Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
A stateside individual wanted to send clothing to her relative in Eretz Yisrael. She knew of someone going to Israel for an extended stay who had extra room in his luggage, so she asked the traveler if he could deliver the package. The traveler readily agreed. The relative in Eretz Yisrael was informed of the package but waited months for its delivery. The relative inquired of the traveler, “Didn’t you come to Israel months ago? Why the long delay?” The response was something similar to: “Where does it say in the Torah you have to be nice?” Let’s put aside the fact that the Chofetz Chaim in Ahavas Chesed spends pages upon pages proving from many biblical sources that one “has to be nice.” Would the fact that the Torah didn’t mention that one has to be nice be an excuse? The Gemara says in Nazir (45a): It is written, “The nazir shall shave his head at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting (Ohel Moed).” This means he should shave his head after offering his shelamim in the Ohel Moed. The nazir, though, doesn’t actually shave at the Sanctuary. The beraisa asks: Perhaps the Torah means literally that he should actually shave at the entrance of the Sanctuary? The beraisa answers: That would be degrading. But is the fact that it is degrading a reason to forgo the suggested interpretation? Perhaps the Torah dictates that the nazir should be shaved at the entrance of the Sanctuary even though it’s degrading. The mefaresh (some say it’s Rashi’s son-in-law) explains that such degradation is forbidden. Therefore, we would prefer to explain the verse in such a way where a prohibition is not violated. Hence, we prefer the interpretation that the nazir should shave after his sacrifice is offered at the Sanctuary. Rav Yosef Engel explains, “Where do we find a prohibition against such degradation? Nowhere. It is just logical!” We can concoct a new prohibition based simply on logic. Rav Yosef Engel explains further that we can surmise from here that such a prohibition based on logic has the force of a Torah prohibition.
According to the mefaresh, we are basing the interpretation of a verse from the Torah on a logical prohibition. If this prohibition were only a new rabbinic one, what effect would it have on an interpretation of the Torah that predates it? Perforce, it must be a Torah prohibition. Therefore, the pasuk was written on the assumption that we are already aware of the prohibition. Why didn’t the Torah clearly outlaw such degradation? The Torah didn’t have to teach it to us, because it is logical. Rav Engel writes that he found a similar idea in the Chizkuni. The Chizkuni writes, “Why was the generation of the Flood punished? They were not commanded to observe the mitzvos! The answer is that there are many mitzvos a person must observe because logic dictates it, even if there is no commandment.” Those in the generation of the Flood were expected to observe the logical commandments even if they were not divinely directed to keep them. A similar idea can likewise be found in Parshas Noach. After Noach left the Ark, the first vegetation he planted was a grapevine. Rashi notes that Noach debased himself by this action because he should have picked a different species to plant first. The Sforno writes that because Noach started with an action that was inappropriate, this led to the even worse action committed by Cham. Such is the way of the world that small indiscretions beget large ones. My rebbe, HaGaon HaRav Henoch Leibowitz, zt”l, asked what was wrong with what Noach did. The Torah describes Noach as a tzaddik. What more of a character reference does one need? Therefore, we can surmise that Noach acted for the sake of Heaven.
He needed to plant every species. Wine is used for mitzvos such as kiddush and wine libations in the Holy Temple. There was a reason to choose wine first. Further, where do we find that Hashem commanded Noach to plant a different species first? Nowhere! So, what did Noach do wrong? Noach should have realized on his own that although every species needed to be planted, grapes should not have been his first choice. Grapes are used to make intoxicating drinks, and it is lacking class to plant them first. There was no direct Divine directive that Noach violated. But certainly, a tzaddik like Noach should have picked up on the sensitivities. He shouldn’t have first planted a species that can be used for drunkenness. The Maggid Mishneh writes at the end of the laws of neighbors (loose translation): “And so the Torah said, ‘And you shall do what is just and good.’ The intent is that a person should conduct himself in a good and proper manner when dealing with people. The Torah did not list all the possible behaviors that this directive applies to, because the Torah is timeless and applies at every moment. People change and their conduct changes.” The Torah expected us to make the applications of the directive of “And you shall do what is just and good” on our own. This is colloquially known as the Fifth Shulchan Aruch. Therefore, if one challenges his acquaintance, “My actions may appear unseemly, but where in the Shulchan Aruch does it say it is assur?” The response is: “It is written in the Fifth Shulchan Aruch.” We are expected to do what is appropriate even if it is not spelled out clearly in some sefer.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@ gmail.com.