Responsibility – Noah 5783

D'var Torah | Genesis

In 2020 a scientific expedition was launched with the intent to study climate change on earth. It was awkwardly named MOSAIC – Multi-disciplinary-drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate. Sixty scientists and technicians supplemented the crew aboard an ice-breaker for months in minus fifty-degree centigrade temperatures and constant polar night. As daunting as this expedition may seem, it still cannot compare to the experience of Noah aboard the Ark.


According to the Midrash Tanhuma (Noah 9), a collection of scriptural homilies of unknown origin but dated between the sixth and ninth centuries of the Common Era, Noah was, for all intents and purposes, imprisoned on the Ark. Rabbi Levi explains. For the entire period that Noah was aboard – calculated to be twelve months – neither Noah nor his sons slept. In their care were both diurnal and nocturnal animals and all with specific dietary needs that had to be satisfied for the animals to survive. (Curiously, the Midrash assumes that ostriches ate glass shards!)


Of course, this meant that between fetching the prescribed food and feeding the diurnal animals during their preferred periods in the daytime and the nocturnal animals during their preferred feeding times in the nighttime, Noah, and his sons as well, had no time when they were not busily at work. Moreover, Rabbi Elazar reports a tradition that Noah was even mauled by a lion when his feeding time was late. Noah limped thereafter.


Denied sleep and physically injured Noah soldiered on. The question (and the lesson) is why? For Noah, it would seem, it was a matter of responsibility. He was given a task and he was dedicated to fulfilling it no matter the personal cost. Whether people today would be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to carry out their responsibilities is debatable. But Noah was unswerving in his duty. So as much as Noah may be criticized for his drunken stupor and his resultant immodesty, Noah did indeed possess a redeeming quality. Accordingly, there is much to applaud in the conduct of this primeval Biblical character.



Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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