|The story of Noah and his generation needs no introduction. Civilization was collapsing; every sphere of society was crumbling. G-d tells Noah to build an ark and take refuge there with his family; the world was about to be flooded.
When did Noah actually go in to the Ark?
And Noah went in and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him into the ark because of the flood waters. (Gen. 7:7)
Rashi makes an astounding comment about Noah, the most important person of his generation, on the words “because of the flood waters.”
“Noah, too, was of those who had little faith, believing and not believing that the Flood would come, and did not enter the ark until the waters forced him to do so.”
In the beginning of the Parsha, Noah is introduced as “righteous, flawless in his generation; Noah walked with G-d.” (Gen. 6:9) Such accolades are not usually given to one with little faith. The Chassidic master, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov, questions how such a righteous person could also lack adequate faith. He answers that Noach neither prayed for nor actively guide the people of his generation in hopes of positively influencing them to change.
What does this have to do with lacking faith? Noah was humble, never believing that his prayer or admonition would alter the reality of the world’s end. While humility is one of the most admirable human traits, in this case Noah’s low self-image clouded his perspective. As such, he was negligent for not praying and personally guiding the people of the generation. According to this explanation, Noah lacked faith in himself, not G-d. Granted, he was “righteous, flawless in his generation; Noah walked with G-d,” but his lack of faith in himself led to his feeling helpless to affect a change in his environment.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a) says that a person should constantly say, “the world was created for me.” How are we to understand this recommendation; aren’t these the words of an egotistical and condescending person? Another Chasidic master, Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Pesischa, recommended that each of us have two pieces of paper in our pockets at all times. On one it says, “I am just dust and ashes,” a quote from Abraham in Genesis. The other slip of paper is the quote above from the Talmud (“The world was created for me.”) We look at one slip of paper when arrogance begins to dominate our personality, and we look at the other when we feel like we are worthless losers without any hope of doing something significant or having a significant relationship in our lives. We think “the world was created for me” when we are at risk of despair at our ability to accomplish our goals. We remember that the scenic mountains, ocean, sunset, love, and everything else that brings us enjoyment was put into this world so that I can enjoy it and use it to help myself and others. Sometimes we feel detached from the world, especially when we look around and all we see are people with friends and a place where they fit in—but not me. At that moment, we need to be reminded that the world exists for us, too, and we need to find a community to reattach us to the world.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov takes this one step further when he teaches that I must believe the world was created for me, and therefore I must constantly seek to improve it. Imagine if you were working for Microsoft and moving up the ladder of leadership; after some time, you were offered to open a new corporate center in a major city. Everything from personal assistants to office space to financial backing was at your disposal. On one hand it’s all there for you, on the other hand, you are there to build something for Microsoft. So, too, is the realization that the world was created for me. There is a Divine spark present within every area of life waiting to be drawn forth and recognized. Say it to yourself: “The world was created for my sake, and that is why I must improve it.” Find the light in the darkness of the grouch in the office. Find the spark in the darkness of the person who has given up on being happy. Believe in yourself and your ability to help and affect others, and realize that, for this reason, the world was created for you.
This message is more relevant in our time than ever before. Noach was moral giant, flawless in his generation but he did not believe he could make a difference. He was put on earth to guide his generation, not be overly humble to the point that he felt himself powerless and incapable to do so (by making a difference in someone else’s life). Each of us was put on earth for a specific mission, or perhaps many missions. The world was created for me so that I can do my mission. In the age of the selfie and social media, we spend so much time crafting an outer image because we don’t have a strong enough inner image; we don’t have enough self- confidence. G-d would not have brought my soul into this world for no reason. I am worth something and every day I’m alive is evidence that G-d still thinks so and believes in me.Here’s a mantra to recite every day: “The world needs me; let me use its resources today to make someone else’s life a bit better.” We can all do that—you just have to believe in yourself.Good Shabbos
(Sources: Sanhedrin 37a; Kedushas Levi, Noach p.12; Likutei Moharan 49:2)
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