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
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.