"Make for yourself an Ark of Gopher wood, make it with cages, and cover it
inside and outside with pitch." [6:14]
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) asks: why did G-d call upon Noach to build
an Ark? There are many ways that G-d could protect or save all those who
eventually rode in the Ark -- so why the construction project?
The answer is that construction of the Ark was supposed to become not only
common knowledge, but an inspiration. Noach spent 120 years building it, in
order that his generation would see him building it and ask him what he
was doing. And he would answer that the Holy One, Blessed be He, was going
to send a flood -- and perhaps they would change their behavior.
Yet as we see, no one did. When the prophet Yonah came to the city of
Nineveh and told them that G-d was going to destroy the city because of
their evil behavior, everyone immediately stopped what they were doing. The
King himself came down off his throne, and sat on the ground wearing sack
cloth. But in Noach's generation, no one changed his behavior; no one
outside his immediate family was saved.
What was the difference? Why was Noach unable to have an impact in 120 years?
I heard the following answer: we see later in the parsha that "Noach went
in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives, went with him into the
Ark, because of the waters of the flood." [Gen. 7:7] Rashi says (from the
Medrash Tanchuma) that Noach "believed and did not believe" that there
would be a flood, so he did not enter the Ark until the last moment, when
the rising water forced him to enter.
There is a great difference between belief of the mind and belief of the
heart. It is one thing to believe intellectually that something is true,
and quite another to feel it intensely, in the heart. The Birkas Peretz
says that Noach certainly believed the flood was coming, but on an
intellectual level. If he had internalized this knowledge and had truly
feared the coming flood, he would certainly have entered the Ark immediately.
It was for this reason that Noach could not affect his generation. Because
he himself only believed that the flood was coming on an intellectual
level, he had no impact. Had he feared the destruction on a visceral,
internal level, _then_ he would have been able to reach others. [This doubt
was not necessarily a point against Noach - many say that he held onto the
hope that G-d would be merciful, even at the last moment. But in any case,
it made no difference:] Since Noach did not feel absolute certainty in his
heart, he could not adequately transmit this fear to others.
In the Torah, we learn that we have a mitzvah to correct others when they
make mistakes: "...you shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and you shall not
bear sin because of him." [Lev. 19:17] But the word "rebuke" has harsh
connotations which are entirely inappropriate in this context. What is
supposed to take place is a heart-to-heart transmission of love and concern
for the individual making the error. A person should correct himself or
herself first, for otherwise, how can he or she claim to be motivated only
by the severity of the issue? And similarly, Maimonides says that the
rebuke must be delivered in a gentle voice -- and Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin
said that this is a mandatory prerequisite. One cannot fulfill the mitzvah
of rebuke by shouting.
When someone is truly motivated by knowledge of the truth and concern for
the other individual, then he or she will not yell at the other person, but
will speak gently. Shouting isn't merely a technical disqualification; it
is evidence that this "rebuke" is being delivered for the wrong reasons.
We have a mitzvah of "rebuke" because it is yet another opportunity to
demonstrate our care, concern and love for others. We, too, have up to 120
years to deliver the message -- let's be certain we're able to have an impact!