THE WATERS OF NOAH
This Shabbat contains the shortest Haftara in the book – a mere ten verses from chapter 51 of Isaiah. Yet it contains a message that rings out across the generations.
Isaiah promises, in the name of G-d, that just as he had promised in the days of Noah, not to bring another flood to destroy the world, so He will not punish His people again:
“For this is to Me [as] the waters of Noah, as I swore that the waters of Noah shall never again pass over the earth, so have I sworn neither to be angry with you nor to rebuke you.” [Isaiah, 54:9]
The Zohar (Vayikra, 14b) asks an obvious question. Is the verse not using a rather strange turn of phrase? Why are the waters of the flood being referred to as Mei Noach, ‘the waters of Noah?’ Surely they should be called Mei Mabul, ‘the waters of the flood?’
The answer of the Zohar is striking. It tells us that when G-d wishes to bring destruction upon a generation deserving of such punishment, he first informs the righteous of that generation, hoping that they will pray and intercede for their fellow man before G-d and do their best to help their generation repent from their evil ways. This is what Moses did for his people and this is what the generations of prophets who came after him undertook. When G-d told Noah that he was going to bring a flood, he built an ark for himself and his family, concerned only for himself and no-one else. He displayed a spiritual self-centredness that made him indifferent to the plight of his fellow man. The Zohar explains that because of this defect in his religious outlook, Noah is tainted for all time with the waters of the flood being called by the prophet, ‘the waters of Noah.’ Because of a lack of concern for others he bears this eternal stigma.
Hassidic literature reinforced this point in a graphic way. Noah is called a tzaddik im peltz, “a righteous man in a fur coat.” There are essentially two ways of keeping warm on a cold night. You can wear a thick coat, or you can light a fire. Wear a coat and you warm only yourself. Light a fire and you can warm others too. We are supposed to light a fire.
As we approach the new year, this is a timely reminder to reflect on how sensitive we are to the needs of others. If we think about it, we all have blessings we can share with those around us.