BRAVE NEW WORLD
Noah feared for his own spiritual survival, so he did not associate with the wicked. His lack of personal involvement with sinners distorted his perspective of them.
Noah feared for his own spiritual survival, so he did not associate with the wicked. His lack of personal involvement with sinners distorted his perspective of them. Since he viewed them from a distance, he was unable to detect any good in them. Therefore, he was not motivated to pray on their behalf, for he felt that their spiritual situation was irredeemable. Conversely, the greatness of someone like Abraham was that he was able to descend to the spiritually decadent places and associate with the most wicked and vile sinners, and as a result of his unrelenting efforts, influence them to return to Hashem. Abraham understood Hashem's great compassion, even for the wicked, and that Hashem desires that they return to Him. Therefore, Abraham persisted in extricating the wicked from those who were evil.
Noah, however, superimposed his own misgivings about the wicked onto Hashem, and thus felt that Hashem had given up all hope on them. Therefore, He did not care for them any longer, and abandoned them to their fate of destruction. Noah did not realize that Hashem still loves the wicked despite their evil ways, and insists that the righteous make every attempt to bring them back to Him (through prayer and by influencing them to repent).
Noah mistakenly thought, as many people do, that Hashem is devoid of understanding and compassion for human frailty, and that He has such demanding and harsh standards. Noah realized that the evil deeds of his generation had a bad influence even upon someone like himself. This is why Noah feared for his own survival, and disassociated himself from the people of his generation. He did not want to take any chances of being dragged down even further; therefore, he made no attempt to bring them back to Hashem. Noah ignored the spiritual plight of his generation and resigned himself to focus on his own survival, contrary to Hashem's wishes.
THE ARK: PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL HAVEN
Due to these misconceptions, Hashem rescued Noah through the ark and not through some other means. Noah's ark was not a mere boat. The Zohar, the basic work of Kabbalah, relates that its construction, on a spiritual level, involved and was associated with the deepest mysteries of the universe, which imbued it with the most awesome spiritual energies. "Noah's ark is Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)," meaning that everything associated with the ark's construction hints and alludes to all the aspects and ramifications associated with repentance. In other words, the ark was not only a physical haven from the destructive floodwaters and the corruption of his generation, but it was also a spiritual refuge which enabled Noah, his family, the animals, and vegetation (his food supplies) to absorb and be nourished from the powerful spiritual energies that were contained within the ark.
Noah was commanded by Hashem to enter the ark together with his family, all the animals, and all the vegetation and food supplies. Since Noah lacked the proper understanding to save the world from a physical and spiritual holocaust, he was forced to reside together with the lowest elements of this earth - the animals and vegetation for one year. The ark functioned like a spiritual escalator, automatically elevating its residents to a special closeness with Hashem. Noah had failed to do this on his own. Nevertheless, Hashem gave Noah this gift and, through the spiritual energies contained within the ark, assisted Noah to spiritually elevate his family and all the lowly animals that were on board. The result was to empower Noah to elevate the lowest elements of society to the side of holiness after he left the ark to face a new and different world.
Furthermore, Noah's ride up the spiritual escalator in the ark, together with the lowly animals, would emphasize that his failure to attempt to influence the lowest elements of society to return to Hashem was the specific area where he had failed, and would subsequently need to correct.
THEY DID NOT WANT TO LEAVE THE ARK
After the flood waters dried from the face of the earth, Hashem commanded Noah and all those who were inside the ark with him to leave. As the verse says, "Hashem spoke to Noah, 'Go forth from the ark: you and your wife, your sons - every living creature that is with you. . .'."(Genesis 8:15-17). Rashi, the fundamental Torah commentator, explains that if they refuse to leave, then Noah should force them to leave even against their will! Perhaps, they might not want to leave due to the spiritual bliss they had experienced on the ark.
Every incident mentioned in the Torah is recorded not merely as a historical notation, but so that we can derive guidance on how to successfully conduct our lives in accordance with Hashem's will. Therefore, every person interested in spiritual pursuits can relate to the incident of the refusal of the ark's residents to leave. Every person interested in coming close to Hashem dreams and wishes that he could be relieved of having to deal with the material world and its obligations, be free to spend all of his time in the beit midrash (study hall) and synagogue communing with Hashem. The voyagers of the ark found it very difficult to leave the spiritual bliss which they had come accustomed to, and confront the very difficult challenges that are associated with the material world. The same is true of the spiritually inclined individual who finds it equally as difficult to leave the spiritual haven of the beit midrash and synagogue in order to confront the challenges of the material world, an environment that is hostile and runs contrary to his goals.
THE NECESSITY FOR BALANCE
Hashem demands that we leave the beit midrashand synagogue, especially taking into account the necessity tofulfill our material obligations. It is essential to improve and develop the material world, so that it will be a better place to live, providing more opportunities and a better environment through which Hashem can be served. Therefore, Hashem was addressing those in the ark to leave their spiritual haven and cultivate the world. Furthermore, all people should pursue spirituality. However, in order to have the proper balance between the needs of the soul and the body, one must temporarily leave his spiritual environs in order to take care of his physical needs.
The more we increase our intellect the better we are able to perceive and discover more about Hashem. Therefore, Rav Nachman of Breslov taught his disciples that Hashem demands that we properly balance ourselves on both tracks, that of the beit midrash and that of the material world. This enables us to experience Hashem on many levels. Our encounters with the physical world give us opportunities to experience every aspect of Hashem. As the verse commands, "In all your ways [through your every spiritual and physical activity get to] know Hashem" (Proverbs 3:6). Hashem provides us with the recipe for success; it is up to us to bring our potential to fruition.
Yoel Feiler, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is a senior at Yeshiva University in New York.
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