Noach - How To Need Nothing And Have Everything
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
At the beginning of Parshas Noach G-d destroyed the world. At the end of
Parshas Noach G-d destroyed a tower.
At the beginning of Noach G-d concluded that humanity could not be
redeemed. Except for Noach and his family, the rest of humanity had become
so perverted that Teshuvah (repentance) was impossible. If we contrast this
with Avraham and his attempt to save the five city-states of Sodom and
Gomorrah we can better understand the magnitude of the perversion.
In Parshas Vayera, Avraham will negotiate with G-d for the salvation of
Sodom. His first offer will involve fifty righteous men. The Medresh
referenced by Rashi (18:28-32) explains that the fifty represented ten
righteous individuals in each of the five city-states. If they did exist,
their collective merit as a Minyan (quorum) would be able to save their
As the negotiations continue Avraham will offer less and less. His second
attempt will be for forty-five righteous individuals, representing nine in
each city-state plus G-d filling in for the 10th man. Negotiating downward
from forty to ten, Avraham's strategy will be to negotiate for as many
cities as he can. He was forced to accept that only those cities that had
ten righteous men could be saved. The others would be destroyed.
Nevertheless, Avraham continues to negotiate even if he will save only one
of the five city-states. As we know, ten such righteous men could not be
found in the Sodomite kingdom and all five city-states were destroyed.
Ten, as the critical number, represents the smallest spark of societal
potential necessary for reform and correction. So long as the Sodomite way
of life had not eradicated all semblance of G-dliness, goodness, and
righteousness there was still hope for salvation. However, a society that
is so far gone, so evil, that the smallest of righteous communities cannot
exist, has no hope of reform and must be destroyed.
What about the world? What is the critical minimum number of righteous
individuals necessary to sustain the world?
According to the Rabbis, the prediluvian world was more settled and
populated than our own is. If there are four billion people today there was
double that amount before the Mabul. How many righteous would it have taken
to save the world from utter devastation? The answer is ten. Rashi in
Vayera (18:32) explains that Noach, his three sons and each of their
spouses constituted eight. Even if they included G-d in the count there
would have still been only nine. Therefore, the world had to be destroyed.
The underlying principle for human survival and its potential for goodness
is community. As G-d said to Adam, the first human creature, "It is not
good for Adam to be alone." Not only must each human have a partner for the
technical purposes of procreation and building families, but also humans
cannot be alone. Humans need to belong to a family, community, and society.
The human need to belong requires further analysis.
G-d created a world of separations and divisions with countless species and
sub-species that are distinctly different from each other. As we have
explained in many different forums, the established lines of demarcation
between one species and the next teaches us that each and every thing that
G-d created has a divine purpose. Our job is to relate to each and every
thing G-d created as a revelation of G-d's specific intention and will.
Therefore, we must respect all things and avoid purposelessly wasting or
destroying anything. Certainly, when it relates to other humans we must
cherish each other and our possessions as physical manifestation of G-d's
will. Who you are and what you have are divinely you and yours. What I am
and who I am is divinely me and mine.
The animal world instinctively respects natural demarcations. If, for
example, wild animals leave the forest and begin to forage where humans
have settled it is an indication that something is wrong with the ecosystem
that should otherwise provide ample food for all the animals in the forest.
When the ecosystem is healthy, wild animals tend to stay in the forest and
avoid human habitation. In almost every situation of conflict and invasion,
whether against animal or human, it is the human who confronts and invades,
not the animal. The notion of animal conquest and domination does not exist
in the natural world. It only exists in the fantasies of literature and movies.
Animals also seem to need family and community. Some species will display a
more sophisticated social structure and hierarchy, and others will be far
more primitive in their organization. However, each species naturally and
instinctually understands the limits of their species and for the most past
stay away from other species. Not so with humans.
The human creature is far more complicated than its animal counterparts.
