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Lazer Gurkow

Noach: The Opposite of Love Is Indifference

Indifference is the opposite of love. This quote from Eli Wiesel carries a powerful punch.

Noah was a righteous man, but he was not a good man because he was indifferent.  G-d selected Noah for survival because he was righteous and whole, but not because he was compassionate. The Torah describes Noah as “a man who walked with G-d. G-d told Noah, I chose you “because you I see you are righteous before me.” Both passages describe Noah as a man who was righteous before G-d, but not as one who paid much attention to the plight of others.

The Torah tells us that Noah was righteous in his generation. Our sages point out that the Torah is being precise. He was the best that his generation had to offer but had he lived in Abraham’s generation, he would not have been considered righteous. Why did our sages compare Noah to Abraham and not to Hezekiah or Ezrah or one of the other Jewish greats?

On the surface, the answer is that Abraham lived directly after Noah. In fact, Abraham was fifty-eight when Noah passed on. According to some, Abraham was also Noah’s student. By comparing Noah to Abraham, the Torah points out that the student bested the teacher. But that is not the only reason.

The main reason is that Abraham excelled at compassion. He was a pious, holy man. He had a passionate, fiery soul. His love for G-d was unparalleled. His commitment to G-d was beyond repute. But what Abraham is known for more than anything else is his love and concern for everyone, even the sinners.

When G-d told Noah that the sinners in his generation would be wiped out by the flood, Noah did not object or pray for their welfare. By contrast, when Abraham was informed by G-d that the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah would die, he immediately prayed for their welfare. This is why Noah was compared to Abraham and found lacking.

No Rain in Israel
This helps us to understand a very curious aspect of Noah’s story. G-d told Noah to build an elaborate ark and collect every species of animal in it. They would remain in this dank, closed environment for more than a year, during which they would have no rest or respite—caring for the animals day and night.

Yes, they survived, but they also suffered. No breath of fresh air for more than twelve months. Backbreaking labor caring for every imaginable species, large and small. All of this could have been avoided in a very simple way.

The Talmud tells us that though the rain fell upon the entire world, no rain fell on Israel. It was as if Israel were surrounded by invisible levies that kept the rain from falling. By most accounts, Noah lived in Israel. This begs a simple question. Why didn’t G-d save Noah by instructing him to remain in Israel? The floodwaters from other countries surged across Israel, but he could have found a high mountaintop on which to settle.

If G-d wanted Noah to save the animals, He could have instructed him to build a large zoo atop the mountain and bring the animals there. It would have been much easier to provide for the animals in Israel than in the ark. Why did G-d not do that?

Neutrality Is Not Kosher
The answer is that indifference and neutrality are not kosher. As we mentioned at the outset of this article, indifference is the opposite of love. Noah was not innocent. He did not deserve to die in the flood, but neither did he deserve to enjoy a luxurious, comfortable lifestyle while others suffered.

Noah built invisible walls around himself and lived in the proverbial isolation of indifference. G-d responded in kind and isolated him in the ark. In the ark, Noah felt claustrophobic, as if in isolation, and cried to G-d to save him from imprisonment. Now, he understood the price of isolation and would never isolate again.

One way to cure indifference is to experience suffering. Noah never suffered a day in his life and was not conditioned to feel suffering in others. Poor people who grow wealthy never forget what it was like to be poor. People who suffer and recover never lose their empathy and compassion. Another way to cure indifference is to help people in need. Act, even if you don’t feel it. This is what Noah was forced to do.

G-d taught Noah an invaluable lesson. Don’t be indifferent to the suffering of others. Don’t sit back and enjoy your comforts while the world is dying. Get up and do something. Feel their pain. Get into an ark, breathe dank air for a year, serve at the back and call of every animal, and be desperate for salvation. Then, you will feel the suffering of others.

Indeed, our sages taught that when Noah emerged from the ark and saw the devastation, he broke down and cried. For the very first time in his life, he felt the suffering of others. He felt their absence. He mourned their death.

The Lesson
The horrific images and video footage of the heinous Simchat Torah massacre perpetrated by the sub-human Hamas terrorists against Jews in Israel on Shabbat, October 7, must stir revulsion and empathy. If you have not shed a tear, if your stomach has not roiled, and if you are sleeping soundly, you need to work on your empathy. Our brethren have suffered. It has to feel as if I am suffering.

Do you feel a numbing pain in your heart? Do you feel a burning desire for revenge? The Torah tells us not to take revenge. If you feel the desire, you can fulfill the Torah’s commandment not to take revenge. If you don’t even desire it, how can you fulfill the commandment? But think deeper: if you don’t feel this desire, why is that? Perhaps you need to spend some time reviewing the images and videos. We need to feel as if it happened to us.

The other important lesson is that Israel is a safe zone secured by G-d. Yes, danger spills into it from beyond its borders as it did during the flood and as it did on October 7.  But when its borders are secure, the country is safe. The Torah describes Israel as “a place upon which G-d’s eyes are directed from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.”

There is a war going on, but it is the safest place in the world. The flood rains didn’t fall on it, and the rockets can’t destroy it. Israel is our home, and it is a safe home. May G-d continue to keep it safe.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at www.innerstream.org
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