Noach - What Makes a Tzaddick

Following the flood, the survivors, Noach and his family,  are redeemed and in the midst of recovering from this trauma, their fears are put to rest. G-d makes clear that this will not occur again.

And the L-rd smelled the pleasant aroma, and the Lord said to Himself, "I will no longer curse the earth because of man, for the inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth, and I will no longer destroy all living things as I have done.
וַיָּרַח ה' אֶת רֵיחַ הַנִּיחֹחַ וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל לִבּוֹ לֹא אֹסִף לְקַלֵּל עוֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה בַּעֲבוּר הָאָדָם כִּי יֵצֶר לֵב הָאָדָם רַע מִנְּעֻרָיו וְלֹא אֹסִף עוֹד לְהַכּוֹת אֶת כָּל חַי כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי 
Breisheit 8:21
The commentators have a lot to say around this verse verse.
What does it mean that man's heart is evil? Does that mean that man is beyond redemption?
Why make this declaration now, after the flood, doesn't this undermine the significance of having carried out the flood?

Rashi says about "from his youth":
This is written: מִנְעֻרָיו [without a“vav”] [implying that] from the time that he [the embryo] shakes himself [נִנְעָר] to emerge from his mother’s womb, the evil inclination is placed in him. — [from Breisheit Rabbah 34:10] 
Rashi says this shows the very essence of human nature. Rashi is saying that our eternal enemy, the Yetzer Hara, hounds us from birth. This seems to mean that we are at a disadvantage in life, starting out with a heart of evil.

Divine Regret?
Says the Slonimer Rebbe in the Netivot Shalom that this leaves us to conclude that the cause of the flood is the essential evil in man's heart, as shown earlier, when Hashem initially declares his intentions to destroy mankind in a flood:
And the L-rd saw that the evil of man was great in the earth, and every inclination of his heart was only evil all the time.
וַיַּרְא ה' כִּי רַבָּה רָעַת הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ וְכָל יֵצֶר מַחְשְׁבֹת לִבּוֹ רַק רַע כָּל הַיּוֹם 
Breisheit 6:5
This is the verse set in motion the events of the flood, seeming to show that the flood was the result of  the evil in man's heart. Yet as we just saw, this is the very reason given for why Hashem promised not to flood the world again.

The Slonimer Rebbe reconciles these two verses by taking Rashi's explanation, saying that man is not evil to the core. Rather, from birth man has an evil inclination embedded within, which gives man the capacity for evil. In contrast, the inclination for good is a quality that needs to be developed and nurtured.

The Slonimer Rebbe emphasizes the subtle and fundamental differences between man before and after the flood.
  • Before the flood: every inclination of his heart was only evil all the time
  • After the flood: the inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth
Man in the post-flood world is more mature, and only has the capacity for evil, rather than the man of the pre-flood time, whose every move, all the time, was dedicated to evil.

Youth Is Not Bad
 Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch is very disturbed by this position. He finds this so difficult to take in, that he practically restructures the verse, for the inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth:
"for the inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth," has been completely erroneously taken to be the cause of this new determination of destiny… The words, "for the inclination, etc.," are in parenthesis, and should be read as: [if] the inclination of man's heart should be evil [again], [even] in his youth, so that the only way of saving him would be to destroy the generation, [nevertheless] I will no longer destroy all living things as I have done. 
Youth are neither righteous nor evil. Woe unto them that take the average child or adolescent nature to be evil! Whoever has really observed children say: No, it is not true that youth are bad, the inclination of man's heart is not evil from his youth. It is not in youth that man sets evil as his ideal. Rather, on average, one finds more adults than adolescents whose hearts and minds are directed to evil.
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, commentary to Bereishit 8:21

