Parashat Noach

If someone were to ask you about a fellow named Noah you would probably answer, “Yeah, that’s the guy who built an ark as commanded by God. Yes, it was God’s command to gather and to bring a pair of animals into the ark, male and female the Torah says (Genesis 6:22), “Noah did so, just as God commanded him”.

When the animals begin to enter the ark Noah again fulfills God’s command (7:9), “Two by two, male and female, they came to Noah in the ark as God commanded Noah”. A third verse (7:16) finds the animals, two by two, male and female, inside the safety of the ark “As God had commanded them”.

To the rabbis, in their careful reading of the text, one verse (7:7) in this section stands out. It reads, “And Noah…went into the ark fleeing from the flood waters” The sentence implies that Noah and his family did not enter the ark “as God had commanded but only entered the ark when the waters, according to the 5th century Midrash Rabbah (32:6) and expounded upon by Rashi (11th Century, France) “reached his ankles”. The Midrash continues with a statement by Rabbi Yohanan expressing Noah’s lack of faith adding “Had the waters not reached his ankles he would not have entered the ark”.

This contention that Noah showed a lack of faith by not entering the ark until the waters “reached his ankles” is challenged by Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat whose argument is that Noah had both belief and hope. He believed that God would accept repentance even at the last moment. His hope was that the people would repent and that the waters of the flood would never come. This belief and hope is the reason that Noah delayed his entrance into the ark. Noah did not lack faith. Rather, his faith in God and the sinners was his strength.

It is possible to argue that during the entire period when Noah was building the ark nobody repented. What would make Noah hope that the people would now repent? Perhaps Andy Dufrense in the movie, Shawshank Redemption, sums it up best: