In the 1950’s, Rabbi Yitzchak Groner, the Rebbe’s shliach (emissary) in Australia, once came to the Rebbe with good news. After several years of effort, he had succeeded in bringing the enrollment in the Lubavitch Girls School, to 250. Happy with his success, he had a picture taken with all 250 girls — not an easy task in those days when wide-lens cameras were not so common — had it enlarged, and brought it to the Rebbe.

While pleased, the Rebbe did not share the full extent of Rabbi Groner’s joy. Explaining his lack of enthusiasm, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Groner: “How many Jewish girls are there in Melbourne?”

“Several thousand,” Rabbi Groner replied.

“That’s why I’m not so impressed with your 250,” the Rebbe answered. “What about all the rest?”

Parshas Noach

Noach is a problematic spiritual figure. On one hand, he is obviously unique and praiseworthy. After all, he was the individual G‑d rescued from the flood and all humanity descends from him. On the other hand, when the Torah seeks to praise him, it says he was “a righteous man in his generations.” Our Sages note that the words “in his generations” are seemingly unnecessary. Some understand it as words of praise. Noach’s generation was populated with depraved men, idolaters who did not respect the norms of morality or business ethics. Even though he lived among such people, Noach was righteous.

Others, however, understand it as an implied censure. In his own generation, Noach was considered righteous. But had he lived in the time of Abraham, Moses, or David, his Divine service would not have attracted attention at all.

What was the difference between Noach and these spiritual giants? Each one of them stood out in his efforts to reach out to others. Abraham spread the awareness of G‑d in a world of idolatrous pagans. Moses prayed for the worshipers of the Golden Calf. And David was the king of the entire nation, sacrificing his personal life for the sake of his people.

Noach, on the other hand, built his ark. Yes, if someone came and asked him why he was building it, he gave an explanation: G‑d was upset with the state of morality in the world and was going to bring a flood. But, although Noach spoke, apparently, his heart was not in his words. For by and large, his efforts went unheeded. Yes, a listener or two might have heard him out, but no more than that. Afterwards, they went on their way, ignoring whatever Noach had said.

Noach did his duty, but no more. Whatever his feelings for his fellowmen were, when the flood began, only he and his immediate family were in the ark. No one else was worthy of being saved. His failure to influence others to join him is what caused some Sages speak negatively of him.

On the other hand, when Noach’s Divine service is considered as part of the world’s overall spiritual history, it is obvious that he played an important role. Why was his success limited? Because in that generation, nothing more was possible. The spiritual climate of his age was such that the people would not listen to him.

Why then do the Sages speak negatively of Noach? Not to criticize him as an individual, but to caution us against emulating the limited dimensions of his conduct. In his time, he could not do more. Now, we can. The spiritual climate of the world has changed and it is possible to reach out to others and motivate them to change in both thought and action. In such a climate, we cannot content ourselves with Noach-like efforts.

Every generation has its purpose and its function in bringing the world to its ultimate state, the era of Mashiach. Noach was able to push that purpose a little bit further to consummation, but only a little bit. The later generations advanced that goal even further and in the near future, with the coming of Mashiach, it will blossom into fulfillment.

On the other hand, each one of us has to realize that there are times in life when we can only do so much. Like Noach, a person may have a greater goal, but it may not be destined for him to achieve it. While continuing to strive for its fulfillment, we should not become disheartened if sometimes our achievements fall short. We should realize that like Noach, we are part of a far greater picture, a masterpiece that G‑d is composing and we should be happy to fulfill the role within that picture designated for us.

Looking to the Horizon

In Noah’s ark, there were all types of animals, beasts of prey and docile types, and yet the predators did not consume the ordinary animals.

Now one of the prophecies that describe the era of Mashiach is “a wolf will dwell with a lamb,” that the beasts of prey will lose their destructive tendencies and dwell peacefully with other created beings. That, however, is a prophecy of the ultimate future. In Noach’s time, it had not been fulfilled — as evidenced by the fact that once let out of the ark, the predators did indeed prey on the other animals. Why then did they not do so in the ark?

In resolution, chassidic thought explains that Noach’s ark was a microcosm of the era of Mashiach. The same environment of peace and tranquility that will pervade the world at large during the era of Mashiach permeated Noach’s ark.

This provides a lesson for all of us. Although the world at large was not on a Messianic level of awareness, Noach was able to motivate his own immediate environment to reach that level. Similarly, in our own lives, each of us can live in the spirit of the redemption, anticipating the knowledge and harmony of that future era in our present experience.

Furthermore, doing so is the most effective catalyst to having this awareness spread throughout the world at large. For as more people come into contact with a Mashiachdikker person, one whose principles and values reflect that ultimate age, they will gravitate towards him and seek to emulate his conduct and in that way, make Mashiach a more tangible concept for each of us and for all of us.