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Parashat Noach

Genesis 6:9-11:32
G-d instructs Noah - the only righteous man in a world consumed by violence and corruption -- to build a large wooden teivah ("ark"), coated within and without with pitch. A great deluge, says G-d, will wipe out all life from the face of the earth; but the ark will float upon the water, sheltering Noah and his family, and two members (male and female) of each animal species.


Rain falls for 40 days and nights, and the waters churn for 150 days more before calming and beginning to recede. The ark settles on Mount Ararat, and from its window Noah dispatches a raven, and then a series of doves, "to see if the waters were abated from the face of the earth." When the ground dries completely -- exactly one solar year (365 days) after the onset of the Flood- G-d commands Noah to exit the teivah and repopulate the earth.

Noah builds an altar and offers sacrifices to G-d. --d swears never again to destroy all of mankind because of their deeds, and sets the rainbow as a testimony of His new covenant with man. G-d also commands Noah regarding the sacredness of life: murder is deemed a capital offense, and while man is permitted to eat the meat of animals, he is forbidden to eat flesh or blood taken from a living animal.

Noah plants a vineyard and becomes drunk on its produce. Two of Noah's sons, Shem and Japeth, are blessed for covering up their father's nakedness, while his third son, Ham, is cursed for taking advantage of his debasement.
The descendants of Noah remain a single people, with a single language and culture, for ten generations. Then they defy their Creator by building a great tower to symbolize their own invincibility; G-d confuses their language so that "one does not comprehend the tongue of the other," causing them to abandon their project and disperse across the face of the earth, splitting into seventy nations.
The Parshah of Noach concludes with a chronology of the ten generations from Noah to Abram (later Abraham), and the latter's journey from his birthplace of Ur Casdim to Charan, on the way to the Land of Canaan

When G-d said to Noah, "The end of all flesh is come before Me," Noah said: "What will You do with me?" But he did not pray for mercy for the world, as Abraham would pray for the city of Sodom... This is why the Flood is called "the waters of Noah" (Isaiah 54:9) -- he is culpable for them, because he did not appeal for mercy on the world's behalf. (Zohar)
Noah tried to save his generation by calling on them to repent. But the fact that he did not pray for them implies that, ultimately, it did not matter to him what became of them. Had he truly cared, he would not have sufficed with "doing his best" but would have implored the Almighty to repeal His decree of destruction -- just as a person whose own life is in danger would never say, Well, I did my best to save myself, and leave it at that, but would beseech G-d to help him.

In other words, Noah's involvement with others was limited to his sense of what he ought to do for them, as opposed to a true concern for their well-being. He understood the necessity to act for the sake of another, recognizing that to fail to do so is a defect in one's own character; but he fell short of transcending the self to care for others beyond the consideration of his own righteousness.
This also explains a curious aspect of Noah's efforts to reach out to his generation. When the Flood came, Noah and his family entered the ark - alone. His 120-year campaign yielded not a single baal teshuvah (repentant)! Perhaps public relations was never Noah's strong point, but how are we to explain the fact that, in all this time, he failed to win over a single individual?

But in order to influence others, one's motives must be pure; in the words of our sages, "Words that come from the heart enter the heart." Deep down, a person will always sense whether you truly have his interests at heart, or you are filling a need of your own by seeking to change him. If your work to enlighten your fellow stems from a desire to "do the right thing" but without really caring about the result, your call will be met with scant response. The echo of personal motive, be it the most laudable of personal motives, will be sensed, if only subconsciously, by the object of your efforts, and will ultimately put him off.
(Chabad - The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
 


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