Ark de Triomphe
Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32 )
A family visiting Manhattan from overseas stopped alongside a vast excavation site that was teeming with activity. Curious as to what was being built, one of the tourists innocently made inquiry, "Excuse me sir, can you tell us what is happening here?" To which a burly, gruff New York City construction worker sternly responded, "What's it look like lady, we're schlepping bricks," and he pressed on with his hefty wheelbarrow.
Undeterred by the less-than-pleasant response, the tourists pressed the same question to the next laborer toiling under the Gotham sun. Again she questioned, "Can I ask you what's doing here?" "Sure," he smiled, "we're building a palace!"
Two similarly stationed individuals (probably members of the same union), were equally burdened with that which most of us would deem "menial labor." Yet, owing to one's perspective, the very same task could become marginalized as insignificant or championed as an essential component of something much larger in scope and permanence. It's all a matter of one's perspective.
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"God spoke to Noach, saying, 'Go forth from the Ark; you and your wife, your sons, and your sons' wives with you. Every living being that is with you of all flesh, of birds, of animals, and creeping things that move on the earth - order them out with you, and let them teem on the earth and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.'" (Gen. 8:15-18).
The inestimable gift that Noach bestowed upon humanity - i.e., the entire animal and bird kingdom - is readily apparent wherever we turn. It's the squirrels squirreling nuts acorns for the winter. The sparrow on the telephone wire overhead. It's your neighbor's dog and your child's turtle. The San Diego Zoo's 4500 different types of animals. It's Chicago's Bears, Bulls and Cubs.
How did all of this come to fruition? Rewind a few thousand years to Noach's year-long, grueling care of each and every species. Day-in and day-out. Alfalfa to the bunnies. Bananas to the orangutans. Fish to the seals. Dried corn to the parakeets. Make sure they have water. Make sure they have a clean cage.
How did the progenitor of humankind spend his days on the Ark? Strategizing how to develop the new world? Brainstorming over issues of urban planning and distribution of natural resources? No. Nothing quite as lofty nor as cerebral.
To the contrary, the individual responsible for saving humanity as we know it spent an entire year toiling ceaselessly in a manner akin to the overworked and underpaid clerk in your local pet store. What is the message here?
Much of our lives can seemingly be dismissed as mundane or trivial. It's about car-pooling or remembering to put the recycling out on Tuesday night. It's about packing a snack and unloading the dishwasher.
These are not the types of activities that command headlines. These are not the ways that (so-called) dignitaries spend their precious time. And yet, one of the take-home lessons from Noach and his efforts is not only that "big things often come in small packages," but that "deeply meaningful and deeply lasting contributions to the world (and to others) often come in mundane packages."
So next time you pack-up that PB & J sandwich remember you're doing much more than just providing lunch - you're helping to sustain the next generation of mankind. You're not just helping out with homework - you're cultivating a thirst for Torah and truth that will help forge another link in our chain of transmission back to Mount Sinai. You're not just lending a neighbor a dozen eggs - you're cementing a brick in the edifice of humankind and love for your fellow neighbor.
We're not all Noachs. We're not necessarily going to be responsible for saving the world as we know it. But in our own little arks, doing our best to navigate the high (and low) tides of life, if you double-click on that which appears mundane and insignificant, keep a close watch, as you just might find that which is truly heroic and extraordinary.