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Browse Torah Articles: Sefer Beresheet: Parashat Noah: Abraham & Noah

The Midrash (Sifri Haazinu 47) tells how, when the flood rains began and Noah began to bring his family into the ark, the people tried to destroy it, so that Hashem had to bring Noah's family in and shut out the others. What must have followed then can only be imagined: the pounding of the rain mixed with the clawing of the people trying to get in, hysterical cries and, eventually, a silence to mock Noah's own wordlessness. At this point, says the Midrash, Noah began to pray for mercy, but Hashem told him it was too late.

Noah's survival was not mere chance; it was the direct result of his righteousness that Hashem spared him. Still, Noah did not succeed in improving the world. R. Moshe Alshech (1508-1600) argues that Hashem chose the ark as the method of rescue as a criticism of Noah's way of conducting himself: throughout his life, Noah had shut himself up in an "ark," a separate world of his own making. He sealed himself off from the outside world, and although this was the key to his moral survival, it was also the key to his moral limitations.

At some point, Noach must have realized this, and his guilt got the better of him. Perhaps this might explain Noach's desire for wine. This is the suggestion of Abravanel (Don Yitzchak Abravanel, 1437-1508) - himself a survivor of the expulsion from Spain in 1492 - who writes:

Perhaps when he was disgusted with his life because of the waters of the Flood, he sought to make wine to drink of it, so that he would no longer drink water, nor would he see it ever again. The man who survived the Flood never wished to touch a drop of water again. Noach wanted to forget, to numb himself to the pangs of guilt, to fend off the awful torrent of memory and self-criticism. Consequently, he sunk himself deeply into the work of the earth, eventually lashing out in rage.

Abraham, too, was witness to destruction, that of Sodom and Amorah.

However, Abraham tried to avert that disaster, arguing with Hashem to spare the cities if righteous people could be found within them. And when the cities were annihilated, Abraham moved to the Negev because, as Rashi points out, When he saw that the cities were destroyed and wayfarers ceased coming, he withdrew from there.

Abraham's response to tragedy was to seek out new opportunities for hospitality.

In the aftermath of our tragedies, we can choose one of two paths: that of Noah, to withdraw into despair and gnawing guilt, or that of Abraham, to rebuild a destroyed world to spread Hashem's goodness.

Our choice should be to follow the path of Abraham.

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