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Noach: Giving

Miriam Aflalo

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

“Go out of the teivah [ark] …” (Bereishis 8:16)

Said Rabi Levi: “All those twelve months, neither Noach nor his sons slept a wink, because they had to feed the animals … As Rabi Yochanan said: Once, Noach was late in feeding the lion. The lion struck him, and he left limping.” (Midrash

At night, I pass among the beds where my treasures sleep peacefully. Their pure faces and gentle breathing renew my strength to give them my best.

Morning comes.

Last night’s silent treasures return to their rambunctious selves, and my isle of quiet is transformed into a noisy, bustling city. I set the table with everything that can give them strength for a new day, but apparently that’s not enough. My two-year-old eyes the corn flakes with disinterest.

“Open wide, sweetheart,” I coax. “Here comes the airplane!” The airplane tries three times to land, but the airport is closed with tight lips. Now I have something to daven about all day: Please, Hashem. Let her eat today, and have strength, and not come home with her sandwich untouched.…

My ten-year-old “can’t stand milk first thing in the morning.” I rummage in the freezer for the granola-oatmeal-walnut cookies I baked. I always try to have a supply on hand, though it’s easier to open a package of wafers.

My eight-year-old wants bread “with nothing.” Finally she agrees to add a little cream cheese.

Is all this to be taken for granted? The work — planning the menu, and its healthful benefits? Does anyone thank me for adding garlic, onion, and parsley to the soup, instead of soup mix? For the funny faces I make on the sandwiches, so that my finicky two-year-old will be interested in a tomato?

At supper, they say they’d rather have hot dogs, and they carefully pick the raisins out of the cookies.

And one should contemplate this. Because the entry of each animal into the teivah was miraculous and supernatural. As the Ramban says: “Know that there were very many animals, and some were very large … and countless species of birds, as well. And adding to this ... food for all of them for a whole year, the teivah couldn’t contain all this …But there was a miracle: ‘a little contained a lot.’”

And also their coming to the teivah: “Two by two, they came to Noach.” Rashi: “They came to Noach on their own.”

If so, why did Noach and his sons have to go to the trouble of feeding all of them …? Why couldn’t they leave them, and let them be sustained by a miracle as well? Even if they were commanded to prepare all the food for them, they could have made one trough for them all; just as everything else was miraculous, the animals could surely have managed their food alone.” (Rav Eliyahu Lopian, Lev Eliyahu)

One by one, the children arrive at our own personal teivah. Miraculously. A newborn baby — a piece of Divinity. Couldn’t Hashem have given my children the instincts of a duckling or a chick? No one has to chase after them with seeds, and their mothers don’t spend hours by the stove making something hot to warm their hearts.

He could have.

But He wanted to give us the merit of this greatest of mitzvos, to be partners with Him in feeding His creations with mercy.

Because Noach was given the opportunity to fulfill the great mitzvah of “And you shall go in His ways.” Just as Hashem feeds His creations … so Noach had the opportunity to feed all Hashem’s creations for twelve months. Therefore he took great trouble to fulfill this mitzvah to perfection, and he and his sons didn’t sleep, that whole time.

“… Avraham asked Malchi-Tzedek (who was Shem), ‘With what merit did you go out of the teivah?’ He said, ‘In the merit of the tzedakah that we were doing.’

“He asked him, ‘What tzedakah was there for you to do? Were there poor people there?’ He told him: ‘For the beasts, the animals, and the birds.’

“When he heard this, Avraham said: ‘If they left the teivah only because of the tzedakah that they did with beasts, animals, and birds, then if I were to do so for people … how much more so would I be rescued from harm.’ At once — ‘And he planted an eishel tree.’” (Midrash Tehillim, Ibid) 

Avraham planted a hospitality tree, and made four openings in his tent, for he saw how great is the power of the chesed of feeding people. And we, who stand beside the pot, creating soup with love, who rub our eyes that burn from onion, who whisper a prayer that the little ones should eat well, who toil and aren’t always appreciated — let our hearts not be discouraged. In Heaven, every spoonful is valued.

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