When we review Rashi’s understanding of Noach’s stature, we are left a bit perplexed. Would he have stood out as a tzadik in any generation or was he only righteous in contrast to those around him in his time?
Chazal tell us that Noach had tremendous derech eretz. Rashi points out that the “offspring” or the legacy of the righteous are their maasim tovim, their good deeds. By derech eretz of course I do not mean that he said “please” and “thank you” whenever he needed something or gave up his seat on the bus for an expectant mother. In Noach’s time derech eretz meant something completely different. After an entire year in the teiva, Noach is finally on land and is waiting patiently for the waters to subside and the dry land to emerge. At that point Hashem tells him to leave the teiva. But again, we have questions.
Why did Hashem have to tell him to get out of the wooden zoo after a long and difficult year? Didn’t he know that it was time? Wasn’t he capable of seeing the dry land for himself?
The Medrash relates that Noach said the following: “Just as I did not enter the ark without permission, I will not exit without Hashems word as well.”
It was perhaps because of this extreme derech eretz, unique in his generation, that Hashem found favour with Noach. There is another lesson, though, that we may learn, one that does not shine the best light on Noach and may be consistent with Rashi’s other understanding of Noach – that he was only special and unique in his generation. After an entire year of living in tight and difficult conditions, one would think that the first thing a person would want to do would be to get out as fast as humanly possible. Let the animals free, start his life, unburden himself from the terrible responsibility of safeguarding all living things. But we see that Noach did no such thing. In fact he waited and waited even though he knew that there was dry land and that it was safe for him to exit.
Why? Why did he wait?
I would like to suggest that Hashem had to directly command him to leave the teiva because it is human nature that no matter what their conditions may be, people become complacent and comfortable with the staus quo. Noach knew that he was the only survivor. He and his family had the most important and meaningful task possible ahead of them – to repopulate the world. Yet there he sat, in his crowded home, enjoying the peace and quiet of the usual and the uncomplicated.
I believe the message for us is clear. We all find ourselves enjoying the status quo. We may not want to call it complacency, we may not look at ourselves as unwilling to move, to do, but if we are honest with ourselves, we are often enjoying the what is, and not thinking or considering what can be. Too many of us feel a bit too complacent about the world around us and start to think this is what it’s supposed to be. Well, this is a wake up call for all of us. Hashem is calling from the pages of Noachs life: Tzei min ha teiva! Get out and make a difference in the world around you!
If you are an NCSYer reading this, then you know that this is the foundation of what makes NCSY tick. It’s the bedrock of our movement. NCSYers see the world for what it could be, not for what it is, and we go out and make a difference around us.
May we continue to have a discomfort with the status quo; may we break free from the routines of life and may we be zoche to use every opportunity we can grasp to make great changes in the world.