Parashat Noah: Finding Grace in God’s Eyes
God had determined that the world was not worthy of continued existence, but one man – Noah – would be spared, together with his family. The final verse of Parashat Bereshit tells us that "Noah Masa Hen Be’eneh Hashem" – "Noah found grace in God’s eyes." One commentator explained that ordinarily, when a decree is issued against an entire society, it is applied even to the righteous minority. Hence, the decree of annihilation issued against the earth in Noah’s time should have included even him, despite the fact that he was a Sadik. A collective decree is carried out against the entire society, and thus even Noah should have been drowned by the floodwaters. However, an exception was made because "Noah found grace in God’s eyes." Noah had a certain quality of "Hen," grace. We all know people who have something about them, a certain charm, that draws people’s favor and fondness, that attract affection and friendship. It seems that Noah possessed this quality in relation to God. He had a certain charm that earned him God’s grace and favor, allowing him to survive the flood.
The question, then, arises, how does one achieve this "Hen"? How does one "find grace in God’s eyes"? What is the secret to earning God’s special favor that protects us from harm?
One answer may be found in a verse in Mishleh (3:34): "La’anavim Yiten Hen" – "He grants grace to the humble." A person earns God’s grace through humility, by conducting himself modestly, rather than showing off, boasting and calling attention to himself. We know this is true when it comes to earning the grace and favor of other people. People are naturally drawn to show kindness and favor to those who are humble and are not looking to promote themselves, whereas we are naturally repulsed by people who boast and show off. The Pasuk in Mishleh teaches that this is how it is with God, as well. We earn the Almighty’s favor through humility, by avoiding boasting and self-promotion.
There is, however, an additional element to this quality of "Hen," and that is Torah study. The Gemara teaches that when one studies Torah at night, he is endowed with a certain charm the following day. Torah learning has an impact upon our personalities and characters, bestowing upon us a special quality of charm. Elsewhere, the Gemara relates that when Rabbi Zera received his ordination, his colleagues sang a song in his honor, saying that he does not need cosmetics to beautify himself. Rashi explains that the Torah he had studied had a "cosmetic" effect and made him charming. The Torah we study has the unique power to grant us "Hen" and enable us to earn God’s favor.
These are two ways in which we can be worthy of God’s special grace – humility, and Torah learning. By conducting ourselves in a humble, unassuming manner, and by setting aside time for Torah, we earn Hashem’s special favor and help ensure that we, like Noah, will be spared harsh decrees.