A Lesson in Accountability

When all of civilization and virtually all creatures that lived on land were blotted out during the Mabul, it was only Noach and his immediate family (and the giant Og) that survived.

Though saved from the waters that destroyed the rest of mankind, Noach suffered greatly during the Mabul. For a year he was imprisoned in the teivah, and Chazal say that for the entire period, neither he nor his sons managed to get any sleep. He perceived it as his clear duty to feed and care for the animals, birds and insects that were aboard. Each of them was on its own feeding schedule, and as Noach discovered when he once delayed feeding the lion, they did not appreciate being left waiting for food. When Hashem instructed him to leave the teivah, Noach was groaning and spitting blood because of the burden, and had been injured by the angry lion.

Why did Noach, the righteous man of his generation, deserve to be to be punished in this way? The Ribbono shel Olam had countless ways to spare Noach that wouldn’t have entailed a year of imprisonment.

One explanation is that Noach, as the tzaddik of the generation, was, to a certain extent, responsible for what was transpiring in his generation. In addition, Noach had an obligation to do all he could to protest the grievous sins being committed, but out of the softness of his heart chose instead to defend and excuse his generation. For not remonstrating against their transgressions, he was punished with a year of imprisonment in the teivah.

(Based on teachings of the Chasam Sofer)

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Harav Avraham Yaakov Teitelbaum, zt”l, Rav of Khal Adas Yereim in Kew Gardens, recalled being present when the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, addressed the first Knessiah Gedolah in Vienna in 5683/1923.

The Chofetz Chaim told the hundreds of leading spiritual leaders who gathered that he was well aware that many Rabbanim of the time refrained from giving mussar, as they felt that their own spiritual deficiencies made them unsuitable for this task.

“However,” the Chofetz Chaim said, “I recall when in my youth, the Kaiser once visited a small village, accompanied by his cabinet ministers. As they arrived, the senior officer leaped from his horse and approached the village mayor — who barely knew how to sign his own name. ‘You should know that you are the mayor in this village and therefore you are responsible for the honor of the Kaiser,’ he declared. ‘If someone throws a stone at the carriage, you and only you will be held responsible.’”

The Chofetz Chaim then explained the lesson of the parable. “In the history of Klal Yisrael, we had Neviim, and later Tanna’im, Amora’im, Geonim, Rashi, the Rambam and so on. Each worried about the honor of the King and ensured that stones weren’t hurled at the ‘Heavenly Chariot.’

“Now, in this generation, the King, kavyachol, is in a small village, and it is the responsibility of those in this small village to watch over the honor of the King. We may consider ourselves to be like simple villagers, but when stones are thrown and the honor of Hashem is violated, we will be held accountable, not Rashi and the Rambam.”

He then proceeded to tell another parable that directly refuted the argument that only those who are on a high level of spiritual perfection themselves can protest the misdeeds of others.

He told of the time a wealthy landowner, who possessed extensive holdings that included forests, fields and houses, came to visit one of his properties. When the local manager made him a cup of tea, the landowner was unable to drink it.

“From now on,” he instructed his worker, “you should only use filtered water.”

Some time later a fire consumed the properties of the landowner in the area. When he came to inspect the damage, he inquired of his manager why he hadn’t been able to save at least part of the estate.

“When the fire broke out,” the manager revealed, “there were individuals who wanted to extinguish the flames, but I told them that according to your instructions, only filtered water should be used.”

The landowner became infuriated. “Fool! Filtered water was for tea, not to extinguish a fire!”

The Chofetz Chaim concluded: “When one seeks to give mussar to others that they should learn Torah without any ulterior motives, he has to be a baal madreigah himself. But when a fire breaks out, one that is devouring Jewish souls, the responsibility falls on each and every one of us to do all we can to prevent it, and even if we can’t actually accomplish anything, we must protest to the best of our abilities!”