In Berditchev, a small town just outside of Kiev, there lived a Jew who did not believe in G-d. From time to time he would meet the holy Berditchever Rebbe, Reb Levi Yitzchak, and they would talk. Once the Rebbe told the non-believer, "You know, that G-d that you don't believe in, I don't believe in either."
Of course, the Rebbe believed in G-d. What he was telling the non-believer is that the non-believer's lack of faith was due to an underdeveloped conception of who G-d is. What he thought was god, no one would believe in. Were he to expand his awareness and reach deeper within his soul, he would discover a G-d that he could and would desire to relate to.
This illuminates, also, the unique contribution of the Rebbe. When he assumed leadership, many questioned the place of Judaism in contemporary society. And to them, the Rebbe said: "Yes, if you look archaically at Judaism then it has no place. But who says Judaism has to be archaic?! Open your eyes and see how rich and contemporary Judaism can be." Moreover, the Rebbe didn't allow us to remain content with our own understanding and relationship with G-d, he pushed us to open ourselves up to others and share our understanding with them.
The beginning of this week's Torah reading relates how G-d tells Noah that because he was righteous, he and his family would be saved. Although all mankind would be punished for their wickedness and annihilated in a terrible flood , Noah and his descendants would not perish.
For that purpose, Noah built an ark according to G-d's specifications and when the rains came, he and his family entered. But theirs was far from a pleasure cruise. For together with Noah and his family were gathered into the ark one pair each of all the existing non-kosher animals and seven pairs of each of the kosher animals.
What did Noah do for the entire year he was in the ark? He brought food for the animals, cleaned their stalls, and took care of their needs. Nor were the animals particularly appreciative. Our Sages relate that once when Noah delayed bringing food to one of the lions, the beast took a swipe at him and wounded him. Is this a befitting reward for a person whom G-d told was righteous?
Herein lies a fundamental lesson. No person exists for himself. We were created for service. The Jewish ideal is not a world where "the righteous sit crowned with their knowledge." That is a description of the World to Come, the afterlife, where the souls bask in Divine light. But until a person reaches that state, he must work.
We have all been given a mission - to prepare the world to be a dwelling for G-d. And to be complete, that dwelling must encompass every element of creation. Therefore every element of our environment is important and deserving of our concern and attention.
Simply put, a person cannot seclude himself in a synagogue or a house of study and claim that he is creating G-d's dwelling. For if all G-d wants is prayer and study, He would not have created a physical world. He would have made us spiritual beings with heightened intellectual potentials.
He did not do this. Instead, He made us mortals and placed us in a material environment. As such, our lives should be dedicated to the above mission, caring for every entity created within the world and revealing the G-dly spark it contains and the intent for which it was created. Man's task in life is to take that abstract ideal and make it actual.
The root of the Hebrew name "Noach" relates to the concepts of rest and satisfaction. Indeed, our Torah portion foreshadows the ultimate state of repose and satisfaction that will be reached in the era when, as Maimonides relates, "there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition, for good things will flow in abundance." On Noah's ark were lions, tigers, and other predators, and yet they dwelt in peace with other animals, anticipating the fulfillment of the prophecy, "The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat."
This motif can be detected as taking form already as evidenced by developments that are beginning to shape the contemporary business landscape. Rather than the dog-eat-dog competition that characterized previous generations, corporations are beginning to appreciate how each can gain more when two companies pool their efforts to bring about a greater good for mankind. Wealth is being gained, not by taking from others, but by combining care and know-how to produce products that will benefit others, compelling their desire to purchase them.
Similarly, in a personal sense, the time has come when we can graduate from the scarceness mentality that says that when one person has, the other lacks. The pie is big enough for all of us. And uniquely, it is the individuals who help others get their share who receive the largest pieces. This approach will precipitate the coming of the ultimate age of peace and cooperation that Mashiach will initiate.