The human understands that it too must belong to family and community. It
too instinctually feels loneliness and craves the companionship and support
of others. However, at the same time, the human does not like to be
restricted, responsible, or dependent. Family, community, and society can
only exist if there are rules and regulations to govern the interactive
dependencies of humans. Otherwise there is chaos and anarchy rather than
To state this concept more accurately, the human does not like to pay the
price for not being lonely and for sharing the companionship and support of
others. The human craves social contact but resents the price of belonging
to a society.
A simple example.
I am a parent who wishes his or her children to experience Tefilah (prayer)
in a Minyan (quorum of ten men over the age of 13). I am willing to pay
membership to belong to the local synagogue, walk however far I must walk,
give up the time from other possible activities, so that my children and I
are part of the communal prayer experience. However, I am unwilling to not
talk during the prayers when talking is not permitted or stop my children
from running wild in the sanctuary or hallways. In fact, I feel that
somehow it is my right to not take into consideration the realities of
being part of a community. My children and I have the right to do as we
want. Why? Because my "I" defines the immediate need, even at the expense
of the community and others.
The perversion and domination of the "I" over everyone else reached
irreversible proportions at the time of the Mabul. Therefore, G-d destroyed
The correction process for humanity was to be imprisoned in a limited space
with a single responsibility - care for the animals in the "Box." The eight
humans spent an entire year working and protecting the world with no time
to think about themselves or their own needs. (Except for Cham) "And G-d
placed the human in the Garden of Eden to work and to protect."
Three-hundred-and forty years later humanity had flourished. The many who
were born stayed near to each other. In many regards it was an ideal
society. They related to each other as a single community with similar
background and ideals.
All of them were the descendents of the three sons of Noach. The three sons
represented three components of humanity: Intellect, passion, and
esthetics. (see Rav Hirsch) The three were intended to create a single
community that would respect each other's uniqueness and share in each
other's contributions. Shem would formulate the ideals and values of the
brave new world. Yefes would give form and beauty to the ideals and values
by building structures of material and discipline. Cham would take the
ideals and the beauty and infuse them with passion so that all would want
to belong and follow. In the end it would be a single family of humanity
searching to serve their single Creator as He intended. However, it didn't
happen that way.
The few and the gifted (e.g. Shem and Ever) retreated into the seclusion of
prayer and study in search of divine truth and understanding while the vast
majority of humanity made community the ultimate ideal and an end onto
itself. That was the story of the Tower of Babel.
The people gathered in a valley to build a tower in recognition of their
own selves. The building rose in opposition to G-d. G-d descended and saw
that there was still fundamental goodness to humanity, except that it was
caught between the desire to belong and the desire to be free of
responsibility. G-d saw a mass of humanity who shared many traits in common
but did not truly care for each other as divine manifestations of His will.
Instead they served each other only as a means toward satisfying their own
needs. They emulated the ideals of their leader Nimrod, the grandson of
Cham. Nimrods natural talents provided him with the passion and energy to
galvanize all of humanity using the ideal of community to serve the one
true master. That master was of course himself.
G-d decided that humanity was redeemable. A community of selfless
righteousness could flourish within the world. However, humanity would have
to take a step back from the ideal of community and respect the lines of
demarcation separating person from person. They needed to learn that the
ideal that could bind all of humanity into a single community was, "giving
to others without asking anything in return."
Therefore, G-d imposed separation and division on the family of Noach
through language. Seventy languages emerged from the rubble of the great
tower. Confusion reigned supreme as no one knew how to communicate his or
her own needs to the others. Instead, they were forced to compromise their
own immediate needs and recognize the needs of others. They were forced to
pay close attention and listen to everyone else talking in the hope of
understanding what everyone else needed. Once they were forced to listen to
each other they had to stop thinking only of themselves. Once they stopped
thinking only of themselves they realized that the world was shared with so
The beginning of redemption is thinking of everyone else and caring for
what they need. If everyone worked to provide for the needs of everyone
else, no one would every need anything.
Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.