By: SFW Students & Alumna Ronit Sonnenblick, SFW 5766
There is a well known Rashi on the words "Aseh L'cha Teivat" (6:14) which explains that the task of building the teivah would take 120 years. This is so that the people of the generation would see and ask Noach about his actions and be warned about the future punishment, which would hopefully lead them to do teshuva.
Rabbi Yaacov Haber asks the following question: If the purpose of this 120 year process was to encourage the people to do teshuva, couldn't this have been achieved in a better way, such as kiruv programs, opening yeshivot, or the like? How does the single action of building a gigantic boat achieve this?
The answer that he suggests is that the best way to influence others to choose more spiritual lifestyles is by setting an example with our own actions. When we want to inspire children by recalling great Torah figures, we usually tell about their great deeds, rather than their halachic decisions. Instead of rebuking his generation, Noach took concrete actions to show everyone that punishment would soon come if they did not mend their ways. The best way of teaching is through our own actions.
Although Noach did follow Hashem's commandment to build the teivah, we know that the generation did not mend its ways and was eventually wiped out by the waters of the mabul. Yishayahu (54:9) refers to the water as the waters of Noach, "Ki Mei Noach Zoat Li" and we also find the same term in shabbat zemirot, Al Mei Noach. This term, the waters of Noach (belonging to Noach), implies that Noach carried the guilt for the flood that destroyed his generation.
Rav Nevensal brings a passage from the Zohar, which states that Noach shared the guilt because he didn't pray to Hashem to have mercy on his generation. If Noach would have prayed to Hashem to save the people, the decree could have been nullified. Chazal explain that upon leaving the teivah and seeing the destruction, Noach began to cry and said to Hashem that He should have had mercy. Hashem replied, now you are asking for this? (Zohar) Although we may belittle the power of tefillah at times, we can see that it has the power to nullify the biggest decrees in shamayim.
As the Torah is here to provide us with life lessons, we must seize the moment, whether it is through our actions or through our tefilot, to bring about change and spiritual growth in ourselves and in everyone around us.
And on that note, may our actions and tefillot bring us the proper zechuyot for Mei Bracha (Rain!) in Eretz Yisrael.