This week’s Torah portion contains the famous story of Noah and the ark. This is such a familiar story that we easily remember the details of “two by two” and “forty days and forty nights” and rarely examine the deeper meanings in the text.
Genesis 7:7 states “Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his son’s wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood.” Note the order of those who entered the ark. The midrash Genesis Rabbah understands this to mean that the men and the women entered the ark separatelyand indeed, did not engage in marital relations during the time of the flood because it would have been unseemly to enjoy sex while people outside were drowning.
This sensitivity to the suffering of others is characteristic of the Sages. They understood that all people are interconnected with a web of relationships, and to enjoy unbridled pleasures while ignoring the cries of the distressed is contrary to the moral society that they envisioned.