Noach (5780)

Drash Cards for Noach (5780)

by Marc Mangel

• I have been thinking this week about Noah’s reputation.

• What is the issue? In some sense the big problem is that he’s compared — to Abraham no less. And the comparisons are complicated.

• In Zvi Freeman’s recently published book of meditations and teachings of the Rebbe, Wisdom to Heal the Earth, we read (pg 353):  Noah spoke as someone who followed a tradition of the past.

• The Elshich explains “That is he walked with HaShem but did not worry about the rest of mankind…it never occurred to him to try to annul the decree and save the world from extinction”.

• That is, on Ch 7:12, Rashi says “When God began the flood, it started as a gentle rain hoping that the generation would repent.  When they did not, it became the hard rain of the flood”. More than anything else, God wants Teshuvah – mercy always dominates law and justice – and Noah did little to try to convince people.

•But Levi Yitzchak  says “Noah was a humble person, to whom it would not have occurred that a prayer of his would influence God to reverse a decree which had been decided without the involvement of Noah.”

• Again on pg 353 of Wisdom to Heal the Earth, the Rebbe says Abraham described how he had discovered God on his own and, some say, convinced most of his generation. Elshich again “Abraham wanted to convert people, teach proper conduct, ethics and the existence of HaShem”. He gives the example of the destruction of Sedom in which Abraham, as we know, argued with God.

• Rashi: There are those who praise Noah saying that if he had lived in a generation of zaddikim he would have been an even greater zaddik. The Midrash says that he was like a silver coin in a bowl of copper coins. 

• There are also those who speak against him, saying that according to his generation he was a zaddik but at the time of Abraham he would not be. The Midrash is that he was like a silver coin in a bowl of gold coins

• Rabbi Meir of Presmishlin responds: this shows that there is no escape from Lashon Ha Ra even for an tzaddik.  The Torah asserts that Noah was a just and righteous man and we should stop there. 

• The point is that we should not be comparing them.  According to the Rebbe’s Chumash, the flood started in 1655.  It took until about 200 years ago – let’s say 3800 years from Noah – for Reb Zushya to come and remind us that when we face  God we are not going to be asked “why were you not like Moses” but “why were you not the best you could be” (ie why were you not Zushya).

• Let’s stop with the comparisons and try to get to the essence of Noah.

• Rashi says: Noah was lacking in faith.  He wavered in his belief that the flood would come and did not enter the ark until the waters forced him to do so.

• Once in the ark, Noah started to believe – and even pray – to God.  In the Rebbe’s chumash, interpolation of Rashi at the end of the verse 24 in. Ch7  is that “Noah and his family therefore prayed to God to relieve their suffering [due to animal care] in the ark” and the interpolation of the next verse 8:1 “On account of Noah’s prayers…God began allowing his attribute of mercy to dominate. He thus remembered Noah”

• Where does this leave us?

•  When I was in Israel on sabbatical in 1994,  one afternoon I took the 8 yr old daughter of family friends to a children’s play.

• The rain was very hard;  when we finally got into the theater she said “Kmo mabul” and then thought for a bit and said to me “I’ve decided that it is smart to believe in God.  If God exists, then it is good to believe in God. And if not, nothing lost”. 

• Maybe that is the deal with Noah – he was a good man but right up until the flood he really did not believe in the existence of God.  That is, he hedged his bets, like our 8 yr old family friend.

• But since, we are always going to be ambivalent about Noah.  Sure, he hedged his bets, but he built the ark and saved life on earth. That counts for something —  we have learned in the 4000 years since Noah is to do the Mitzvah, no matter what the state of your faith.

• I give the last word to the Rebbe (pg 354 of the same book above): Indeed, in the simplicity of the child’s imagination is a truth the adult can only envy.