As this week’s Torah reading opens, God instructs Noah to build an ark to protect himself, his family and representatives of every species of animals and birds during the destructive flood which is coming upon the earth. Now, God could have saved Noah and his family in many different ways. Why give him the monumental task of constructing this huge boat, an endeavor that took him 120 years to complete?
A number of reasons are given. Let’s look at three of them.
The Torah tells us that the earth was filled with wickedness and man’s heart was intent on doing evil. God “regretted that He had made man and God was grieved to His core.” (according to Rabbi Areyh Kaplan’s translation, THE LIVING TORAH) Yet, His love and compassion, as it always is, was greater than His anger at man’s wickedness and provided, despite man’s wickedness, the opportunity for another 120 years’ for mankind to repent.
As the people of the day watched Noah undertake the construction of the Ark, their curiosity was aroused which gave Noah opportunity to warn them of what was coming so that they might repent and change their ways. The construction of the Ark was Hashem’s kindness on display; it was a visual call, administered by Noah’s example of obeying Hashem even in the face of criticism from his peers.
For our admonition to be successful, we must always find ways to arouse the other person’s interest.
This is precisely what Noah was doing for 120 years.
Example is, in fact, the highest form of rebuke, and though it does not always seem to be effective, that does not exempt any of us from setting a good example throughout our lives. Harshness on the other hand is most often ineffective in bringing someone to repentance. God’s way with His people is always the gentle but firm rebuke and only when we harden our hearts and ‘dig in our heels’ against His promptings, does stronger discipline ensue, as we see throughout the Torah and the Prophets.
Another lesson we learn from this is that for every miracle in the Torah, man is required to do what is in his power, trusting Hashem to do the rest. The Torah is filled with the phrase, “If you will….then I will…” The notion of sitting back and doing nothing while “waiting for God” is foreign to Judaism. We are required by Torah to exert every effort we can while committing to God that which is beyond our ability to accomplish. I am reminded of the proverb, “Work as if everything depended on you and have faith as if everything depended on God.” It is the balance of these two aspects – faith and work – that the Torah ordains for us.
Once the Ark was completed and Noah’s family, as well as the “animals, birds and creeping things” had entered, Hashem closed the door. One would expect the floodgates of heaven to open right then but Hashem told Noah, “seven more days…” Why seven more days after 120 years delay already?
Historically, Methusaleh died on the day that Noah entered the Ark, and the Sages opine that the seven days were ordained by Hashem as the period of mourning for Methusaleh. I think there is another aspect as well.
Could it be that Hashem Himself ‘sat Shiva’ (engaged in the mourning process) for His creation, even before its destruction? After all, the text does say in the beginning of this week’s reading that He was ‘grieved to His core’ over mankind. Even before He destroyed them, He mourned. Note the absence of vengefulness; yes, Hashem was angry at mankind’s wickedness, but not at mankind per se.
From this we derive the powerful lesson that anger towards evil and sin is justified but we must always separate the sinner from his sin. Hate sin, but love the sinner and pray that he will come to repentance. The worst sinner as long as he or she is alive is still a human being created in the image and likeness of God and our greatest act of charity towards them is to pray and where appropriate or necessary, to interact with them in such a way that they will repent and be transformed to embrace who they really are and become vessels of the light of Hashem.
In Tune with Torah this week: recognizing the mercy and kindness of God towards us individually should serve to guard us against attitudes of revenge or hatefulness but rather prompt us to show that same mercy and kindness towards those who have hurt us or offended us.