The Torah tells us (chapter 7, v. 7) that Noach and his family went into the ark “because of the waters of the flood.” Rashi on this verse takes note of the superfluous words “because of the waters of the flood,” and says that Noach was one that had little faith in Hashem, and did not enter the ark until the waters of the flood forced him in. Rashi also refers to Noach as one who believed but really didn’t believe that the flood would come.
The obvious question is asked: How can we understand Rashi’s characterization of Noach being of little faith in light of the Torah describing Noach (at the beginning of this Torah portion) as “tzadik tamim haya b’dorosaf,” a righteous man, perfect in his generations?
The question is magnified when we realize that Noach spent 120 years building the ark, all the while admonishing the generation to repent lest they perish in the impending flood. All that, and he didn’t believe that indeed Hashem would bring the flood.
Also, how are we to understand the paradoxical statement that Noach “believed, but really didn’t believe that the flood would come”? He either believed or didn’t. Which one was it?
My rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak Feigelstock, Rosh Yeshiva of the Mesivta of Long Beach, New York, offered an explanation using a true story by way of illustration.
A well-known oncologist specializing in lung cancer authored a book detailing the nature of the disease and its causes, chief among them cigarette smoking. He also lectured extensively on university campuses on the correlation of smoking to lung cancer.
The day came that this oncologist, after most of his life being a chain smoker, was diagnosed with the deadly disease. He began a regimen of chemotherapy as an outpatient in an oncology hospital. One morning, a reporter arrived at the center to interview the stricken doctor while he was in the waiting room. There he was, smoking a cigarette while waiting his turn for treatment. Needless to say the reporter was horrified.
Did our oncologist not believe that smoking affected his disease? He was the expert, he wrote the book and he widely lectured about the consequences of smoking. And he didn’t believe?
We must conclude that of course he believed, but he didn’t really believe. There are two types of belief, explains Rabbi Feigelstock. There is an intellectual belief and an internalized belief. Intellectually, the doctor firmly believed that smoking is deadly and of its effect on the body. But he didn’t believe that it would or could affect him. It was for everyone else to know and to take heed. But to internalize it and to alter his lifestyle was not something that he believed in.
And that explains what Rashi said in regards to Noach. He believed the flood would come. He spent 120 years preparing for it. He was very busy telling everyone about the reason for the ark, but it was all intellectual knowledge. When the time came for he and his family to enter the ark, he procrastinated, not feeling the dire need to escape the impending flood until the waters started to come down, compelling him to enter.
Internalizing what we know intellectually is not easy and needs to be worked on to be achieved. JN
Rabbi Moshe Goldberg is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ohr Hatorah.