The Bible is full of conversations between God and humans. It begins with Adam and Eve, when God asks them a series of questions about the incident with the serpent and the apple. There are more questions and answers when God confronts Cain about murdering his brother. God and Abraham talk more than once, and Moses has many conversations with the Divine. Even women, often overlooked in the Torah, speak with God.
But not Noah.
God speaks to Noah repeatedly, but Noah doesn’t say a word to God.
This has always bothered me. Why didn’t he ask questions? Why didn’t he argue on behalf of the people who were going to be killed, like Abraham did when he confronted God about Sodom and Gomorrah? Why no hymn of praise when God made the covenant with him and put the rainbow in the sky as a sign?
The Bible doesn’t record him saying anything to God. For a long time, I thought badly of Noah because of this. I saw his silence as a flaw, a symbol of his passivity and unwillingness – or perhaps inability – to think about the welfare of anyone other than himself and his family.
But it occurs to me that I’m judging him by comparing him to other people in the Bible. And he wasn’t like anyone else. He was given a task of gigantic proportions. A task so huge that it took him 120 years to accomplish, according to Rashi (note: others say it was only 75 years; either way, building the ark took a long time).
And in the span of two verses, the Torah tells us that “Noah found favor with God” and “Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:8-9)
So why doesn’t he talk to God? Maybe it’s because he was listening. Listening carefully, respectfully, open-heartedly.
Nowadays it sometimes feels that careful listening is a lost art form. Too often, instead of listening receptively we’re planning our response, ready to jump in with our own opinion as soon as the other person finishes speaking. We interrupt, speak over one another, hear the words but fail to listen to their import.
Perhaps instead of disparaging Noah for his silence, we can learn a lesson about paying attention, about listening with an open heart and with respect. We can strive to listen to the message behind the words that we hear, the pain and fear, the love and hope. And we can provide comfort and support without saying a word.