And Noah went in (to the ark) and his wife and his sons and his sons’ wives with him, because of the flood waters. (Genesis 7:7)
Despite—or perhaps because of—the approaching Deluge, Noah seems reluctant to board the ark. Not surprisingly, our commentators are divided on the motivation and morality behind his hesitation.
Some, including Rabbi Harold Kushner, maintain that Noah hesitated out of compassion for the rest of humanity. He waits until the last possible minute out of hope that his fellow men and women might see the rain starting to fall and finally change their ways, rendering the punishment unnecessary.
Rashi, on the other hand, argues that Noah was only marginally better than the rest of his evil generation. He writes: “Noah, too, was of those of little faith, believing and not believing that the Flood would come, and he therefore did not enter the ark until the waters forced him to do so.”
These seem like two opposing views. In the first, Noah is righteous; in the second, not so much. However, in good Jewish fashion, I would like to suggest that perhaps both sides are right. When we face challenging—even cataclysmic—changes, our reactions are most often deeply ambivalent. We may be motivated by a complex blend of positive intentions and denial. We, too, are both “believing and not believing.” We vacillate. We equivocate. We wrestle inwardly, with ourselves and with others, and as we do, our moods and attitudes can shift radically from one moment to the next. We resist change even as we embrace it. Like Noah, we wait until the very last minute—until, compelled by circumstances bigger than ourselves, we enter the ark and set out for God knows where.
Still, we enter, and the Flood changes us. For all of his reluctance to get on the ark, for both positive and negative reasons, once he is aboard, Noah grows into his righteousness. Midrash tells us that he cared for the animals constantly, 24/7. He responds to his ordeal with compassion, and thereby makes real the potential that God saw in him before the rains came.
This week, consider the changes and challenges that lie ahead for you in this new year. Recognize your hesitation—and even your denial—as you face those challenges, for good and bad alike. And then consider: how can you ride them toward something better?