“In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the LORD your Redeemer.
“To me this is like the days of Noah,
when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
never to rebuke you again.
Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the LORD, who has compassion on you. — Isaiah 54:8-10
The Torah portion for this week is Noach, from the name of the main character, Noah. It is from Genesis 6:9 –11:32, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 54:1–55:5.
On a sunny August morning in Florida, one woman had an idea. As she drove to her local Starbucks drive-thru, the woman decided that she would pay for her own drink and for the order of the person behind her. Thus began a ten-hour pay-it-forward chain with over 450 patrons paying for the next person’s drink.
This may seem like nothing more than a nice heart-warming story, but to me, it is so much more. Kindness, in various shapes and sizes, is popping up more and more in our culture as people begin to realize that they gain more when they give than when focusing only on receiving. And this idea — giving can be more fulfilling than getting — is the key to changing the world.
In this week’s haftorah reading, we learn about the messianic era from the prophet Isaiah. In Chapter 54 of Isaiah, a stunning connection is made between the flood of Noah’s time and the coming redemption. God told the people, “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.” God was saying that once Israel returned to the Promised Land at the onset of the messianic era, they would never be thrown out again. What is the connection between the beginning of messianic times and the “days of Noah”?
The pre-flood time in which Noah lived was an age of human self-destruction. The world had turned toward robbery and theft as the norm. People were only focused on their own personal and selfish needs. This is why God had to destroy them and begin again. However, on the ark, Noah and his family had the opposite approach. The Jewish sages teach that Shem, Noah’s son, once remarked that he never fully slept during the entire time on the ark because he was so busy (as was the rest of his family) taking care of all God’s creatures.
There, on Noah’s ark, the culture was kindness. And that, say the sages, is the merit that saved Noah and his family. It’s also the force behind God’s promise never to destroy the world again. It’s as if God was saying, “Just as Noah was kind unconditionally, so, too, will I treat the world with unfailing love and everlasting kindness.”
Just as kindness brought about a new era in Noah’s time, so, too, will it unlock the door for a better era today. Let’s create a culture of kindness where acts of generosity and compassion permeate our days. These small acts of kindness are the force that will change the world. How might you contribute to that change in your “world” today?
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President