What We Should Learn from Noah

The lesson to take from Noah’s way of serving G-d:

his efforts before the flood, and his saving the world by bringing all species of life into the ark.

Based on a Chassidic Talk by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson,

Presented with permission, as translated and published by Sichos in English

From Sichos In English, Volume 23, p. 236-241
Excepted from the Sicha of Shabbos Parshas Noach
1st day of Cheshvan, 5745
Published and copyright © by Sichos In English


Parshas Noach [Genesis 6:9 - 11:32] talks about Noah’s generation, which was on the lowest of levels. In the words of Scripture: “All flesh had perverted its way upon the earth” — to the extent that there was no choice, as it were, but to destroy all life. Yet this corruption did not disturb Noah’s service to G-d, and he remained untouched by the surrounding evil, as written: “Noach was a righteous and whole man in his generation.” Similarly, when the whole of that generation was destroyed by the flood, Noah remained untouched, he and his family taking refuge in the ark. Moreover, by taking into the ark every species of living being, he saved the whole world, through which the world was established anew — and in a loftier fashion than before the flood — as we shall shortly explain.

In Noah’s service, then, we see three aspects: 1) his service was untouched by the world’s abysmal state; 2) he saved and reestablished the world; 3) in doing so, he raised the world to a yet higher level. Let us explore each of these aspects separately.

NOAH’S SERVICE UNTOUCHED BY THE WORLD’S ABYSMAL STATE:

That Noah was “righteous and whole” even in his corrupt generation is emphasized by the way he entered the ark. His entire generation did not wish him to do so, as Rashi writes (Genesis 7:13), “The people of his generation said, ‘If we see him entering the ark, we will break it and kill him.’ G-d said, ‘I shall bring him in before the eyes of everyone, and we shall see whose word will prevail.’” When the people saw that the flood was really beginning, and Noah was preparing to save himself in the ark, they wanted to prevent him from entering, thereby thinking to save also themselves. For, knowing that G-d would not allow the flood to harm Noah, they thought that if they would not allow him to enter the ark, G-d would halt the flood.

Yet their opposition did not help them. Indeed, G-d said, “I shall bring him in before the eyes of everyone, and we shall see whose word will prevail.” We can easily picture what was happening then. The people were standing outside the ark, thoroughly drenched from the flood rains which had already begun to fall, and before their eyes was the ark in which Noah and his family were going to save themselves. And yet all their efforts to prevent it — were unavailing! Moreover, they saw a long line of animals, of every species in the world — going two by two (or seven by seven of the clean animals) into the ark to be saved — and yet they were outside the ark, unable to do anything!

NOAH SAVED AND REESTABLISHED THE WORLD:

Two aspects are present in this: 1) Noah’s efforts before the flood; 2) his salvation of the world by bringing all species of life into the ark. Concerning the first aspect, we learn that the ark took 120 years to build, and Rashi (on Genesis 6:14) tells us the reason why: “So that the men of the generation of the flood should see him occupied with it for 120 years, and [could] ask him, ‘What is [the necessity of] this to you?’ and he could say to them, ‘G-d is about to bring a flood upon the world’ — perhaps they will repent.” In other words, for 120 years Noah’s work consisted of getting his generation to repent.

Noah’s efforts to turn them to repentance could have had an effect to the very last moment. Even after 120 years had passed and they didn’t repent, and the rains began to fall, Scripture relates (Genesis 7:12), “The rain was upon the earth,” upon which Rashi comments, “He (G-d) brought them down with mercy, so that if they should repent, these should be rains of blessing.” Thus, even at the very last moment, if Noah could have been able to get them to repent, not only would there have been no flood, but the rains would have been transformed into “rains of blessing” … This teaches how great was Noah’s power to influence his generation: On his side, he could have brought them to repentance even at the last moment, thereby not only eliminating the punishment of the flood, but transforming it into “rains of blessing.”

The second aspect is that by bringing every species of being into the ark, Noah kept the world in existence — despite the fact that the world was in such a dismal state that the people did not repent even when the rains began to fall.

NOAH RAISED THE WORLD TO A HIGHER LEVEL AFTER THE FLOOD:

All living beings in Noah’s ark — i.e., the whole world — was in a state resembling that of the future era. All the different species, animals, beasts and fowl, predatory or otherwise, did not attack or do any harm one to another during the entire duration of their stay — a whole year. This was a most unnatural phenomenon. When every species of life in the whole world is confined together for a long time in a very limited space it is impossible that not even one instance of attack should occur — especially when talking about predatory beasts whose very nature is to take the life of other beasts.

This phenomenon happened because the G-dliness in the ark was of a very lofty order, similar to that of the future era, when a wolf will dwell together with a lamb, an eagle with a kid, and none shall harm another, for “the earth will be full with the knowledge of the L-rd.” And this was the state of affairs in Noah’s ark: Even when the world was on the lowest of levels (so corrupt that it had to be destroyed), the spiritual condition within the ark resembled that of the future era.

That the animals in the ark behaved totally contrary to their natures makes the first aspect of Noah’s work — that the people of his generation were unable to disturb Noah’s service — greater still. The transformation of the animals actually began before they were in the ark, when they came to enter it. They were then all gathered together in one place — and yet did no harm to each other.

This was a miracle unlike any other. Every miracle affects a particular object or place. The miracle that the manna descended for the Jews during their forty years sojourn in the desert, for example, happened only to the manna, and only in a particular area (that part of the desert in which the Jews were traveling). Similarly, the miracles that happened to the Jews in Egypt were devoted to a particular category, in a particular place.

In our case, in contrast, the miracle concerned all species of life in the world, and everywhere in the world, for the animals came to Noah’s ark from the four corners of the earth. It was a miracle that affected the very creation. There were several aspects to this miracle:

1. Animals from all over the world came to Noah’s ark of their own accord; no one drove them to come to that particular spot.

2. Not all animals and beasts came; only two of each [non-kosher] species.

3. Seven of each kosher species [of mammals and birds] came.

4. Only the choicest of them came — “Those that had associated with their own species, and had not corrupted their way” (Rashi, on Genesis 6:20).

5. As above, they all entered the ark in an orderly manner, without harming one another — completely contrary to their natures.

Can there be a greater miracle than this?! Moreover, this miracle occurred at the end of the 120 years, when the world was on such a low spiritual state that, despite 120 years of Noah’s efforts, they did not repent.

All this emphasizes how impossible it was that the people of his generation should prevent Noach from performing his service. He entered the ark (his service of saving the world) against the wishes of the people, with great miracles. And he saved the world, to the extent that he raised it to a higher level. All this was accomplished despite the fact that he was a single individual against the whole world. …

If the above applies to the generation of the flood, a generation of a very low spiritual stature, it certainly applies to our days, since 1) such a spiritual descent as happened in the generation of the flood is impossible in our days, and 2) Noah lived before Mattan Torah [the revelation at Mt. Sinai]: If he was nevertheless able to carry out his service without being hampered by his environment, we, who have the strength from Mattan Torah, certainly can. …

[Here the Rebbe goes on to discuss concepts which are summarized on our AskNoah web page "Study and Prayer".]

Another lesson we can derive from Noah concerns the way events happened. Noah only had to fulfill G-d’s command, whether that of building the ark or of feeding the animals in the ark; everything else — the fact that the people could not prevent him from entering the ark, the fact that the animals came to the ark of their own accord, and that they coexisted peacefully — all happened automatically, as a result of Noah’s fulfilling G-d’s will.

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