Montreal Kollel 2003
When the entire world became filled with corruption, and the Almighty saw “how great was man´s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time” (Bereishit 6:5), to the point where “Hashem said: I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created,” a single sparkle of light shone in the darkness: “But Noach found favor with Hashem.” There was one person in the entire world who was worthy of continuing the chain of human existence after the flood that Hashem will bring.
Chazal, in Masechet Sanhedrin (108a), in their description of Noach´s persona, debate the meaning of the first pasuk in our parasha: “Noach was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age.” Was he indeed “righteous and blameless,” and deserving of extra special praise for his having opposed the evil and corruption of his generation, or was he perhaps less than perfect, and to be considered a tzadik only in comparison with the rest of the people in his time? If we adopt the first explanation, then we understand full well why Noach earned the privilege of becoming the single source of mankind´s continuity. But according to the second approach, that Noach´s conduct was noteworthy only when contrasted with that of his contemporaries, wherein lies his great merit for which he “found favor with Hashem”? Why did the Almighty see fit to bring him and his family into the ark in order to later build a better world?
In order to answer this question, we must go inside the ark and see what took place there during the deluge. All the animals entered the ark in pairs. The lion and the stork, the rabbit and the ant. Each species has an entirely different nature from the next and its own, special needs. But they all shared a single goal: to survive the flood in order that no species will become extinct, God forbid, from Hashem´s world. In order to achieve this goal, a “righteous, blameless” person was needed, someone who could recognize and identify the specific nature of every animal, and with great devotion would show care and kindness towards each and every creature in the Almighty´s world.
The Midrash Tanchuma indeed writes that “throughout those twelve months Noach did not experience the taste of sleep… for it was necessary to feed the animals and beasts. Some of them eat at two hours into the night, some eat at three hours.” This performance of kindness and boundless patience was implanted within Noach´s character already from birth, when his father exclaimed, “This one will console us from our work and from the toil of our hands.” In order to console someone, a person must penetrate his heart and inner essence to figure out, with immense patience, what is needed from him at that moment, according to the unique character of the person to be helped.
This level is the true kindness that a person can perform for others and with all creatures of the Almighty. Only Noach, for whom the performance of this type of kindness was such an inseparable part of his character, could have the privilege of going into the ark and then emerging from it into a world that he must build anew on the foundations of genuine hessed, in total contrast to the world of corruption from which he had to detach himself. Noach did not have to be among the greatest of righteous men, and even his day-to-day conduct did not have to feature any special fanfare. What was required was that when the world needed him, he would stand there and carry the message of universal kindness towards man and beast alike.
My mother a”h, whose yartzeit falls this year on Erev Shabbat Parashat Noach, also saw before her at all times the ideal of hessed as a missvah and constant way of life. She saw every person and every student in accordance with the specific nature with which Hashem created him, and she lent a helping hand and showed a genuine devotion to deal kindly with everybody according to their special needs. This important quality should accompany all of us at every step we take in our lives, and we, too, should have the merit of building our surroundings with love and kindness – “Olam chessed yibaneh,” the world is build with kindness.