Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Noach
To dedicate this lesson

Noach VS. The World


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Noach is one of the most fascinating personalities in the Torah. Small name but huge story; the original Castaway; a combination of Robinson Crusoe & Dr. Doolittle. Survivor, sailor, ship-builder, zoo-keeper all in one.

Having decided to "re-boot" Creation (a process that, once again, begins with water) Hashem tells Noach, "Asey l’cha….build for yourself an Ark." I am intrigued by the use of the expression, "L’cha – for yourself." The word "you" or "yourself" is extraneous; G-d could simply have said "Build an Ark."

What, therefore, is being added by this tiny word "L’cha"?

Rashi’s explanation is that Hashem wanted the local populace to focus on Noach – who must have been a well-known figure in his community - &, seeing him building this massive boat, they would inquire about it. Hopefully, they would then be brought to a higher moral level when told that they were standing on the Eve of Destruction.

Others explain the word as an indictment of Noach: "YOU failed to influence your neighbors, allowing them to continue their animalistic behavior; now YOU will forced to keep the company of real beasts & animals in the ark!"

But I see a more positive "view of the you." Note that Noach is connected to his successor Avraham (to whom he is usually - & negatively – compared); as well as to his future descendant Moshe (who also survives in a Tayva, an ark) by the use of the word "L’Cha:" Hashem tells Avraham, "Lech-L’cha; YOU go to Israel;" & He tells Moshe, "P’sal L’Cha; YOU hew stone tablets" (for the Luchot of the 10 Commandments).

But what exactly is the connection between them and the word "you?"

All three of these heroic figures were loners. Avraham is known as "Ha-Ivri," he who lives "on the other side." This is not just a geographical identification, informing us that Avraham lived across the Euphrates. It is also philosophical, telling us that Avraham was prepared to uphold his belief in One G-d even if he was the only one in the entire world who believed it, even if he was on one side of the divide and everyone else on the other.

And at the Akeida, as well, the Torah makes note of the fact that he & Yitzchak "walked alone."

Moshe, for his part, also was a most solitary figure. Was he an Egyptian, or a Hebrew? On the phrase, "And he looked this way & that & saw no man," Rabbi Cardozo comments, "He saw himself as ‘no man,’ devoid of an identity." Moshe himself cries to G-d: "How can I bear this People alone?!" Clearly, he stood apart.

Noach, too, is very much left on his own. A decent man in a corrupted, perverse world, he cannot "convert" a single person in the course of 120 years. But you know what? Sometimes, to be a hero is davka to stand apart from the masses, to blaze a new trail rather than go along with the crowd.

Tennyson perhaps said it best: "No thing is better than this, when known; that every hard thing is done alone."
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