A shoe-shine man offered a $5 shine and a $10 shine. “What’s the difference?” he was asked. Snapping his rag, he answered, “Attitude!” Read on to discover how this story connects with the tale of the Flood and the Covenant.
Table for Five: Noach
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
And I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark, with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives. And of all that lives, of all flesh, you shall take two of each into the ark to keep alive with you; they shall be male and female. Gen 6:18-19
Lt Yoni Troy, IDF Officer
G-d’s instruction to Noah to preserve each animal species two by two, then repopulate, makes me wonder, why rely on Noah, when G-d can do it all?
G-d is sending a message: by giving us Free Will, we are active partners in this world. We can succeed – or we can wreck the world. If G-d reset everything every time things went wrong, we humans would fail to appreciate our responsibility.
Too many people are passive – complaining that if they had what others had, they, too, would succeed. Such grumblers don’t appreciate their abilities – and great potential.
Attitude is the great x-factor in life. G-d gives us certain abilities but being proactive and staying positive usually determines whether we succeed or fail.
When I made Aliyah I set a goal to become a great Hebrew speaker. It took years of practice, many mistakes, and even laughing off occasional ridicule. Today, I am a fluent enough speaker that people are surprised when I tell them I was born abroad.
When some read the word “Covenant,” they think that G-d feels badly about the flood and now promises to take care of us in the future. But they miss the fact that essentially, the flood changed nothing on a fundamental level. By preserving all the animals and plants, G-d was saying, the world doesn’t need a reset, we humans need an attitude shift.
The Covenant is mutual, and thus empowering as well as harrowing because G-d is giving us responsibility: true Free Will.
Kylie Ora Lobell, Contributing Writer, Jewish Journal
Noach spent 120 years building his ark. It took that long because all the wicked people were supposed to see what Noach was doing, ask him about it and be inspired to repent. They did not, and Noach didn’t do his part to get them to repent, either. Instead, he was constructing his ark to protect his family and himself. Though he was righteous, he failed in one major way: unlike Avraham, who begged G-d to spare the wicked Sodom, Noach didn’t care to make a plea for others. He was like Jonah, another Biblical figure who ran away from the responsibility of trying to save the wicked in Nineveh.
The Torah is telling us is that we are all responsible for each other. If you see someone who is suffering, you cannot sit idly by. G-d does not want to punish his creations. It pains Him. He’d much rather see us turn ourselves around and become better people. Right now, I see so many people in pain because of the pandemic. A lot of friends and members of my community are suffering from anxiety and depression. Even though we’re all in our own arks – our homes – we cannot isolate ourselves like Noach did. We need to reach out, even if it’s a quick text or a phone call, and look out for each other. Only when we are “our brother’s keeper” will we survive these rough waters and make it onto the other side, stronger and holier than ever.
Rabbi Aryeh Markman, Executive Director, Aish LA
The Story of Noah’s Ark seems improbable. How did all those animals fit in the boat?! But does its impossibility undermine the story? No! Rather, it gives us an insight into how we are to accomplish our own miraculous aspirations.
Admittedly it took a miracle to pack in all those animals and their food. A chaotic snorting, roaring, buzzing, slithering crammed multitude. Best guestimate is that the Ark was somewhere between 50 -75% the size of the Titanic. It was built solely by Noah over a span of 120 years.
Side bar: The world devolved into decadence after ten generations since the first human being, through sexual immortality beyond one’s imagination, idol worship and the deciding factor, wholesale robbery. God was resetting the world and warning of its impending water pandemic by having Noah singlehandedly build the Ark over a 120 year period. The generation dismissed the warning.
The Ark, unique in its day, had to be big enough to lessen the magnitude of the miracle of its cargo – every land-based organism known to man.
The Ramban writes that this is the standard of all miracles that the Torah and Prophets speak of. Mankind is expected to do whatever is possible and leave the rest, that which is beyond human ability, to be completed by Divine Intervention.
The moral to the story of Noah’s Ark: Set your sights high, strive for the near impossible and believe that God will partner in your achievement once you exhaust all other means.
Rabbi Rebecca Schatz, Assistant Rabbi, Temple Beth Am
God will establish a covenant with Noah. But first, a sample of every living thing must be brought into the Teiva. A source of every kind of earthbound life must come aboard. The Teiva, Ark, is a God-ordered flood-worthy vessel. But in the story of Moshe, the teiva is a tiny basket in which the baby is swaddled and floated to safety on Nile waters, away from the slaughtering of Hebrew baby boys. Noah’s teiva and Moshe’s teiva are not just conveyances, but connectors between safe harbors, over the waters, lifelines joining humanity to God.
God tells Noah whom to bring: his children, spouses and all other living things male and female, were to crowd into this life vessel to seed the future. According to Bereshit Rabbah, our rabbis thought even spirits were asked in, but only if partnered. There is something profound in this requirement. To what or whom are we partnered?
For seven months we’ve been living in a teiva. Some with partners at home, some alone and partnering through Zoom or by phone. How will we prepare ourselves to leave this teiva? If we are going to exit this teiva ready to improve our world, we need to recognize and exist in partnership. A teiva is a home and time of change, of creating life and of finding spiritual guidance and connection. Will we be ready to move forward anew? Only in partnership.
Ilan Reiner, Architect & Author of “Israel History Maps”
The “covenant” is introduced here for the first time. To understand what it means in other places throughout the Torah, we should clarify what it signifies in this case. What kind of commitment was involved? Was this a conditional covenant? If so, what were the conditions? The verses imply that God commanded Noah to go into the ark with his family and animals. Was that what Noah needed to do to fulfill his side of the covenant?
Many commentaries explain that this covenant was a divine commitment to keep Noah, and everyone with him, alive. Therefore, Noah’s commitment was to stay alive, inside the ark with all the animals, while a flood is raging outside. A divine covenant isn’t like a contract. In a contract, there’s compromise and each side tries to get the most out of the situation. This covenant sets the precedent of a mutual vision, where each side is invested and fully committed. A vision that would come true only with faith and willingness to make every effort.
A later divine covenant involves the Land of Israel as a home for the Jewish people. From Noah’s first covenant, we learn that this covenant too, is one of trust and faith. A covenant that means to never despair and keep seeking the good. A mutual commitment to live by the ways of the Torah and God’s values, as we live and prosper in the land of Israel.
With thanks to Lt Yoni Troy, Kylie Ora Lobell, Rabbi Aryeh Markman, Rabbi Rebecca Schatz, and Ilan Reiner
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