For a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking very differently about this week’s Torah reading, Noach. In the past, I’ve focused on how Noah was ish tazdik tamim hayah b’dorotav, “a righteous and whole-hearted man in his generation.” Unfortunately, that isn’t saying much in Noah’s favor, but then again, God never expected us to be perfect.
For centuries, people have focused on the ark and the animals; a quick search on the Etsy website returned over 1,000 “Noah’s Ark Decorations.” They’re those cute, smiling animals on the deck of the ark. However, the instructions God gave to Noah suggest a completely enclosed vessel, and I can’t imagine the animals were smiling all that time, either!
Parashat Noach , from the ark and the flood to the building of the Tower of Babel, gives us significant insight into human behavior, and how we change and grow as we get older.
It took Noah decades to build the ark, and the text tells us almost nothing about what happened during those years. Did Noah try to convince his neighbors to abandon whatever negative and corrupting behaviors they were engaged in? Did no one ask him what he was doing? And if they did, what was his answer?
Our ancient Sages, in Midrash, tell us he tried to get the people to repent, but with no success. However, the peshat, the plain reading, says nothing about that, and might suggest that Noah was only concerned about himself and his own family, and that the others were living in their own silos.
At the time of the flood, humanity is still in its infancy, and God is still learning how to “be God.” In the beginning of the Torah reading, God expresses regret at having created the earth and everything in it, because it was corrupt. Sounds like a design process; create a prototype, run it up the flagpole and see who salutes. If it doesn’t work, toss it and start over. Sometimes, the creator has to change their expectations and reconfigure themselves, not the design.
This is what God does, and this is what we all do throughout our lives. Everything we try won’t be a resounding success, but as hard as it is, we learn more from our failures. May we be blessed with the awareness of our ability to grow, learn and adapt at any age, and by doing so, to make the world a better place.
Photo credit: Foam on Flickr