Portion of the Week: Noach--A Lesson in Humility
In this week’s portion, we study the story of Noach. It’s a story we may feel we know well; however, with a little extra attention, this portion reveals many lessons we can apply in our own lives. The hero of this portion is, of course, Noach. He lived just 10 generations after Adam and Eve, and he lived in idyllic times, in a perfect world — but within a wicked generation. In fact, the people of this time were so wicked that Noach was the only righteous one among them. For that reason, G-d spoke to Noach directly and told him of his plans: he would bring a flood so powerful that it would destroy all living things. This way, he would clean the world of its corruption. Of the people, only Noach and his family would survive. They were called upon by G-d to build a giant ark, and this ark would keep them safe throughout the flood.
Building the ark was a slow process, and it was intentionally slow. G-d hoped that by giving Noach 120 years to build it, this would give the people time to repent. They would realize their wrongs and begin to live righteously. It was their last chance. Noach worked diligently on the ark, and as people passed he would answer their questions about his project. “The Divine is sending a flood,” he would explain, “but if we change our evil ways, we can stop it.” Did the people listen? We know that they did not, and this is why G-d brought a terrible flood to the Earth. As soon as the ark was ready, the rain began to fall. And remember, this was no ordinary rain. When it fell, it burned like fire. It fell heavier and heavier until it consumed every living thing, just as G-d had promised.
The rains continued relentlessly for forty days and forty nights. After 150 days, Noach’s ark finally settled. He sent a dove to investigate the terrain, and it returned with an olive branch, confirming the presence of dry land. This was when Noach thanked the Creator, and G-d responded with a rainbow. The rainbow symbolized his promise: that he would never again do this to Earth. Noach’s family and the animals of the ark were all that was left. He had 70 grandsons and great grandsons, and they made up the 70 nations. At this point, everybody spoke the same language, and they decided to build the Tower of Babel so high that they could reach heaven. When G-d saw this, he sabotaged the project by making them speak different languages. This is a lesson in what happens when human beings become arrogant and believe that they can emulate G-d’s power.
The story of Noach himself, however, is not a lesson in arrogance. It is a lesson in humility. Noach did not fully understand why he was saved. His humility was so extreme that he was unable to recognize the difference between himself and his generation. He believed that he was saved solely due to G-d’s generosity and that his own actions were totally irrelevant. This wasn’t the case. Noach was actually on a much higher level than the people around him. This shows us that — although humility is something to aspire to — in excess it can also prevent us from seeing the truth. Seeing the truth of a situation is crucial to making realistic assessments. Noach was saved because he was righteous, and this was why he was chosen to bring future generations into the world.
We should consider Noach’s experience: righteous, but in the company of the corrupt. We may wonder if he was only righteous in comparison to them. This should lead us to imagine how much more righteous Noach might have been in the company of other righteous people. After all, we are influenced by the people around us, no matter how strong we may be. Isn’t this an excellent reminder? Who we surround ourselves with is very important. Take a moment to reflect on the company that you keep. Ask yourself, how do they affect your outlook? How do they inspire your actions? As spiritual people, we must be very vigilant about these relationships. We know that unhealthy attachments in the material world may interrupt or interfere with our connection to the Divine.
Reading the story of Noach, some question his integrity. They ask why he didn’t beg to spare the lives of his generation. They question why he couldn’t change them and somehow make them good. Noach didn’t have the strength to go up against everyone around him. Instead, he warned them in the best way he knew. Noach’s approach wasn’t aggressive. He taught through his own example: he persevered with the ark, he himself lived righteously, and he told those who asked about the impending flood.This reminds us that there are many ways to influence others beyond simply imposing our own thinking on them. If you warn the wicked, you have delivered your soul. This applies whether they listen or not. And this reminds us of another lesson — that we can only go so far trying to stop those who do wrong. How far should we go? Noach shows us: as far as we can and as far as our humility allows us.
In our daily lives, we thankfully do not face this kind of flood. However, don’t we all know how it feels to be flooded? To be totally overwhelmed with the dilemmas and distractions of the material world? It’s a great time to prepare for this. We have just finished the first month of the year: a month full of spirituality, repentance, and celebration. Our connection with the Divine has been at the forefront of our minds. However, now the real challenge begins. Here comes the flood! When your daily life becomes hectic, with many things demanding your attention, what will happen to all those good intentions? What will happen to what really matters? It’s up to us to save our spirituality, avoiding the arrogance of Noach’s generation. They foolishly believed that they could handle the flood; they didn’t pay heed to Noach’s warnings. Let’s take this as our warning, too! Now is the time for us to build our ark and, in doing so, protect our connection to the Divine all year round.