A breath of holiness from Eretz Yisrael elevated Kew Gardens Hills as community women poured into the Simchah Room of Mrs. Golda Fried to hear a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles, well-known speaker, on the subject of wonderful words.
She began by sharing that our generation is the closest to the generation of the Mabul of any generation of mankind. We need to appreciate how Noach was able to survive as a paradigm for us and how we can survive.
She noted that there is an idea that the world comes full circle. So, if we are near the Generation of the Flood, then we are close to the world before Adam’s sin. The last battle of Satan is the battle of z’nus in the world, when everything is hefker in terms of immorality. So, she quipped, we can look at all this as good news that we are closer to Mashiach time. Before a flame goes out, it will burst. Satan is at its brightest now, and that is why there are so many challenges now. It means Mashiach is very near.
So, what is the z’chus that Noach had that he survived? Can we integrate it into our lives to protect ourselves? The pasuk states that Noach found chein in the eyes of Hashem. What is this chein? She explained that mayim symbolizes desire, and through chein you can enter the teivah (the ark), which symbolizes protection.
There are three mediums that Hashem uses to punish people and they are fire, water, and wind. Sodom was punished with fire, Noach’s generation with a flood, and the Dor Haflagah with wind. The Egyptians experienced all three of the above. The roshei teivos of the three Hebrew words representing the three mediums – eish (alef), mayim (mem), and ruach (reish) – spell the Hebrew word amar, whose root means to speak. If you don’t keep your word, then Hashem punishes.
She went on to explain that there are two covenants in the human body. There is the bris of speech and the bris milah. Both are places of productivity and creativity. They work together. “If you want to know where a person’s holiness is, look at his speech. Speech is the indicator of the k’dushah of a person.” She pointed out that when a person begins the path of going off the derech, the first thing you notice is he has a loose tongue. The second thing is his or her mode of dress. The first step in moving away from k’dushah is speech. “Speech is the most spiritual aspect of ourselves.”
She noted that America recently had a president who tweeted whatever he felt like. To say whatever you feel like saying takes away human dignity and sense of self. The Generation of the Flood didn’t take responsibility for their speech. In T’hilim, we recite, “Let those who speak falsehood be destroyed.” Those are the Generation of the Flood. It began with speech and then everything went down.
T’hilim says also that there is a chein found on your lips. The greatness of Noach was that he found chein with Hashem. The chein was his ability to guard his mouth. She taught that this is why death and life are in the hands of the mouth. Hashem told Noach to take the “not pure animals” – instead of using the term tamei (impure), Hashem said not tahor (non-pure). This teaches us specifically that we have to work on our speech, especially in a time like Noach’s time.
Mrs. Smiles taught, “When a person abuses speech, he casts away part of himself that makes him human.” She related that unrefined speech corrupts one’s divine image. The purpose of the Mabul was to reverse corrupt behavior. The Teivah represents recreating the world, and it needed clean speech. The word teivah (ark) in Hebrew also is a word that means a “word.” Hashem tells Noach to go into the Teivah, meaning go into speech. Recognize that speech needs to be worked on and refined.
She shared a fascinating idea that in L’cha Dodi, we sing Shamor v’zachor b’dibur echad. The Baal HaTanya teaches that this is saying: Guard and watch, and remember every word. The “echad” means: Remember Hashem and, before you speak, ask yourself if that is the way a Jew speaks. She shared that frum Jews working in a secular environment often say that the people around them speak differently when they are around them. They don’t gossip or use bad words.
We are living in a world where people say whatever they feel like saying and there are no filters. This is freedom to lose one’s G-dly image.
She shared a beautiful story about a woman who brought ten families together who didn’t have children and, as a z’chus, they davened for one another and took on machson l’fi. Four couples, including Mrs. Smiles and her husband, had a baby that year. She said that, although this woman who started this didn’t have biological children during her lifetime, she did have many children born because of her, so they were in a sense hers.
There is an idea that Moshe Rabbeinu was the tikun for Noach. Moshe tells Hashem to erase his name from the Torah in order to save B’nei Yisrael from extinction. “M’cheini” (erase me) has the same gematria (numerical value of Hebrew letters) – 108 – as “mei Noach” (the waters of Noach). With speech, you have to know when to speak and when not to speak.
Mrs. Smiles shared that if you want to know about a person, see what he praises and what he talks about.
Another interpretation of the chein that Noach found in Hashem’s eyes was that he would have a future descendant, Avraham. The midrash Shocher Tov shares a midrash that Avraham met Sheim ben Noach and asked him what was the merit that helped him survive the flood. Sheim said that it was the mitzvah of tz’dakah. They were zookeepers 24/7 on the Ark.
Avraham said that if that’s the reward for taking care of animals, then can you imagine the reward for taking care of people? So, in Noach’s z’chus, Avraham fed others and impacted others and connected with others.
Mrs. Smiles urged everyone to watch what they say or write. After every interaction with another person, ask yourself how this person benefited from this interaction. How can I help or cheer this person? Even texting people that you are thinking of them or you miss them can go a long way. “I’m big on giving others brachos,” she said.
She shared a teaching of Rav Pinchas Friedman, author of Sh’vilei Pinchas, on what it means to impact others. When Adam was created, Hashem said, “Let us make man.” The famous question is: Who is the us? Hashem turns to Adam and says: I am going to make you a person. By you working on yourself, and perfecting yourself, you help Hashem in your creation. You put in the effort and Hashem will help you.
When we recite “Modeh Ani,” we include the phrase that Hashem has faith in us. Noach worked on perfecting himself, and Avraham went a step beyond and worked on impacting others. Hashem says: Just as I made man, be like Hashem and go out and impact people. Ask yourself how you are impacting those people near you.
Our heart is on the left, which is the weaker side. I have a heart in order to feel for others and to reach out to others. “Be aware of others. Inspire them. Take care of them!”
When you have the opportunity, step out of yourself and grab the opportunity to help others. If you hear bad news or someone tells you what is bothering him of her, daven for them. Hashem loves our t’filos. It isn’t by accident that your friend called you.
By Susie Garber