What Rav Noach Taught Us About a Global Pandemic
From the onset of this global pandemic, to the unprecedented worldwide effort to find a vaccine, the Corona virus has made global thinking more real and pressing than ever. For those that had the privilege to study under Rav Noach Weinberg zt”l, founder and Rosh HaYeshiva of Aish HaTorah, the notion of thinking big—indeed, thinking globally—was an ever present theme. In fact, more than a theme, it was a demand.
Think. Think Big.
Avraham looked out at the world and drew conclusions that were dramatically different from the way anyone had ever thought up until that time. Pioneer? Revolutionary? Visionary? Avraham was all of those, and more. One could say that Avraham was the genesis of those terms. In his person, he was the seminal force that not only thought in completely different terms, but he was history’s first visionary, first revolutionary. And, in being such, he paved the way for an optimistic view of human potential, and laid the groundwork for a nation that would ultimately fulfill nothing less than, “And through you will be blessed all the families of the world.”
It’s not a coincidence that in his teaching, and in his actions, Rav Noach looked to Avraham for insight, inspiration, and guidance. As talmidim, he demanded—demanded—that we do the same. To be a student of Rav Noach Weinberg zt”l was to exist in a constant state of discomfort. Yes, like a true rebbe, he taught us, guided us, and loved us, but more than anything, he pushed us.
He pushed us to think; to think for ourselves, think independently, and not to fear drawing conclusions that run counter to the prevailing mood. He also urged us—demanded—that we…
“ Why was the first human being created alone? So that he would say, ‘the world was created for me.’”
Mishna Sanhedrin, 4:5
Rav Noach would ask, “Created for me? What does that mean? That all the chickens in the world are mine to eat? Of course not! It means the world is mine, and I’m responsible for it.”
Could there be more global thinking than that?
If there are problems in the world; if there is a lack of drinking water for millions, if there is abuse and human trafficking, if millions of Jews, knowing little or nothing about their heritage, are becoming forever severed from the Jewish people, or if Israel is being threatened by a nuclear armed foe, it’s up to me to do something about it. Because it’s my world, and I’m responsible.
Rav Noach related to his relationship to Hashem and Am Yisrael through a prism of radical responsibility, and of course he didn’t just teach, but demanded, that we do the same. In this, R. Moshe Feinstein taught essentially the same thing,
“Every Jew that had the slightest ability was responsible for building the Mishkan … as if Betzalel had no responsibility at all. Therefore, whatever needs the Jewish people may ever have, if, for whatever reason those most capable don’t act, then the responsibility automatically lies with each and every Jew.” Dibros Moshe, Vayakhel 35:10
Every newcomer to Aish HaTorah first encountered Rav Noach in his class called The Forty-Eight Ways to Wisdom. At the end of each class, he always concluded with a “l’maaseh,” a practical tool for internalizing, actualizing, and putting that day’s lesson into action. Even then, from the very first time one heard him, he was already making demands. Not just that we listen and learn, but that we think, reflect, and translate our understanding into action. To translate wisdom, the wisdom of Torat chayim into action, is the beginning of responsibility. It’s the initial step along a road that he hoped would lead everyone he ever met to the shouldering of responsibility, radical responsibility—for Am Yisrael, and for all mankind. In the end, even the global dimension of Rav Noach is but part of the picture of a truly remarkable man. To learn more about, and from, Rav Noach Weinberg, I highly recommend the soon to be rereleased biography, Rav Noach Weinberg, Torah Revolutionary.
May we be zoche to respond to Rav Noach’s demands, and may our efforts be a zchut l’ilui nishmat HaRav Yisroel Yisroel Noach ben HaRav Yitzchak Matisyahu.
The Yahrzeit is Sunday, 11 Shvat, and will be marked by this major Zoom event.
Join this Zoom Yahrzeit event about Rav Noach Wenberg, ZT'L, by clicking on the graphic below, on Jan. 24 - Times are listed on the flier