Commentary for Noach

16 Oct

This week’s parshah contains the story of Noah. Humankind as a whole is acting wickedly, so God decides to destroy them. God commands Noah to build an ark and take on board himself, his family, two of each animal and seven pairs of the kosher ones, and wait there until the flood ends. Noah does so and everything turns out fine, and at the end of the story they all get off the ark and start to repopulate the world with everything being good as new.

One question often asked of this story is what, exactly, was the point of the ark? If God wanted to restart humanity with just Noah and his family, why go through all of the rigmarole of having Noah build an ark of specific dimensions and sending the animals over to Noah and wasting all of this time (over a year’s worth) waiting for Noah to build the ark and then having this big flood and then waiting for the water to recede? Shouldn’t an omnipotent God be able to snap God’s metaphorical fingers and just make all of the wicked people disappear?

There is a famous joke about a pious man who prays every day that he will win the lottery. After sixty years of this, he passes away, having never won the lottery. When he gets to Heaven he asks God why, after so many years of piety and scrupulous observance, God never answered his prayer, and God responds, “Because you never even bought a ticket.”

While the joke is humorous, its message is quite serious: God helps those who help themselves. God’s commandment to Noah is to “Make for yourself an ark (of Gofer Wood) (Gen. 6:14).” If Noah and his family are to be the progenitors of a new humanity, they must understand that a perfect world requires a partnership between humanity and God. It is not enough to merely refrain from sin. If we want to work towards and ideal world we must give charity, observe mitzvot, and help others. If we want a better world, we must go out and actively do good in that world to make it better.

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