By Angela Tranquille
We all know or have heard stories of people who have done wrong and gotten away with it. Stories range from minor offenses, such as stealing candy bars from the neighborhood deli to more horrendous acts such as murderers escaping jail time. Sometimes, after a person commits a wrongful act, even if they do not get caught, their conscience gets the best of them. They feel bad about what they have done and vow never to commit such an act again. However, there are others who go a different route. They become emboldened that they have escaped punishment. As a result, they continue in wrongdoing.
In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Noach (Genesis 6:9 – 11:32) wickedness had reached an all-time high. Toward the end of the previous parashah, The Word of God says, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5KJV) It continues in verse 12 by adding “And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.” (Genesis 6:12KJV) For a while, God held back his wrath, but a point was reached when the consequences of disobedience could no longer be delayed.
In the midst of it all, there was one individual who, in spite of being surrounded by wickedness and countless negative influences, was able to remain steadfast and committed to God. That man was Noah.
Have you ever had to stand alone because of your religious convictions? Imagine how challenging it must have been for Noah. I’m sure some people probably mocked his obedience, laughed at him, and called him a “goody-two-shoes” (or whatever the equivalent was in those days). I imagine there were several days when it was hard for him to resist temptation, and I’m sure there were moments when he experienced loneliness. Noah’s obedience was not in vain, however. When the decision was made to send a flood, Noah found grace in the eyes of God. His acts of righteousness were rewarded, and his life and the lives of his family members were spared.
One has to wonder, then, why did God instruct Noah to build such a large boat for just one family and some animals? The boat was three stories high and 300 cubits long. In case you are wondering how big that is, in Williamstown, Kentucky, there is a full-size reconstruction of Noah’s ark, called “Ark Encounter.” The full-size model was built according to the dimensions detailed in Genesis. The Ark Encounter website reports that the length of the ark was almost one and a half football fields long!
Think about how challenging a boat of this size must have been for Noah to build. There was no Home Depot where he could buy pre-cut wood nor did he have any sophisticated boat-building tools. This task required a tremendous amount of time, material, and labor. Wouldn’t a smaller boat have sufficed?
I believe the reason God instructed Noah to build such a large ark was because God hoped more people would have a change of heart and turn from their wrongdoing. If they had chosen to do the right thing, provision was being made so there would be space for them in the ark.
In several instances in the Bible we have seen God show mercy toward those who have committed wrongs. One of the most popular cases occurs a few chapters earlier, when Cain killed Abel. After Cain received his punishment for murdering his brother, he had the audacity to say:
“My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hiding; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that everyone that findeth me shall slay me.” (Genesis 4: 13-14KJV)
God responds by putting a mark of protection on Cain so no one would harm him.
The prophet Ezekiel informs us in Ezekiel 18:23 that God does not take pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. I believe that just as God showed mercy to Cain, an attempt also was made to show mercy to the people in Noah’s time. Unfortunately, they were probably too preoccupied with wrongdoing to notice or to care. As noted above, “every imagination of their thoughts were evil” (Genesis 6:5).
Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come and let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow.” The same grace that God showed to Noah is available to us as well. May we dwell on this idea as we prepare our hearts for Shabbat.