We Have the Choice: A Sermon for Parashat Noach
Imagine your neighbors on the left as thieves, stealing whatever they want whenever they want it. Imagine your neighbors on the right as pyromaniacs, igniting things just for fun to watch them burn. Picture your sister as a harlot and your brother an adulterer. Imagine gangs of depraved people committing every vice you can think of and even some you can’t. Imagine the mixing of species that shouldn’t be mixed. Now picture Noach, the one whose capacity for righteousness gave G-d hope and reassured Him that Free Will and this world could still work, it could still be redeemed.
Now picture you are Noach sitting in the Ark with your family. The springs have opened, rivers are spilling over their banks, lakes are overflowing, oceans are rising and the rains have started. You’ve warned them. You warned them for 120 years and now it’s too late. The rains have started. So too, have the screams, the cries and the pleadings of the people just outside the ark. They’re begging to be let in and crying for salvation. You hear them pounding on the door and scratching at the wood. You feel their fear. And worst of all, you recognize their voices. That’s Matthew and Rebecca from down the road. And was that our cousins, and our niece and nephew? No son. You cannot let them in. I know they’re dying. I’m sorry honey, we cannot open the doors for your sister and her family. I know they’re suffering. No children, we cannot let your friends onto the ark. I want to. I want to help them all. But that’s not our job anymore.
At times we all have aspirations of being tzaddikim. HaShem wants us to keep Torah, to follow His commandments, to love our neighbors, to love even our enemies, to care for people, to be compassionate, to give tzedakah, and so on… to be righteous.
However, our first responsibility is to love HaShem. We just said this earlier in our service…
וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְיָ ׀ אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ, בְּכָל ׀ לְבָבְךָ, וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ, וּבְכָל מְאֹדֶֽךָ.
Love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.
But what does that mean? How do we do that? We do it by putting HaShem first. By listening to Him and obeying Him and honoring, worshiping and praising Him. We do it by observing His commandments and if we’re so lucky as to have heard a direct word, we do it by obediently following it.
So G-d says to Noach, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth.” And then He tells Noach, “Make yourself an Ark.” Now Noach had 120 years to convince people to do Teshuvah. 120 years to obediently build the ark while also responding to the critics and naysayers who taunted him. 120 years to try to love and save his neighbors. They chose not to repent.
Has anyone here not read C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books or seen the movies or become at least familiar with the storyline through popular culture? Aslan represents Yeshua in the stories and in the “The Horse and His Boy,” Lewis tells the story of Shasta and Aravis and two talking horses named Bree and Hwin. At one point late in the story and with much concern, Shasta asks Aslan, the Son of the Emperor Over the Sea, why certain things and punishments happened to his friend Aravis. Aslan responded, “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”
Likewise, the story of those outside the Ark was no longer a part of Noach’s.
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָֹה֙ לְנֹ֔חַ בֹּֽא־אַתָּ֥ה וְכָל־בֵּֽיתְךָ֖ אֶל־הַתֵּבָ֑ה
The L-rd said to Noach, “Go into the ark, with all your household.”
Noach had a new commandment from HaShem. New marching orders. He and his family obediently entered the ark and began their new task of caring for G-d’s creatures. The story of those outside the Ark was no longer intertwined with Noach’s. As heartbreakingly tough as it must have been to listen to the suffering, Noach and his family chose to obey HaShem.
Speaking of obedience, why did G-d tell Noach to build the Ark in the first place? Surely there were numerous other ways He could have purged the evil and corruption from the world. He’s G-d, for heaven’s sake. He could have miraculously done it in a blink of an eye, but what would that have accomplished? G-d told Noach what he needed to do to participate in his own salvation and as it happens, in the salvation of humanity. עֲשֵׂ֤ה לְךָ֙ Deb? Rosie? Mim? “Make yourself” an Ark. He didn’t threaten Noach and he didn’t make it for him.
He didn’t say, “Hey, Noach, you seem like a good guy. Here’s a boat. I think you might want to get in it.”
He also didn’t say, “Hey you! Get your butt this boat and take care of my donkeys or else.”
No! He told Noach what was going to happen and why, and what he, Noach, needed to do. Noach had the choice to participate or not. Noach obeyed. Think ahead to Abraham. G-d told Abram to pick up his wife and things and leave his comfortable home, and then to circumcise himself, and then to sacrifice his son Isaac all because He would make from Abraham a great nation. Abraham loved the L-rd. Abraham obeyed and good things happened. He could have said no. He could have lived his comfortable life back in Haran making idols. Our story could have been different.
Moses is another great example. G-d told Moses to return to Pharaoh, to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, to guide them to Mt Sinai and so on. We all know the story. Moses made some excuses at first didn’t he? But in the end, He chose to obey. He chose to participate in the salvation.
On the other hand, upon leaving Egypt, G-d told the Israelites to enter and conquer the land of Canaan. They chose to listen to the fear and lies of the spies instead and what happened? 40 years of wandering in the desert. You see G-d doesn’t make us choose His path, but there are consequences when we don’t. And the beautiful thing is, even when we don’t G-d doesn’t abandon us. He goes right along with us, ready for our Teshuvah, ready to take us back and guide us on. That’s the lesson I want to leave you with today. He didn’t abandon the Israelites in the desert. He didn’t abandon Jonah in the fish. They made wrong choices and there were consequences but HaShem remained with them and led them out again.
There are troubles in this world. Chaos and corruption, evils and temptations. Storms for us all to deal with. Torah is our Ark. G-d has given us a way to participate in our own salvation and in the salvation of the world. Love and obey HaShem, read his Word, follow in the examples of Noach, Abraham, Moses, and ultimately Yeshua. We have the choice.