The Prayers of Hershele
I recently heard on the radio a tape of Reb Shlomo Carlebach telling a story. He told the story in the 1970's after the Yom Kippur war, and Israeli Prisoners of War returned from Egypt, to describe the holiness that these individuals had achieved. So tells Reb Shlomo...
Once there was a  village in Russia and they were confronted with a terrible decree. The villages in the area must all close down a relocate to the larger city centers, which could be hundreds of kilometers away. The villagers did not just worry about the move, but that this relocation could mean the death of hundreds of Jews forced to make this terrible journey. So they went to their beloved rabbi for help.
They begged their holy rabbi, Rav Dovid, to pray and influence the heavens to turn this terrible decree. But their rabbi sadly responded, that he didn't have the power to counteract a decree this strong. They would have to turn to a person far more holier than him.
"Who?" the people asked, "who should we go and see?"
"A holy yid that lives far from here, Reb Herschel. You need to find Reb Hershel. Only Reb Hershel is filled with enough holiness that his prayers can have this much influence."
The people of the village traveled far to the town their rabbi had spoke of. When they reached the town they looked around and asked people: where do we find the holy Reb Hershel?
However the locals shook their heads. "There is no Reb Hershel."
"What?" they replied, "but our rabbi sent us here to get a blessing from Reb Hershel."
"There's no Reb Hershel here. The only Hershel here, is Hershel the drunk."
"Hershel the drunk?"
"Yes and he is where is always is, lying down on the street."
The tired village people trusted their rabbi and sought at Hershel the drunk. Just as they were told, there was Hershel the drunk, a disheveled figure sitting on the street with his back up against the wall.
"Are you Hershel?"
"Yeah I'm Hershel," he yelled back.
"We have come from a far away village. Our rabbi sent us here to find you. We have a terrible situation. A horrible decree has been issued forcing the entire village to be abandoned and everyone move to the large cities. He needs a blessing to overturn this decree."
"So what do ya want from me?" asked Hershel, somewhat inebriated.
"Our rabbi said that you could pray for us."
With this, Hershel began to laugh. "Me?!" he said, "you want me to pray for you?" He laughed some more.
They didn't know what to think. This was who their rabbi sent them so far to see? Their rabbi wouldn't play a joke on them, especially under the circumstances. They turned back to Hershel.
"Please, we've come so far and as unusual as it may sound, our holy rabbi said that only your tefila is strong enough to break this decree. Please pray for us."
Hershel stopped laughing. He turned his head towards the heavens, and said, "Nu? Creator of the Universe! You gonna help them already!" Hershel lifted up a nearby bottle, and took a swig.
The village people thanked him, and bid him farewell, still confused and not really absorbing what went on through this encounter, and to what value all this was for.
When they returned to their village, they went to their rabbi.
He asked, quite matter-of-fact, if they had seen Reb Hershel.
They responded that they did.
The rabbi asked, if Reb Hershel had prayed on their behalf.
They responded that he did.
Yet now they were more confused than ever. "Rebbe!" they cried, "we have the utmost respect for you, and trust your every word. But we don't understand. Why send us so far to someone like Hershel. He wasn't the holy man that we were expecting."
The rabbi closed his eyes and nodded his head. "Yes, I will explain."
"Hershel has come to a bad situation, but he wasn't always like this. Once many years ago, Hershel heard about the big city. Someone told him that if he works and saves his money, then he can go to St. Petersburg and stay in the nicest hotel, have the best food, and be waited on like a king. Hershel was determined to make this happen. He worked and saved, scrimping together every last ounce of savings. For ten years he labored, never squandering, always saving. Then after 10 years, he had the funds he needed for his experience in the big city. He had saved 500 rubles.
He used part of his funds to get a train ticket, and he traveled to St. Petersburg. As he got off the train, he came to the main square. Then he was confronted with a shocking scene. One man was beating an older man. The older man was being beaten terribly, while his attacker yelled, "I'll kill you!"
"Stop," yelled Hershel, intervening, "what's going on, why are you attacking this man?"
"He owes me money, and I'm going to get it."
"Money?" said Hershel, "how much money does he owe you?"
"500 rubles."
Without even thinking, Reb Hershel reached into his pocket and took at the money he had been saving for 10 years, and handed it to the beater. He took the money and went away.
"You saved me," said the older man that was being beaten.
Then with no money left, and just the return ticket for the train, Hershel left the city and went back to his town.
The rabbi turned to his followers. "You see I strive for one kind of holiness - kind treatment, fear of heavens, fulfilling the mitzvot. But Hershel achieved another. Without even thinking, and for a complete stranger that he would never see again, he gave up all the money he had earned over 10 years. He threw out his dreams of the big city. He even overturned his whole life, ending up as the town drunk.
"This powerful sense of sacrifice, willing to rise to the occasion of helping his fellow man without coercion or pressure, this was a level far beyond me. And that, that is why I sent you to Reb Hershel. His tefillah, the blessings of Reb Hershel are much more powerful than mine, and can break through the outer shells of heaven and arouse heavenly mercy."
Jewish Guilt
Says the Slonimer Rebbe,  Hashem gave a gift to Jews to have a heavy conscious (or as some would say Jewish Guilt). This powerful feeling plagues us when we are lax in our behavior. Even when transgressing, in every Jew there is always a little bit of good that can save him. This doesn't mean that we are fundamentally evil, but rather our Yetzer overpowers us. The challenge is that even when we do fail to not let that moment overcome us. How? Our connection with Hashem. Says the Slonimer Rebbe quoting the Gemarrah in Shabbat, anyone that keeps Shabbat even an idol worshiper from the generation of Enosh will be forgiven.

This means that Shabbat is a readily available opportunity to connect with Hashem. Shabbat serves as a regularly occurring sign that we still have a connection with the holy, and evil has not consumed us.

Breisheit - To Work and Protect

Now the Lord God took the man, and He placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it.
Breisheit 2:15
The Or HaChaim Hakodosh  notes an interesting language in the verse, that it says "to work it and to guard it." This commentator raises several questions.
  • Why would the Garden of Eden needed to be guarded, after all there were no thieves?
  • What is this 'work' that the Garden of Eden needs? If it needed to be worked, then who worked the Garden of Eden all these years since the banishment from there?