 3.22). In addition, Hashem, in response to Kayin’s behavior and blatant disappointment to the reality that God did not t accept his gift, tells him, “halo im tativ s’et,” if you do good will there not be special privilege? (Bereshit 4.7). So many issues described as good.
So why specifically, in the last verse in this week’s Torah portion does it say “V’Noach matza chen b’enei Hashem,” and Noah found favor in God’s eyes (Bereshit 6.8). Why does the Torah use the word “Chen,” grace or favor, to describe the way Hashem looked at Noach, as opposed to, and Noach was good person in the eyes of God? Why the sudden switch in the theme of describing the way Hashem looks at things? A bit of a strange way to say that you like someone or to validate someone’s goodness.
The first in the line of Lubavitch or Chabad Masters, Reb Schneur Zalman of Liadi, The Alter Rebbe, as he is called, notes that the word “chen” in Hebrew is the name of Noach spelled backwards. It is Noach in the reflective, Noach in his mirrored image.
When someone walks down the street and sees something that he/she does not like, the natural tendency is to be critical of that other person’s action, when in reality what you are seeing is something about yourself that you don’t approve of. You see someone stealing and what really is bothering you is something, perhaps even a “small” offense that you committed. You stole a pen and pad from the office. What’s the big deal? No big deal! You simply push it out of your thoughts. Until you see someone else stealing. Then suddenly, stealing really bothers you. Of course this happens all the time. It is never me that is messing up. It is always the other guy. He/she is the one lying, cheating, behaving inappropriately. Oh no, not me. Classic psychological “projection” whose antithesis is founded in the Torah, “V’ahavat L’reacha kamocha,” love your friend like yourself (Vayikra 19.18). I need to know myself in an honest and humble way in order to truly love someone else.
So The Alter Rebbe teaches us, that the Torah purposefully uses the word “chen” in place of “tov.” Noah is “Chen” backwards. Noach walked the streets and when he saw something that bothered him, he always reflected the action back on himself. Maybe it is something that I am doing wrong that needs to be fixed. The Torah uses the word “Chen” to express how dear it was to God that Noach was judging others favorably and constantly looking to fix himself.
May we all be blessed to put this type of honest self-reflective behavior into our personal practice as we start fresh in this new year.