This week’s Torah reading is named Noach, the Hebrew for Noah. The name Noach refers to satisfaction and repose.
The Torah portion repeats the name Noah twice in the first verse. The Zohar, the fundamental text of Jewish mysticism, explains that this is not redundant. Noah - and by extension, every one of his descendants - was intended to spread satisfaction and repose in two spheres: among his fellow men, and also in the spiritual worlds above.
Every person affects his environment. We can promote peace and tranquillity among our fellow men, creating a setting that prompts meaningful pleasure. By establishing such a setting in our world, we generate similar qualities in the spiritual worlds above.
Our Sages point to this interrelationship teaching: “Whenever a person’s fellowmen derive satisfaction from him, G‑d derives satisfaction from him.”
Did Noah live up to his potential? Our Sages explain that Noah lived an insular existence. 120 years before the flood, G‑d told him to warn the people of his generation of the impending retribution and motivate them to improve their conduct.
So what did Noah do? He began building the ark. If anyone would ask him why, he would explain: “The world is filled with corruption; this has enraged G‑d, and He is going to bring a flood.” But Noah did not extend himself and seek out people to communicate to them.
At the end of these 120 years, it was only Noah, his sons, and their wives, who went into the ark. Obviously, the message had not gotten very far.
For this reason, our Rabbis explain, the prophets call the flood “the waters of Noah,” implying that to a certain extent, the flood was Noah’s fault. For although he didn’t do anything to cause the flood; he wasn’t successful in stopping it.
And as a leader he should have been.
A leader is not supposed to be merely a model of excellent conduct. A leader should lead; he should take people with him. That’s the kind of repose and satisfaction which Noah was supposed to generate. He should have infused the lives of the people around him with depth and meaning to allow them to define the purpose for their existence.
And getting the message through should have been important to him. After the sin of the Golden Calf, when G‑d told Moses that He would destroy the Jewish people and make a new nation from Moses’ descendants, Moses told G‑d that he could not accept this. “Save the people and if not wipe me out from this book.”
Moses could not understand living without his people. Therefore, he was successful in saving them, and ultimately, in inspiring them.
Noah, by contrast, was very happy to go into the ark together with his family.
Both Noah’s path and that of Moses lie before each of us, for we are all leaders. In our homes, in our workplaces, and in our communities, we all have positions of influence. We all have positive qualities, and there are others with whom we should share.
Will we resign ourselves to polishing only our small corner of the world? Or will we take an active part in spreading that light to others?