The Gemora tells us that “Noach was among those who are small
in faith. He believed and he didn’t believe. Only when he felt the waters at his
feet did he go into (the ark).” Rabbi Meir Bloch asked: Does this mean to say
that Noach, who had been building the ark for the last 120 years, didn’t believe
that the Flood was coming? He wasn’t sure?
Rather, what it means, answered Rabbi Bloch, is that Noach
heard from HaShem that there’s going to be a flood. The appearance of the waters
should not have made it any more real for him. That he did in fact feel more
convinced when the time came showed that he was lacking in emunah (faith).
A person’s emunah has to reach such a level that it’s clearer
to him than what he sees with his own eyes. And the truth is that he does not
always see things as they are. Two candles in front of a mirror look like four
candles. It is only because we understand about mirrors that we know that the
visual image of four candles is untrue.
In Gittin, the Gemora says: How do we know that Bavel is
north of Eretz Yisrael? Because it says in the posuk that “from the north [Bavel]
the evil opened up.” Why not just take a compass or a boat and go see where it
is? But going and seeing is not 100% verification. It could be that your eyes
are deceiving you; whereas the posuk can be relied on without question.
In Bava Basra, it says that a student of Rabbi Yochanan heard
him say that in the future HaShem is going to take diamonds 30 x 30 amos, cut
them to 20 x 30, and set them into the gates of Yerushalayim. The student
scoffed at the seeming absurdity of such stupendous jewels. But then he was on a
boat and saw angels cutting down diamonds of the size that Rabbi Yochanan had
described. He asked them what they were doing. They replied that they were
preparing the diamonds for the gates of Yerushalayim in the future. When he
returned, he reported what he had seen. Rabbi Yochanan reproached him: “If you
hadn’t seen it with your own eyes, you wouldn’t believe me!?” Rabbi Yochanan
looked at him, and he became a heap of bones.
Why didn’t Rabbi Yochanan turn him into bones at the
beginning, when he first showed his disbelief? And why a heap of bones?
The answer is that there is nothing wrong with doubting
gigantic diamonds. That’s enough to strain anybody’s credulity. But why did he
believe it when he saw it? If the idea is so incredible, why trust his eyes? He
should have said: “I must be hallucinating, it can’t be true.” If you trust your
senses more than your rebbe, then it’s a problem.
And that’s why he turned him into a pile of bones. The only
part of the human being whose function is visible is the bone. Aside from
manufacturing blood, the main function of the bone is to make up the skeleton,
the outline of which is visible. It was fitting, therefore, that he be rendered
into bones, since he only believed in that which was visible.
A person can reach a level where the Torah is even more real
than what he sees. The Midrash says that one of the sages, whenever he came to
the name of Nebuchadnetzer in Megilas Esther, would say, “His bones should be
crushed.” He did so to fulfill the posuk, “The name of the wicked shall rot.”
The Midrash asks why he did so only when he read his name in Esther, and not
when he read it in Sefer Yirmiya? Because, it answers, in Sefer Yirmiya,
Nebuchadnetzer was still alive, and one is not permitted to curse a living king.
In Esther, however, he was already dead.
Of course, when this sage was learning these texts,
Nebuchadnetzer had already been dead for hundreds of years (even though he was
alive when Yirmiya was written). But for that sage, the Torah was so real for
him, that when he read Yirmiya, he felt that Nebuchadnetzer was alive, and so he
couldn’t curse him. That’s how real it was for him.
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter remarked that earlier generations
didn’t believe that teshuvah could help; whereas we find it easy. When
Yom Kippur comes, we are all ready for teshuvah and forgiveness. That’s
because the earlier generations saw Gehinnom clearly before them; it was so real
to them, they couldn’t believe that they could be saved from it. For us, it’s
not so real. Not that Yom Kippur is more real for us, but that sin was more real
How does one attain the level of Torah as reality? Deep
contemplation of what one learns allows the supreme reality of the Torah to