Noah was "pure in his generation" (Gen. 6:9); he feared that believing in the Flood would cause it to come.
The portion opens with the verse, "These are the generations of Noah; Noah was a righteous man" (Gen. 6:9). Why do we need to know that he was a righteous man? Rashi explains that since the Torah is, in any case, mentioning Noah's name, it is appropriate to praise him. However, this is puzzling because Noah was already mentioned at the end of last week's Torah reading, where it is written, "and Noah found grace in the eyes of G‑d" (Gen. 6:8). Why not praise him there? Rather, the Torah chooses to praise Noah here, where it speaks about his good deeds and his attainment of spiritual levels that he reached as a result of his own efforts. Previously, it had said that "Noah found grace”. Having found something infers G‑d's help, not what we accomplish through our own efforts.
The first verse continues, "He was pure in his generation.” Why qualify Noah's purity? Rashi says that some commentaries understand it in a positive way, that even in a righteous generation, he would have been considered great. Others see it in a seemingly negative context, that he was only great compared to his lowly, sinful generation; in Abraham's generation, he would not have been so outstanding. The Chozeh of Lublin makes a wonderful point: If you can interpret it positively for Noah, why would you possibly wish to present a negative portrayal? The Talmud requires us always to judge a person favorably. He posits that it was Noah himself who saw himself that way, who considered himself as utterly incomparable to a righteous one such as Abraham. Thus, the commentators are not being critical of Noah's spiritual status but rather reflecting Noah's own humble attitude towards himself.
Noah…was afraid to totally believe in the Flood because he did not want to help cause it…
Rashi comments on the verse, reporting that Noah and his family entered the ark "because of the water of the flood" (Gen. 7:7). The previous verse already said that the flood had begun. We would expect Noah's family to have boarded the ark then. Rashi says that Noah was "small" in faith. He believed and yet did not believe that the flood would be so vast, so he did not enter the ark until the water forced him in! Rebbe Yechiel Michel of Zlotshuv (as quoted in Ohev Yisroel) asks how could Rashi suspect such a great person as Noah to be lacking faith? He explains like this: The word "emuna", meaning “faith“, can denote the faith that a certain event will undoubtedly occur. Another interpretation of the word “emuna” is "trained" or "nurtured", as in "And he [Mordechai] trained [in Hebrew, ‘uman’ - as a parent raises a child] Hadassah [Esther]." In other words, there is a certain strength in “emuna” that makes something happen.
When you truly believe, you can actually help actualize a particular event. It is a cliche, but worth repeating: do not underestimate the power of faith! Noah, as one who was close to
G‑d, understood this. Of course, he believed totally in G‑d and in whatever G‑d told him. Nevertheless, he was afraid to totally believe in the Flood because he did not want to help cause it. He was wary that his very powerful faith could make the Flood happen!
In addition to the destruction, the Flood also purified the world….
This is what Rashi referred to by saying that Noah was of "small faith". He made his faith small, at first believing in the Flood's immanence, but then forcing himself to not believe in it; finally, the waters of the Flood forced him into the ark, leaving him no choice. The Shelah writes that maybe Noah was not so great, since he did not argue with G‑d when told that the world was going to be destroyed. But from the above we can justify it, Noah did not want to let himself believe it.
Worries concerning mundane matters are sometimes referred to as "the waters of Noah". In addition to the destruction, the Flood also purified the world, and brought rest (in Hebrew, “noach“) to G‑d. So also there is inner purpose to the worries that flood our lives. The worries are meant to force us into prayer and strengthen our faith in G‑d. This is the inner dimension of the verse, "Come to the ark". The word in Hebrew for "ark" is "teiva", which also means "word". "Come to the word", G‑d is telling us. When the flood of worries tries to engulf us, have faith in G‑d. Instead of drowning, you will be lifted above the water by the “teiva” - words of prayer. This is true all year long, but especially now, right after the holidays when we have been earnestly working on ourselves. If we practice now doing things right, it will be easy all year long!
The Flood…also purified the clouds so the sun could shine through, and a rainbow could form….
In the middle of the Torah reading, G‑d promises to never again destroy the world with a flood (Gen. 9:8-17). The symbol of this promise is the rainbow. We all agree the rainbow is very pretty, but what is the inner connection between the appearance of a rainbow and the promise not to bring another flood? The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains very logically that before the Flood, the clouds were so thick that the sun could not shine through. There was no possibility of a rainbow. The Flood, which purified the world, also purified the clouds so the sun could shine through, and a rainbow could form.
Thus, the rainbow's existence is a direct result of the cleansing of the world. Its appearance is a reminder to G‑d not to destroy the world again because the world is still pure. Similarly, a rainbow is a symbol and a reminder of the final redemption that will also come in the merit of the cleansing and purifying of the world through our teshuva. The Zohar states that when you see the rays of the rainbow, look for the feet of Mashiach (you thought I was going to say pot of gold, didn't you?…)
Shabbat Shalom, Shaul
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