By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Raising Children The Secret of Success
In all the annals of time, Noach and Naamah should be lauded as the greatest
parental role models to have ever graced the pages of history. In a world
gone crazy, they managed to imbue their sons with a sense of responsibility
and ethics. Surrounded by a civilization that espoused amorality and
selfishness, they engendered in their children strength of character,
purpose, and generosity. Noach and Naamah managed to hold their family
together for one hundred years without any other support system outside of
themselves and Noach's aging grandfather, Mesushelach. How did they do it?
What was the secret of their success?
Rashi on verse 6:14 references the Medresh Tanchuma that G-d commanded Noach
to build the Tayvah - Ark one hundred and twenty years before the onset of
the flood. The Medresh explains that G-d was giving humanity one final
chance to repent and correct their ways. Through seeing Noach build the
Tayvah - Ark they would be motivated to ask him why he was building it and
give Noach a chance to tell them about the impending doom of the world. The
physical construction of the Tayvah - Ark would hopefully generate a greater
sense of reality and urgency for them. If Noach, who was highly respected as
a leader and prophet was going so far as to build for himself a floating
shelter, then maybe there was more to his words than they had first assumed.
We know from the chronology of the Torah that Noach was born in 1056 and had
his first child at the age of 500. The Mabul - Flood took place in 1656, at
which time his three sons were around 100 years old. It also means that
Noach had already begun the construction of the Tayvah - Ark, 20 years before
his first son was born.
Parents know that the home environment is the single greatest influence in
the early life of their child. What the child witnesses and experiences
leaves an indelible mark on the psyche, the character, and the soul of the
child. A child who grows up in a home that is rich with tradition and
manifest values will have a far better chance at continuing those traditions
and values than the child who grows up without them. The child who sees his
father learning Torah regularly, happily giving Tzedaka, expressing patience,
compassion and respect for his wife, and being meticulous in the manner that
he cares for and respects his own parents and in-laws, will emulate each of
those values. The child who sees his mother caring for her home and family,
contributing to the community, encouraging her husband to learn Torah, to
give Tzedaka, to go to Minyan, and extending love and respect to her parents
and in-laws, will grow to cherish those very same values.
The organization of the Tayva's construction was as much a part of G-d's
divine planning as every other aspect of the Flood. By commanding Noach to
begin the construction 20 years before his first son was born, G-d guaranteed
that Noach's children would be born into a home environment rich with the
active fulfillment of G-d's commands and wishes. Whereas the rest of
humanity was engaged in the pointless pursuit of physical pleasures and
self-aggrandizement, Noach spent his entire day building an ark as per the
divine commandment of G-d. Although the rest of society did not heed the
lesson of the Tayva's construction, Noach's children were profoundly affected
by the example of their father's commitment and devotion.
Additionally, we can assume that the three sons worked alongside their father
in building the Tayvah - Ark. It wasn't only a question of witnessing
devotion and commitment from the outside. They became an integral part of
the experience and were able to anchor their own search for meaning in the
daily performance of G-d's commandment and service.
As successful as Noach and Naamah were in raising their own children, they
were uniquely unsuccessful in influencing their society. On the other hand,
Avraham and Sarah were also up against the entire world and yet they were
uniquely successful in influencing their generation and the destiny of the
world. What was wrong with Noach's approach, and what was right with
Many people labor under the misconception that Noach did not attempt to
influence the people of his generation. In fact, Noach, his father Lemech,
and his grandfather Mesushelach were all prophets who attempted to stem the
moral and spiritual hemorrhaging of their generation. However, despite their
dire warnings of impending cataclysmic destruction and doom, they were
If we contrast Noach's methods and failure with Avraham's methods and
success, the difference is striking and revealing. Noach was a doomsayer
while Avraham taught understanding, optimism, and purpose. Noach demanded
change - or else beware of the consequences. Avraham motivated change by
highlighting its benefits for self, family, and society. Noach preached
punishment while Avraham enveloped people with love, acceptance, and reward.
In a world filled with idol worship and egotism, Avraham, through kindness,
generosity, and concern, awakened humanity's nobility.
The difficulties, which Noach encountered, and his lack of success in
influencing his generation to do Teshuva is similar to the story of Yirmiyahu
and the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash. Yirmiyahu was the prophet
who lived through the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash and was the
doom-saying harbinger of the impending destruction. The Medresh records how
Yirmiyahu wondered what his sin must have been to be chosen to be the one who
would have to prophesize the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. Yirmiyahu
was persecuted and hated for his message of doom. He was ridiculed and
imprisoned for his constant criticism of the Jews and the terrible job of
berating them for their actions that would cause the Churban - destruction.
Yet, regardless of his message, the people did not repent and the Temple was
destroyed. The message of doom and destruction, constant criticism and
punishment did not win over converts!
In the last 30 years it has become crystal clear that the most effective
method for influencing change in people is to be positive, up beat, and
optimistic. As my Grandfather Zt''l would say, "We lost a generation because
of the expression, "It is Shver (difficult) to be a Jew." We would have
saved a generation if the expression had been, "It is Gring (easy) to be a
Our communities are filled with families and individuals whose return to
observant Judaism was motivated by having experienced a single Shabbos or Yom
Tov meal. Torah and Yahadus were intended to be sold Avraham's way. A good
meal, a clean bed, a challenging, yet respectful conversation, and a real
sense of caring and concern are methods that have been tried and tested and
have been found to be effective and lasting.
Noach and Yirmiyahu were given monumentally thankless tasks. They were born
into worlds that needed drastic surgery in order to be saved. The more
gentler and kinder therapies would not have worked, just as the more changing
and critical approaches hadn't succeeded. Yet, Noach did save his children.
Noach was able to create an insular environment of positive activity and
optimism within the raging sea of humanities self-destructiveness.
Noach's success is as important a lesson for us as his generation's failure.
We must believe that it is possible for each of us to raise our children with
a true sense of devotion to G-d and His Torah. The success lies in creating
a home that resonates with music, laughter, optimism and joy. Our homes,
schools and Shuls should support a environment that happily embraces the
study of Torah and a life-style of Halacha - adherence to Jewish law.
The job of raising our children to be moral, ethical, and Torah observant is
much easier than the job Noach and Naamah had in raising their three sons.
Three thousand years of miraculous history, tradition, and Torah along with
the richness of our communities is a far more supportive environment than the
pre-diluvian world. However, it is our obligation to joyously weave the
world of Torah and Mitzvos into the tapestry of our family's lives.
May the coming year be filled with the excitement and joy of a community
reveling in the uniqueness of our designation as the "Nation of Torah, and
the guardians of Moshe's final words.
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.