Parsha Noach contains one of the most well-known stories found within the pages of the Bible. Even those with little religious knowledge can give a gist of what happened: “God made man. Man was evil, so God got mad. He told Noah to build an ark and destroyed the Earth, saving only his family.” Nearly every people group or culture has some sort of “flood story” in their history, so it should be of no surprise that most people can retell the basics of the narrative.
Imagine the state of creation in Noah’s day. It’s an every man for himself kind of wold. If you’ve got it and I want it, I’m going to take it. Some sources say that idolatry and other extremely immoral acts had become part of daily life. I get the impression that every road was a dark alley and you were in the wrong part of town. No one had ever seen rain, yet here was this man, Noah, working tirelessly to construct a giant, floating zoo. Noah was different than those around him. He knew that he had a mission that only he could accomplish and dedicated 120 years of his life to it.
“Noah was a righteous man, a tzaddik, perfect in his generations. And he walked with Elohim.”Genesis 6:9
He wasn’t just a nice guy or a generous guy, he was obedient to the One true Creator of the universe. Depending on where your study takes you and who your commentaries cite will determine by who’s standards Noah was considered righteous. Some have taken a critical stance and say that in comparison to the rest of the world Noah was righteous. It was only by mirroring him against his wicked neighbors did he stand out as a righteous individual. They go on to say that had he lived in the time of Abraham, his righteousness would have seemed insignificant. The other camp takes a more positive approach to Noah. They say that if he was considered a tzaddik in this time period and had no other Godly influences, how much greater could his righteousness been had he had the companionship of someone like Abraham.
Regardless of which approach you may take, it’s fair to say that when you’re surrounded by continual wickedness, the fight to stay on your path and walk with Elohim is much more difficult. I have nothing but praise for those who endure and persevere, giving the fight their all. Noah likely endured chastisement and belittlement from his countrymen. He was their “guy on the street corner with a The End Is Near sign.” Except this wasn’t a subtle sign, visible to only those who happen down his block. This was a massive boat that served as reminder that something was coming. Something BIG. If they chose not to look at it, surely they could hear the construction underway. Elohim was using this man and this ark to encroach on their conscious by a generous 120 years worth of time to change their hearts.
Things weren’t always bad in Noah’s neighborhood. As with any sin, it usually starts small. “Now the earth had become corrupt before God;” It started with private things that didn’t noticeably affect others. Sin was kept quietly in the home until it ventured out a little bit further. “and the earth had become filled with robbery.” What one did not have, they could take from another; perhaps by subtlety but even by force. The Torah uses the word חמס (chamas) to describe these actions. Violence, injustice, cruelty, and unjust gain were becoming common. Eventually, the chamas spread like a wildfire that scorched every corner of the world.
“And God saw the earth and behold it was corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth.”Genesis 6:12
There was nothing left to do. The laws and statutes that held the world together were being ripped apart by mankind and their desire to serve only themselves. We often forget that our actions or inactions can have a severe consequence on the world. The only thing to be done was to gather Noah and his family into the ark, close the door behind them and wait out the flood.
This really doesn’t sound much different than our current day, does it? The proverbial flood waters are rising higher and higher every day. The streets overflow with chamas and injustice is on every corner. What are we able to do? We get into our “ark” by studying His Word and praying. The ark represented the ideal state of human and animal life; a picture of the Messianic reign to come. I had always wondered how everything cohabited with one another for a whole year. If you think about it, the top predators had seven of the choicest cows not too far away. But everything in that ark was cared for, nurtured, and protected from the violent and dangerous outside world. It can seem tempting to stay in an environment like that.
But Elohim told them to go out of the ark. Those same waters that destroyed also renewed the world in the same way that a mikveh (baptism or immersion) cleanses us of impurities and signifies a new start. Noah and his family stepped out onto a renewed earth with a new set of eyes. Their time in the ark trained them to sow the seeds of Torah in the world once again. It wasn’t an easy time; there was much work to be done. But they emerged with a newfound appreciation for the world and a desire to fill it with righteousness. May it be the same way with us.