What does it take to survive? Although Dianna Ross famously wrote, “Oh no not I, I will survive/For as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive,” love is not a miracle elixir that can cure terminal illness or prevent national tragedy. A few thousand years ago, G-d saw that humanity had no hope of overcoming the injustice during the generation of Noah, so He decided to destroy the world’s population. However, one man and his family were left alive and were to be the hope of humanity in the future.
Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generation … G-d said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me…I am about to destroy them from the earth.” (ibid. 6:9, 13)
It would seem that the reason Noah was saved was because he was “a righteous man,” but that’s not necessarily the case. In end of last week’s Parsha we are told,
And Noah found favor in the Eyes of G-d.(ibid. 6:8).
It seems that being a tzadik (righteous) was not enough to keep Noah alive because G-d “regretted” the creation of the world. There’s a principle in Jewish consciousness that when G-d decides to destroy, He destroys the wicked and the righteous alike. In order to be rescued, Noah needed something more than being an exemplary human being; he needed an act of Divine Kindness.
We find this idea among humans also. When a corporation, college, newspaper or any other institution fails, a new person might be brought in to clean up the mess and restore revenue, attract more students, bring more readers, or just make the entity more viable. This new person might see the levels of decay and years of status quo and an internal culture of people accepting a destructive environment but continuing under the circumstances. Depending on how deep-seated and serious the decay is, s/he might have to remove the entire management team because there will be no way to begin anew due to the multilayered breakdown s/he has seen. The Chief Financial Officer or director of human resources might be an effective and good employee but there are simply too many years of baggage to rebuild with them alone-everyone must be let go. If the new CEO kept one person, it must be that s/he has something special. It might be that s/he is a relative, it might be s/he has a history of fierce loyalty; whatever it is, if one person is retained, s/he has earned favor in the eyes of the new CEO.
The world was about to be destroyed, but Noah found favor in the Eyes of G-d. How does one find favor with G-d? What actions did Noah do to have earned this tremendous accolade? We would all love the answer but we don’t find it in this week’s Parsha, the only thing we know is that sometimes one needs to find favor with G-d and be deemed worthy to live even though the person is replete with Mitzvot and lives a good life. Here’s one suggestion in how to find favor with G-d.
“…To the humble, He gives favor.” (Proverbs 3:34). No one likes to be around arrogant people; we all know how unpleasant it is to be a self-serving egotist. Still in all, what is so special about humility that with it one can find favor with G-d? It is no coincidence that Moses, the paradigm of Jewish leadership, is extoled in the Torah as being humblest man who ever lived. Clearly, he was strong willed and had many talents; if not, he could not have lead the Jewish people during one of the most challenging periods in all of our history. However, it’s no contradiction for one to soar to great heights of success and still remain humble. Humility depends solely upon the personal yardstick against which one chooses to be measured. For example, if a 6-foot man measures himself against one who is 5 feet tall, he can boast of his greater stature. However, if he measures himself against the height of the sun, 93 million miles above him, his height is as trivial as the dust of the earth. People become proud only when measured against those smaller than them. However, when measured against the infinite and eternal Creator, a person must accept his/her own relative insignificance. Moses was humbled more than any other person precisely because he recognized his position and thereby achieved such closeness to God. The greatest and most forceful leader in Jewish history is also the most humble person to have lived.
Nothing has changed. Whether it is the time of Noah or the present time, there are certain mitzvoth-good deeds–that give the performer special Divine Favor. An intelligent life strategy is one that includes as many mitzvoth as possible because surely some of the “special mitzvoth” will have been included among all those good deeds.
People get sick and make deals with G-d. People have losses and make deals with G-d. People have challenges in life and make deals with G-d. Studying the life of Noah teaches the crucial lesson survival is not only dependent on being good; one also needs to find favor with G-d.