In Parashat Noach, Hashem tells Noach to build an ark to house his family and the animals, because Hashem is going to wipe out the world with a flood. Although it doesn’t explicitly state in the Parashah how long it took Noach to build the ark, we can easily figure it out using clues throughout the Torah. The Torah tells us that Noach was five-hundred years old when he is commanded to build the ark (BeReishit 5:32). The Torah further states (7:6) that Noach is six-hundred years old when he enters the ark. From these Pesukim we learn that it took Noach about one-hundred years to build the ark. However, even with the technological limitations of that time, it should not have taken Noach and his three sons such a long time to build the ark. Furthermore, the ark that Hashem described to Noach was not big enough to hold everything that Hashem instructed Noach to bring into the ark. How do the dimensions that Hashem gave to Noach make sense with the amount of things that He wanted in the ark—and if Hashem told Noach to make the ark so small, why did it take him so long to build it?
Rabbeinu Bachya explains that the Torah is coming to teach us a very important lesson for our daily lives: that we have to live BeDerech HaTeivah, by the “way of the ark.” This means that we have to do everything in our power to help ourselves in a time of need. Once we have done everything we can possibly do, we may rely on a miracle or help from Hashem. Noach could not have possibly built the ark to the actual dimensions necessary, which is why he was not commanded to do it. He was commanded to do everything realistically possible, and Hashem would respond with a miracle. The practical lesson we learn from living life BeDerech HaTeivah is to balance our efforts with our trust in Hashem. When we are sick, we have to seek medical help from the best doctor available to us. However, once we put our effort in by going to the doctor, we may then rely on Hashem to cure us.
We must now understand why it took Noach so long to build the ark. A widely accepted answer to this question is that Hashem wanted the ark building process to take as long as possible because he wanted the world to do Teshuvah during that time. Hashem did not want to wipe out his creations, so He was hoping that in the one-hundred years leading up to the flood, people would see the ark and do Teshuvah. It is clear from the continuation of the story, though, that they were destroyed since they did not repent. Noach’s job, therefore, was not only to build an ark, but to also convince the wicked people of his generation to do Teshuvah. However, the destruction of the world implies that Noach failed at his mission. The Midrash states that when people would come by and ask what Noach was doing, he would respond, “I am building an ark because God is going to destroy the world.” Noach never mentioned anything about changing your ways and doing Teshuvah; he never went out to the town and preached to everyone to repent so that they should be saved.
In the following Parashah, the Torah states, “VaYikach Avram Et Sarai Ishto VeEt HaNefesh Asher Asu VeCharan,” “Avram took his wife Sarai…and all the souls they made in Charan” (BeReishit 12:5). Rashi (ad loc. s.v. Asher Asu VeCharan) explains that “Asher Asu” is referring to the souls that Avram and Sarai had converted to follow in the ways of Hashem. This sets up a sharp contrast between Noach and Avram: unlike Avram, Noach was unable to bring his generation to repentance and to follow in the ways of Hashem.
This contrast can teach us a very valuable lesson for our daily lives. Because Noach was not a strong enough character, he was unable to bring people to do Teshuvah. On the other hand, Avram was able to bring many people under his wing and turn them into followers of Hashem. Regarding Noach it says, “Et HaElokim Hithaleich Noach,” “Noach walked with God” (6:9), and regarding Avram it says, “Hithaleich Lephanai,” “Walk before Me” (17:1). Rashi (6:9 s.v. Et HaElokim Hithaleich Noach) says the reason for this difference is because Noach was not strong willed and he needed Hashem’s constant direct guidance, while Avram was able to walk before Hashem.
Avram was a strong leader and Noach was a weaker character who was more of a follower. In life there are many leaders who implement peer pressure for bad things. We must not be like Noach who was more of a follower; rather we must have the strength to be like Avram and become a leader.