by Batya Hefter
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev teaches us that “Moshe is the tikkun (repair) for the soul of Noah” (Keddushat Levi, Noach). This idea is based on the Ari z”l in Sha’ar Hagilgulim who says that Moshe is a gilgul, a reincarnation of Noah. This idea is found in even earlier sources, such as the Midrash Yelamdeynu and Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer. On the verse preceding the decree of the Great Flood, “God said, ‘My spirit will not continue to judge man forever, since he is nothing but flesh’” (Bereishit 6:3). The words “since he is nothing but’ in Hebrew is בשגםwhich the midrash says is a reference to Moshe (since in gematria = Moshe). That is to say that Moshe was “in the flesh” at the time of the great flood.
How do we decipher the meaning of these enigmatic sources? Our first step is to take note of a number of striking parallels between the lives of Noah and Moshe.
Noah is told to build a tevah: “Make yourself an ark – tevah” (Bereishit 6:14).
Moshe is saved in a tevah: “She took a papyrus box – tevah.”
Noah is saved from the great waters of the flood.
Moshe’s name means to be drawn from the water: “Because from the water he was drawn” (Shemot 2:10). In a sense, both Noah and Moshe are “drawn from the water”.
Of Noah during the flood it is said, “It would continue to rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights” (Bereishit 7:12).
Of Moshe: “Moshe remained there with God for 40 days and 40 nights” (Shemot 34:28).
Following near destruction, God entered into a covenant with both Noah and Moshe.
“God said to Noah…I, Myself, am making a covenant with you and with your offspring…I will make a covenant with you and all life will never be cut short by the waters of the flood” (Bereishit 9:9,11).
The covenant with Noah following the destruction of the generation of the flood is known as the seven Noahide laws. God renews his covenant with Moshe following the sin of the golden calf, known as Torat Moshe, the Law of Moses.
The most significant parallel, however, is that Noah and Moshe find themselves in analogous situations; both are presented with the possible destruction of their respective civilizations and the covenant continues through them. Each responds in a radically different way.
Noah, as is well known, does not respond nor plead on behalf of his generation, but merely carries out God’s command. “And Noah did all that God had commanded him” (Bereishit 6:22).
Moshe on the other hand, displays care and sympathy. We are familiar with these characteristics from Parshat Shmot when we learn that Moshe cannot sit by idly by when witnessing the suffering of others. He slays the Egyptian and saves Yitro’s daughters.
We might be tempted to say that herein rests the tikkun, in that Moshe is a leader who cares for his people. But the truth goes much deeper than this. In this week’s parsha, when God decrees the people’s destruction and start again with Moshe, Moshe becomes forever transformed. The Midrash (Shmot Rabbah 46:1) describes Moshe’s self-sacrifice on behalf of Bnei Yisrael. Read carefully as the midrash weaves Moshe’s response inter dispersed in the pasukim:
“When Moshe realized that there was no future hope for Israel, he linked his own fate with theirs and broke the Tablets, saying to God: ‘They have sinned; well, I have now also sinned in breaking the Tablets. If you will forgive them, forgive me also’, and it says, “Now if You forgive their sin, so will You forgive mine; “And if You do not forgive them, do not forgive me either, but blot me, I pray Thee, out of Your book which You have written (Shemot 32:32).
The tikkun of Noah is that Moshe is willing to suffer annihilation rather then continue without Bnei Yisrael. In complete empathy and identification with Bnei Yisrael, he ties his fate to theirs by intentionally sinning by breaking the tablets. The words that encapsulate this readiness are in Moshe Rabbeinu’s words to God: מחני נא מספרך“eradicate me from your book”. The word, מחני, points out the Ari z”l contain the same letters as מי נח. Shabbat Shalom!