by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – October 28, 2019
A story is told of a group of soldiers who were on leave from the Israeli Army. This group was given a number of hours, perhaps a day or two, to be away from base. The soldiers were ordered to return by a given time on a given day. The soldiers immensely enjoyed their time away, taking full advantage of whatever indulgences came to mind, and lost sight of their return time. As the time neared, the soldiers realized that they had no chance to return on time. To try to avoid serious punishment, they devised a plan as a group, vowing to each other that they would all offer the same excuse. They all got themselves together and returned to base – significantly late. Each of the soldiers, when asked by the commander for the reason behind his tardiness, declared that he along with his friends, when the return time approached, searched for means of transportation. The only means of transportation that they could find were some mules! So their return was understandably delayed. After all, mules can only travel so fast. By the time the last of these soldiers was called in by the commander, the last soldier could see that the commander was visibly upset. In fact, the commander bellowed at this last soldier, “What’s your excuse? So help me if you tell me that you too could not find any transportation except for some mule!” Seeing his commander’s anger rising, the soldier responded that this is not what happened to him. He did not return on a mule. He, in fact, returned by automotive vehicle! Bewildered, the commander asked, “Then why did you get back late?” “Well,” the soldier responded, “I couldn’t go very fast following an entire herd of mules that were on the road!” That is why he came late to base. One can imagine what the outcome of this was!
In Noah’s time, all except for Noah and his immediate family indulged fully in all pleasures that came to mind. Selfishness and self-centeredness abounded leading to the worst forms of decadence and depravity. No responsibility was practiced. No concern for anyone or anything other than the individual’s own physical pleasures. No thought was given to the meaning of their lives or existence that was brought about only a few generations earlier by the Al-Mighty G-d, Creator of the Universe. G-d asked Noah to occupy his time for 120 years to build an ark in order that anyone who would see him should wonder and ask about it. When asked, as our Sages tell us in various Midrashic sources, as cited by Rashi (Bereshit 6:14), Noah would proclaim that humanity had “overstayed its welcome” and must return before the 120 years come to an end. They must return to G-d in mind and in practice, giving up their excessive indulgences and beginning to act with more meaning, with more care for others, with more understanding of the bigger meaning to their existence and their lives. Unfortunately, no one heeded the message. No one heeded G-d’s orders to return. No one paid heed to the final return time that the Commander in Chief, the Al-Mighty G-d, declared for them. They indulged too heavily in the world’s physical pleasures and, thereby, lost sight of G-d, a higher meaning to life, and to G-d’s holding out His hand, so to speak, to them to give them one last chance. So they received their punishment in the form of a tremendous catastrophic Flood.
There is only so much that any commander can allow. Soldiers must show some discipline. Soldiers must show some responsibility. Some deviance from the ideal can be tolerated. But there is a line that cannot be crossed and, when that line is crossed, punishment is inevitable. Soldiers need to be mindful of this, whether they are soldiers of a given country’s army or virtual soldiers of the army of G-d Himself. There are regulations that are set forth – for good reason – and those regulations must be heeded, and discipline and responsibility must be maintained – for our own good; and if regulations are wantonly ignored and discipline trampled and responsibility forsaken, retribution must be demanded to uphold the lives of those who do understand the importance of these values.
Noah and his immediate family understood the higher meaning and importance to the life granted them by their Creator. He understood the secondary nature of life’s physical pleasures to that of higher values such as responsibility to others and caring for others. As a result, he consented to be G-d’s representative to help humanity as a whole see the error of their ways and get them to change course. Unfortunately, others did not understand this. Their indulgences in physical and monetary excesses overtook their minds. They wanted only more physical pleasures regardless of whom they harmed in the process. They only wanted more monies and riches regardless of whose rights to their own hard earned money they ignored. Eventually, their wanton behavior “caught up with them” and they fell into oblivion and Noah and his family were saved.
An amusing anecdote is said of a truck driver driving his large vehicle down a major highway. In his journey, he was approaching an overpass that had a sign warning that on some of its lanes the maximum clearance was eight (8) feet. This truck driver’s vehicle was nine (9) feet tall – and the truck driver knew it! Instead of switching to a lane that had higher clearance or getting off at the exit prior to this overpass, this truck driver continued on with no change whatsoever and eventually smashed the top of his truck into the overhanging bridge. When asked why he did this, he responded, “Well, I looked to the right and looked to the left and checked my rear view mirror and didn’t see any police. So I didn’t think I would be caught!”
Heeding regulations, abiding by discipline and showing responsibility is not a matter of “getting caught” or its avoidance. Some lose sight of the higher meaning behind such practices. Such were the practices of the generation of the Flood as well as the aforementioned truck driver. They are so involved in their wants and desires that they cannot see or understand anything else. They cannot understand their responsibility to others nor even to themselves. They lose sight of the bigger picture. It is not just a matter of not being “caught” or being able “to get away with it.” As those who put signs on a road have a good reason for the regulations they enact, all the more so G-d the supreme Architect of this world has a good reason for His regulations and it behooves us to show the responsibility in trying to understand the importance of this and heeding His regulations – as Noah did.
We are soldiers of G-d who have been granted life by G-d and also bequeathed G-d’s guide for life, the Torah, to consider higher thoughts and meanings in our existence, to care for others and express responsibility to others and ourselves. Let us not lose sight of this – for our own sakes. May we, thereby, not, G-d forbid, meet the same end as that of the generation of the Flood. May we, thereby, continue to live and thrive as did Noah and his family.