In the previous parashah, Bereishit, we saw how God created the world and gave humanity the mission of transforming it into His home, and how humanity then spurned that mission, abandoning it en masse.

This being the case, we would expect the next act in this Divine drama to be the inception of the Jewish people, the nation designated to cultivate Divine consciousness and steer humanity back onto the course of living life in God's presence. The time is seemingly ripe: the stage is set; all the props are in place; there even appears to be a suitable candidate for the protagonist who will serve as the progenitor of this new people: parashat Bereishit ends teasingly with the words, "Noah found favor in the eyes of God."1

Yet the Torah keeps us in suspense, postponing the genesis of the Jewish people until the next parashah. Evidently, some additional groundwork needs to be laid before the world will be ready for the advent of a chosen people. The detailed description of this groundwork is the subject of Parashat Noach, which is named after its protagonist. Noah was the man whom God singled out to build the ark, through which human and animal life would be spared from the Flood that would wipe out the incorrigibly iniquitous human race, allowing it to begin anew.

What was this groundwork? What additional steps had to be taken before the world could begin its upward climb toward the birth of the Jewish people and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai? To address this question, we first need to take a closer look at the name of this parashah, since, as we have already pointed out, the names of the parashiot disclose their essential message and lesson.

The word (in this case, the name) Noach means "rest" and "tranquility." Yet the events in this parashah are anything but restful and tranquil. The cataclysmic flood that ruthlessly and indiscriminately destroys all life on earth is certainly the epitome of upheaval and unrest, as are the two remaining significant episodes of the parashah: the cursing of Ham and the forced dispersion of humanity from the Tower of Babel.

However, if we look at the underlying purpose of these incidents and their ensuing results, we can see that the name Noach is actually quite fitting. As physically turbulent as the flood may have been, its purpose was to cure the world of the even-more problematic spiritual state that necessitated it. The antediluvian world was still relatively young, and all forms of life possessed the full vigor of youth—as evinced most strikingly by the extraordinary human longevity that characterized this era. Yet this strength was brittle: once creatures developed and matured, they became inflexible, almost immutable; it was almost impossible for them to change. This was no less true of the spiritual dimension of life than of the physical dimension: once people's characters were molded and their modes of behavior formulated, it was extremely difficult for them to change. And since societal norms were all the while becoming increasingly corrupt, the overwhelming majority of humanity became progressively entrenched in a downward spiral of degenerating moral attitudes and behavior.

The Flood changed all this. The battering waters softened the earth not only physically but spiritually, as well, making reality more pliable, more flexible, more receptive to change. The "new world" Noah beheld upon emerging from the ark2 was one in which the winds of repentance (teshuvah) were blowing freely, accessible to all, no matter how chronically unwholesome their behavior might become.

Thus, when God declared after the Flood, "Never again will there be a flood that will destroy the earth,"3 He was not reconciling Himself to people continuing to sin as they had before, nor was He admitting that by flooding the earth, He had made some kind of blunder that He would never again repeat. Rather, He was saying that by flooding the earth, He altered reality in such a way that it would never again become necessary to bring on a flood—not because people's nature had improved for the better, but because He had now provided them with a novel mechanism that they could use to counteract and even eradicate the effects of negative behavior.

As such, the Flood was a highly significant and crucial step toward achieving the goal of Creation, namely, promoting and disseminating Divine consciousness in the world until it ultimately would be transformed into God's natural home. It was therefore also a crucial step in laying the groundwork for the genesis of the Jewish people. The message of hope that the Torah is supposed to convey to the world is that it is never too late; that God is always waiting to welcome us back with open arms; and that we can always begin anew, even going on to fulfill our Divine mission with a success we never thought imaginable.

The lesson of this parashah remains perennially pertinent to our lives. When we are confronted with a particularly trying situation or turbulent phase in our lives, it would serve us well to recall that, just like the Flood, its purpose is to cleanse and refine us. By following the example of Noah, who did not panic in the face of the impending floodwaters but rather resolutely stood his ground, we can not only come away unscathed from the ordeal but in fact stand to reap the potential benefits inherent within it, even emerging strengthened. By focusing on the opportunity inherent in the challenge rather than on the superficial difficulty with which we are confronted, we transform the destructive floodwaters into "the waters of Noah"4—the waters of tranquility and rest.

And if, as was Noah, we are wise enough to use the experience advantageously, we can thereby help transform the whole world into an environment more conducive to Divine consciousness, thus bringing it closer to its ultimate and true fulfillment.5