05 Oct PARASHAT NOAH: WHEN THE GOING GETS ROUGH
Just before the flood, G-d instructs to Noah to board the ark together with his family: “Come…into the ark, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation” (7:1). The simple reading of this verse, it seems, is that since Noah was a righteous person, in contrast to the rest of the generation, he was deserving of entering the ark and being protected from the floodwaters that would kill the rest of mankind.
The Kerem Shelomo (Rav Shlomo Hallberstam of Bobov, 1907-2000), however, explained this verse differently. He noted that Noah’s experience in the ark was actually a punishment. G-d could have saved Noah and his family from the flood in countless ways, but He chose to force Noah to spend around a year confined in an ark together with the animals. The ark was, in a very real sense, a prison in which Noah was trapped. Indeed, Noah did not exit the ark after the floodwaters had subsided until he received G-d’s explicit permission. He was sent into the ark not merely to escape the flood, but also as a punishment. The reason why Noah was punished, the Kerem Shelomo explains, is indicated in this verse, when G-d tells Noah to enter the ark “because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation.” Noah lived in a generation which desperately needed guidance and inspiration, yet he was righteous “before Me,” only between him and the Almighty. He did not work to influence and inspire the people of his time, and for this he was punished.
The Kerem Shelomo writes that this was not always the case. The Torah begins Parashat Noah by describing Noah as a “Sadik” (“righteous person”) and a “Tamim” (“complete person”). The word “Tamim,” the Kerem Shelomo teaches, refers to working to positively influence other people. He draws proof from the verse in Tehillim (19:8), “Torat Hashem Temima Meshibat Nafesh” (“The Torah of G-d is perfect, restoring the soul”). This verse teaches that one’s commitment to Torah is “Temima” – complete – only if “Meshibat Nafesh,” if he inspires other people to return to observance. Noah was a “Sadik” and “Tamim” – he was righteous, and he also tried to influence the evil people of his time to repent and return to the proper path of conduct.
What happened? Why did Noah begin as a “Tamim” but then discontinue his efforts to influence his contemporaries?
The Kerem Shelomo explains that Noah discontinued these efforts when he saw they were unsuccessful. When the going got rough, he despaired and stopped.
Noah differed in this respect from Abraham Abinu, who never despaired as he worked to influence the people of his time and spread the belief in Hashem. Abraham persisted, even when his efforts were unsuccessful. He never relented in his quest to disseminate the belief in one G-d, no matter how impossible this challenge seemed. Noah, by contrast, gave up, and for this he was punished. Even when the going get rough, and one’s efforts to teach and inspire do not initially succeed, he must continue and do the best he can. Even when our work is not fruitful at first, we must continue our efforts and do all we can to uplift and elevate the people around us.