While perhaps our motivation for being giving people should be because it is a religious imperative or because it is just the right thing to do, there is an added benefit as it seems to lead to increased mental health and life expectancy. Some studies link being a caregiver, whether for a family member or for others, with living longer. Others indicate that people who consistently volunteer outlive those that don’t. There are even studies that link owning and taking care of pets with a longer life span.
When Noach is commanded to gather the animals there are two seemingly contradictory instructions. On the one hand he is told that that he should bring the animals to the ark (“tavi el hateiva”), and on the other, he is told that the animals will come to him (“yavo-u eilecha”) (6:19-20). Rabbeinu Bechaye clarifies that the intent is that Noach will not have to go and seek out the animals from their natural habitats as the animals will all approach Noach. Once they arrived near the ark, Noach was tasked to bring them inside. Yet, we are left wondering, if G-d would provide a miracle that ensured that the animals all came to Noach, why make him responsible for bringing them into the ark? Why not just finish the miracle and have the animals board the ark on their own?
Rabbi Moshe Alshich provides a powerful explanation. If viewed from a perspective of strict judgement (“din”), Noach did not merit being saved either. The only way he would survive is if G-d dealt with him with mercy (“rachamim”). Yet, in order to earn G-d’s mercy, Noach needed to demonstrate his own acts of mercy. He needed to commit acts of kindness and generosity in order to warrant being saved. G-d could have just brought the animals into the ark, but it was imperative that Noach be afforded the opportunity to interact with the animals and demonstrate his ability to be compassionate. Therefore, the animals were just brought to Noach, but he needed to physically escort them into the ark.
The stated purpose in the pesukim of this whole enterprise, is in order “lehachyot” – to make live. The verb is intransitive, meaning that it does not explicitly state who is made to live through Noach’s actions. Radak explains that it is referring to the animals. Noach was responsible for the physical health of the animals and needed to provide food for them daily in order that they live. Alshich, building off his thesis that Noach needed to exhibit his ability to act mercifully in order to survive, explains that “lehachyot” can also be referring to Noach. By becoming the caretaker of the animals, Noach himself would be granted a longer life.
In a world flooded with verbal violence and hostility, we would do well to learn a lesson from Noach. Let us act with compassion, mercy, and generosity to all beings. By doing so, may we merit G-d’s mercy and be granted with long, happy and healthy lives.