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Noah and Lesser Faith

Living with the Circumstances

At the beginning of the Torah portion of Noah, we learn that “Noah walked with God.” Noah was not the first person that the Torah describes in this manner. We also encountered Noah’s great-grandfather, Hanoch, about whom the Torah writes: “And Hanoch walked with God and he was naught.”

What does “walking with God” mean? The early Torah commentator Unkelus, who generally distances himself from any physical descriptions in his commentary, translates walking with God as follows: “With the fear of God did Noah walk.” A person cannot actually walk with God, for this is a physical act. Hence, Unkelus explains that Noah conducted his life (walked) with the attribute of fear of God. (Unkelus also translates in the same manner regarding Hanoch).

How does the life of a person who conducts himself with fear of God look? If we adopt the expression of Rabbi Usher Freund, who was one of the great chasidic servants of God in our generation, a person who conducts his life with the fear of God lives with the circumstances that God sends his way. In everything that he sees or hears, he searches for Divine guidance. What does God want from me? The basic assumption, of course, is that everything that happens to me is brought about by God.

Fear of God and Self-nullification in the Soul

Chasidut explains that fear is a soul-movement of nullification and self-nullification in the soul. With the help of this fear, a person can escape the feeling that he is a reality separate from God. Hence, the point of fear is the attainment of ayin (nothingness). How much am I non-existent?

In more current terms, we can explain that fear means that a person is sensitive. A person who does not have a true fear of Heaven can certainly err in his understanding of the Divine machinations and circumstances. How? Let us imagine a person who is listening to the radio and is convinced that the broadcaster is speaking to him, personally. This, of course, is an extreme example, but it does exemplify how these types of imaginary thoughts are rooted in an inflated ego. Likewise, a person who suffers from paranoia actually suffers from a feeling of self-importance and ‘somethingness.’ To correctly analyze the hidden message in the circumstances that we encounter daily – what God wants from me – I have to be nullified enough to feel that I am the ‘nothing’ and that God is the ‘Something’ – the reality. And that it is God Who is directing the circumstances of my life – not that the circumstances revolve around me to serve me.

“Noah was of the Minor Believers”

Hence, “to walk with God” means to live with the fear of God, to be sensitive and attentive to the Divine message that echoes throughout all of our circumstances – from our surroundings. For all practical purposes, a ‘believer’ is practically synonymous with a person who is ‘God-fearing.’ Just as fear of God is connected to ayin, so is faith. Hence, at the end of the verse that describes Hanoch’s way, the Torah says, “And he was naught.” (A beautiful mathematical allusion to this verse is as follows: “ויתהלך חנוך את הא־להים ואיננו” : (“And Hanoch walked with God and he was naught”) is exactly ten times the numerical value of איננו (naught). Hanoch so strongly cleaved to his path that he ultimately became nothing – he united with and departed into the Divine nothingness. He once again became nothing!

We see that Noah’s walking with God refers to his faith. Regarding the verse “And Noah and his sons and his wife and the wives of his son came with him to the ark in the face of the waters of the flood”[1] Rashi quotes the sages and comments: “Noah was also of the lesser believers. He believed and did not believe that the flood would come and did not enter the ark until the water forced him to do so.” Noah’s dependence on the circumstances that God set before him caused him to believe that there would be a flood on the one hand. But on the other hand, as long as God did not urge him to enter the ark (with the water – the circumstances) he was afraid to make the decision to do so on his own.

This characteristic is called “lesser faith.” This admirable level of faith does not push a person to initiate anything in his service of God. Noah, who represents the highest level of a righteous, God-serving Non-Jew, can only walk step by step after God. His walking with God means that God advances (by means of the circumstances that He creates in the world) and the person with lesser faith can only be sensitive to the direction and walk in His path. The primary role of the Righteous of the Nations is to preserve what already exists (this is the source of sensitivity to the environment and to nature) but they cannot be spiritual or faith innovators. This is as opposed to Abraham, the first Jew, about whom the Torah says, “And he believed in God and He considered it to him as righteousness.”[2] Why is Abraham’s faith considered righteousness? Because Abraham climbed above the level of Noah and Hanoch to the level of major faith. By doing so, he merited not only the attribute of faith, but also the attribute of trust.

 

[1] Genesis 7:7.

[2] Genesis 15:6.

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