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Noah's Ark

There are obviously many ways by which God could have saved Noah. Why did Noah have to bother building an ark? And why did it take him 120 years?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

We have to appreciate that this was no ordinary boat. It measured 300-by-50 cubits, was bigger than a football field and contained over a million cubic feet of space! It was outfitted with three separate levels: The top for Noah and his family, the middle for the animals, and the bottom for the garbage. (Which by the way, shows the Torah's unique concern for the environment. Even while the world was being destroyed, they wouldn't throw the garbage overboard.) God accentuated the oddity of it all by having Noah construct this huge boat – not at the sea shore – but on a mountaintop!

The Midrash Tanchuma says that God specifically wanted Noah to undertake a strange and unusual project, so that people would be curious and ask: "Noah – what are you doing??" This way Noah could engage them in discussion about the problems facing the world, and explain how catastrophe could be avoided – if people would only change their ways.

Well, 120 years is a long time, and you would think that Noah would have convinced a lot of people to get back on track. But alas, Noah failed to turn anyone around. Instead he saw the Ark as his chance to build a big wall and insulate himself from the evils of society. Noah imagined that the Ark was his own ticket to survival, and completely abandoned his mission to influence others.

In one sense it is true that we have to protect ourselves and our families. Maimonides warns us about the danger of living next to neighbors who don't share our system of values. Where there's corruption, the good frequently get swept up with the bad.

But there's a second side to this as well. The "Ark" cannot be completely insulated; it must be porous as well. We have to reach out and try to make a difference in the world. And if we aren't on the level to do so for the sake of others, then at least we should do so for ourselves. Because the reality is that no matter how hard we try, some "bad" does seep in. And if we don't do something to help fix it – in the end it will get us as well.

Ignoring this reality was Noah's tragic mistake. He believed that he could lock himself inside the Ark, and escape from it all.

After the Flood ended, Noah emerged with his family onto dry land: "Noah, the man of the earth, debased himself and planted a vineyard. He became drunk and uncovered himself in his tent..." (Genesis 9:20-22)

When Noah emerged from the Ark and saw the devastation the world had endured, he was depressed and disappointed. Because he knew deep down that he had selfishly stood by and watched it all happen. So he got drunk.

Noah's failure to try and influence his generation is why the Flood is called "the waters of Noah" (Isaiah 54:9). In one sense he bore responsibility for the Flood. This teaches us a crucial life lesson: Don't think that society's problems aren't affecting you. Because they are. And we are each responsible to fix them.

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