In this week’s Parsha - Parshat Noach - G-d told Noah, the only good man in a world full of violence and corruption, to build a large wooden ark. “A Great flood”, says G-d, “will wipe out all life from the face of the earth, but the ark will float upon the water”.
The ark sheltered Noah and his family, a pair of each animal species - male and female, and seven of the “pure” species. Rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights, and the waters swelled for 150 days before calming and starting to retreat. Noah sent a raven and a series of doves to see if the waters had calmed down. The ground dried completely exactly a year after the beginning of the flood. G-d then commanded Noah to exit the ark and, as a result of the destruction of the Earth, G-d tells him to repopulate it.
The Parsha continues with more stories, but I will focus on this story. Naturally, when we read this story, a question arises. Rashi asks it as well- “There are numerous ways by which G-d could have saved Noah; why, then, did he burden him with this construction of the Ark?”
Two very different explanations for this question will teach us two very important lessons. Rashi answers according to the Talmud in Sanhedrin -
“So that the men of the generation of the Flood might see him employed on it for 120 years and might ask him, “What do you need this for”? and so that he might answer them […] He (G-d), is about to bring a flood upon the world” — perhaps they might repent.”
Rashi reasons that Noah was commanded to build an ark in order for those around him to see him busy with the ark for 120 years. Those near Noah would be prompted to ask why Noah was building the ark. This would give Noah the chance to tell them that G-d has pronounced that a flood would come upon the world. By using Noah to make the pronouncement, the people would be given a chance to rethink their actions and make a change.
The Or Hachaim gives a totally different explanation - “Noach could only be saved after building the ark, i.e. providing a separate environment for himself.” Meaning, only if Noah would separate himself from the morally-toxic environment, could he be worthy of being saved.
This answer seems to contradict Rashi's. Rashi says - the whole point of building an ark is a “show” for others to see and repent. The Or Hachaim says it is to make a separate non-toxic environment for Noah, so he will be able to save himself.
What approach should we adopt? Maybe we can have both. First we make our own good ideal environment, we form our identity and set of values. If we are strong and confident with our identity, if we stick to our values, we naturally radiate this to others who might want to adopt them too.
Elya, Grade 10