Sunday, October 24, 2021

Did you ever stop to imagine what life was like inside Noach’s ark?

There were three floors. The middle floor was filled with a collection of the world’s animals: wild, domestic and otherwise, birds and critters of all shapes and sizes, vermin and an endless potpourri of creepy crawlers. Then there was a floor of refuse. There was no recycling center and no sewage system that I am aware of. The humans had the top floor. Cramped in an inescapable living space was Noach, his three sons, their wives and one mother-in-law. Surely it wasn’t The Ritz!

What intrigues me (at least) are the ark’s detailed architectural instructions. Why? Are there lessons to be learned from the design of the ark? After all, Hashem promised that there will be no more (global) floods and if there will be no more floods, then there need not be any more arks. So what difference does it make how it was built? Obviously, there are inherent lessons we can learn from the design of the ark. Let’s consider one.

Noach is told to build a window. It seems practical enough; after all, sitting in such a small space for an entire year can get awfully stuffy. But does Noach really need a command to add something as obvious as a window? Do we need to know that this was part of the Heavenly plan?

Sometimes when we are locked in our little boxes, we too need a window, i.e., a perspective. For example, a crying baby who denies sleep is infinitely better than no baby or a baby who cannot cry. When we think our world is crumbling and that we are doomed to a fate that is too difficult to bear, the Lord instructs us to make a window. Sometimes, especially when we are frustrated, we should peek outside. Despite our difficulties and hardships, others are undergoing a more difficult lot. And when we realize that they can endure, then we become cognizant that life inside our particular ark is manageable, after all.

Author’s note: The idea I have expressed is based on something I saw once, somewhere, and I cannot remember where. I regret not affording credit.

Was Noach a tzaddik or not and what difference does it make? After years, indeed decades, of being troubled by Rashi’s interpretation, I was privileged to gain an insight that resolves my issue.

In the very beginning of the parsha, Rashi interprets the verse: “These are the children of Noach, Noach was a perfect tzaddik in his generations.” There is a polemic regarding “in his generations.” Some of the sages interpret it favorably, that if Noach was righteous in his corrupt generation, how much more so would he have been righteous in a generation of righteous individuals. Others interpret this critically; he was only righteous in his generation and had he lived in Avraham Avinu’s generation he would have been insignificant.

What always troubled me, from the time I was a little boy, is why interpret critically if there is equal reason to interpret positively?

Finally last year I read Rashi a little more carefully (always a wise policy) and discovered what I had been missing all these years. Rashi’s precise words are: “Some of our sages interpret positively…” and the contrary opinion is presented as: “Others interpret it negatively…”

It was the sages, our rabbis, who aligned themselves with the positive approach; and it was the “others” who preferred to interpret negatively. So here is a signpost for life. Whenever you have a choice whether to interpret positively or negatively—and there is no compelling factor in either direction—remember that the rabbis would favor the positive approach.

Rabbi Hanoch Teller, internationally-acclaimed storyteller, is an award-winning author and producer. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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