Rabbi David Fine
Former community Rabbi in Kansas City
Founder and Dean of the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics located in Modiin
The Zohar writes that had the generation of the flood repented it would have been fitting for the Torah to have been given to them. This Zohar is hard to comprehend. One could certainly understand that it would have been fitting for them to be forgiven and the flood not to have occurred but that the Torah should have been given to a generation so steeped in such immoral and criminal behavior? Based on this Zohar Rabbi Yehuda Amital teaches that it is apparent that the generation of the flood had some type of inner deep potential that was currently being utilized for evil. However, had this deep potential been able to have been unlocked and transformed to the positive then the generation of the flood would have been able to reach the greatest of heights.
Why was Noach unable to recognize this great potential and do something in order to bring about the transformation of his generation? I believe that other statements of the Sages can teach us an important lesson about Noach’s personality and the answer to our question. The Zohar elsewhere states: “Rabbi Yehoshua says what did Noach see that he did not ask for mercy for his generation? He said to himself ‘Perhaps I will not escape…'” Why would Noach believe that by beseeching God for Mercy he would therefore not be spared of the great flood? Perhaps Noach didn’t believe in the power of his own prayer and that by challenging Hashem’s plans he would be punished. Furthermore, perhaps Noach felt that by getting involved in his surroundings in any way would harm him in such a way that he would be dragged down from the high level of righteousness that he occupied. Both of these suggestions lead us to conclude that Noah did not have enough confidence in himself. He did not have an understanding of “Gadlut HaAdam (The greatness of man).” Unlike Abraham, he did not realize that he possessed enough inner strength and that God expected him to involve himself in his generation and be their defender and champion. The beginning of the last mentioned piece of Zohar describes that upon leaving the ark and witnessing the destruction of the world that Noah did, in fact, challenge God:
“Our Rabbis have taught: How did the Holy One Blessed be He respond when Noah came out of the ark and saw the whole world destroyed and began to cry? Noah said, ‘Master of the World, You are called Compassionate! You should have shown compassion for your creatures!’ The Holy One Blessed Be He answered him, ‘Foolish Shepherd! Now you say this but when I spoke to you…I lingered with you and spoke to you at length so that you would ask for mercy for the world!’
Not only did God talk to Noach for a lengthy time hoping he would beseech Him for mercy for the world. He gave Noach other hints as well. Rashi in Breishit 6:14 questions as to why Hashem commanded Noach to build an ark. Why did Noach have to labor for 120 years building an ark when Hashem could have saved him in a much simpler fashion? Rashi says that the goal of building the ark was so that people would see Noach laboring away and they would ask him what he was doing. This would be an opportunity for Noach to tell the people that God planned to bring a flood of destruction and to reprove them with the hope that they would repent. But apparently Noach was unsuccessful in this bid as not even one additional person was saved from the flood.
Noah was expected to realize the power that he possessed and to take responsibility for the world. He should have not only defended his generation and attempted to save them from destruction but he should have gone so as far to search out their deep inner potential and bring it to the fore. This would not have only saved the world from destruction but it would have caused the generation to be deserving of receiving the Torah.
This needs to be a great lesson for us today. The story of Noach demands of us to be involved in the world and to take responsibility for it. It demands us to see and seek potential in others and in ourselves as well so that our generation will merit the coming of the Messiah and the complete redemption.