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Rabbi Berzansky - Noach

A Mode of Transformation, Not Transportation

כִּֽי־מָלְאָ֥ה הָאָ֛רֶץ חָמָ֖ס מִפְּנֵיהֶ֑ם (ו, יג)

The world is filled with grabbers

Noach and his family tended to all the animals in the teivah for an entire year. During that year, they fed tens of thousands of animals, birds, reptiles, and insects their appropriate foods in their appropriate times, without a moment’s break. In order to facilitate this tremendous burden of responsibility, Noach and his family had to set aside their own personal lives and interests and focus solely on the needs of the animals. Imagine a nurse who has to maintain a birthing ward for over two thousand hungry newborn babies, all by herself! Such an analogy is really child’s play in comparison to what really transpired during that year in the teivah. The superhuman powers that they had to muster are incomprehensible.

However, one could ask, why did Hashem put Noach and his family through such turmoil? After all, Chazal12 tell us that the floodwaters never entered into Eretz Yisroel. Hashem could have steered the teivah directly towards Eretz Yisroel, enabling Noach to transport all the animals to a safe haven within a matter of days. R. Dessler learns from this that the year in the teivah was not only a means of transportation, but a goal in itself. He explains that Hashem placed Noach in this situation not only to maintain the animals in the teivah, but also to rectify the sin that caused the flood.

Targum Onkeles categorizes the people of that generation as “grabbers.” Hence, their sin was selfishness.14 In the words of R. Dessler, they were “takers.” Every single person ignored the needs of everybody else as he indulged solely in his own personal passions, needs, and wants. Such behavior warranted total destruction of the world, because it is the antithesis of chessed, which builds the world. Chessed means to be concerned for other people’s needs to the point that we are willing to put our own personal needs on the side for their sake, and being that the whole generation lacked this, Hashem brought the flood.

Once the flood began and the entire population of the world shrunk down to Noach’s family, they were able to turn the world into a world of giving, a world of chessed. They lived a life of sheer selflessness, totally ignoring their own personal needs and wants and focusing entirely on the needs of the animals. The monkeys liked bananas at twelve noon and again at seven in the evening. The lions liked their meat first thing in the morning and again around twilight. And so on and so forth. They had to figure out what every animal, bird, reptile, and insect liked, when they liked it, and how much of it they liked, in order to give to them properly.

They were not merely transporting animals; they were transforming the world into a world of selfless givers, a world of chessed.

Now we can understand why Hashem kept them in the teivah for an entire year. The world needed a year of giving, a year of healing, which was the key factor that brought about the salvation.

There is much to learn from the flood. How often do our personal desires drown out the needs of our friends and family? People push and shove to get their seat on the bus or their place in line while leaving others stranded at the wayside. Let us learn from the flood how destructive taking can be, and how healing the power of giving can be. Giving is an extremely powerful tool. Not only does it build the world, it maintains it as well.

Let us partake in this wonderful act by putting ourselves aside for the needs of our wives, friends, or family. Who knows — we might actually like it.

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