Parashas Bereishis: Noah: A Source of Shabbat
Rabbi David Katz
In this week’s Parsha, the first Parsha of what will become the opening of the saga that will be contained within the breadth of the whole entire Torah we begin and go through stages of Creation, rise and fall of Man, and ultimately stumble upon a possible savior in the birth of Noah. The Torah may not delve much into the life of Noah at this point (although various Midrashim delve into a plethora of opinions as to the character and achievements of Noah), but one vital quality of Noah is given over to the reader, one of supreme prophetic clarity: the meaning of the Name Noah, which means loosely “to ease” [the toil of labor]. The prophecy is in light of the repair of Adam who concordantly was to blame for the Earth’s curses upon its Land.
In the days of Lamech a son was born that would be prophetically deemed to be “the one who would [re]build the World. Interestingly by stating merely that “a son was born” the obvious question is why did the Torah deviate from the norm of simply stating the father-son connection by name affiliation? The answer comes in the very next verse of the Torah where it elucidates on the prophecy of a “savior” birth, as it says “This one will ease us from our toil.” To this extent the Bible commentator Rashi makes a clear analysis that the name of Noah grammatically must mean “to ease” as opposed “to comfort” in which case his name would have had to have been “Menachem.”
Between the Zohar, various Midrashim, and citations/commentary within Tanach, Noah is directly attributed with the Sabbath. To leap forward towards the end of the Torah in the later parshiot (Parsha in plural), when the Torah speaks about the type of requisite rest on Shabbat, it deploys a derivative of the word “Noah” that literally means “to be in a state of rest”; to stop effectively. For this the Zohar says in many places that [the name] Noah inherently means Shabbat.
In Yevamot 48b the Talmud makes a startling conclusion concerning the Ger Toshav (literally meaning Alien Dweller; connotation of being in the land; another term for modern day Noahaide) in that he is actually elevated and identified as a Ger Tzedek, (a righteous Ger) making the Ger Toshav worthy of praise for a gentile who obviously keeps the Seven Laws of Noah alongside his unique preservation of Shabbat. This makes proper usage of the term with a meaning of “Noah” into a name of a Shabbat staple type of service to God, as now there are those that simply rest. For the Noahide and his usage of “Noah” (to ease) instead of “stopping” from his daily life, he will take ease from the World and will begin to exude a non-rambunctious demeanor to his day of rest, a day with God and His Torah as a meditative study.
The manifestation of “Noah” within connotation and its meaning in conjunction with Shabbat is that under no circumstance should the World stop, for the World continues in the merit of his perpetual life while the Jewish faction of Mankind utterly stops. If the Noahide were to stop as well, the World would return to chaos and void. Yet the Noahide (who has taken on a stricter service of God) embarks on a 24-hour mission to let the World relax from its constant bling and chatter.
A basic proof of this idea that a Noahide can rest on the Sabbath Day without posing an existential threat to daily life, is that the Study of Torah guarantees that the World never stops its existence. The Noahide is commanded to not celebrate a Shabbat that would ceremonially pull the Earth to a screeching halt, yet as we see he has Divine –Torah-dictation from the Mouth of God dedicating Shabbat for him (the Ger Tzedek/Toshav in particular; halachic/law issues of the particulars are not the scope of this article). One can resolve the contradiction between the threat of stopping the World in contrast to perpetuating it eternally, in that the World is guaranteed to continue despite the rest of the Noahide, for his rest is contingent by his connection to God and the study of Torah in particular. The Noahide who then studies Torah evokes the Ancient Torah dictum: that when Torah is studied the World is guaranteed to exist. It would be expected that his rest coupled with Torah would produce an ease, a rest, as opposed to a full -fledged stoppage.
A Noahide who studies Torah is compared to the High Priest, and thus as long as the focus is his performance of Seven Laws, if he can maneuver the entire Torah amidst these Seven (which any true scholar of Torah can illuminate its fractal qualities), then the whole Torah is at his fingertips, along with an additional 30 Commandments to aide his Torah study and service of God. The Priesthood, Torah, and Noahides fittingly work their way back to Noah, as Shem the son of Noah was both a Priest and an original Noahide, both in the name of Torah; Shem received everything through Noah his father. [Avos D’ Rebbe Natan] Many people are not aware of the vast foundational principles that originate with Noah, such as the Torah Tradition, service of God, etc. It should be no longer hidden from the eyes that not only did Noah enter the World into a Shabbat reality within the Ark, build the World around the concept of easing one’s labor, but he gave the World an eternal gift of this ease and Torah with a Priestly feel for those of a Righteous inclination: Shabbat. Indeed, Noah truly is the father of the Sabbath, and it is a credit to Noah that he absolutely built a World that is destined to last forever, one centered around the philosophy of Shabbat, exactly as his prophetic name would imply, “This one will build the World and ease us from our labor.” It just so happens, that even despite Rashi, we all can take great comfort in the Righteous Noah and take a special opportunity to learn his Torah, even on the Holy Sabbath Day – in merit of Noah, Jew and Noahide…and the World will continue, just as promised to Noah.