King Shlomo, in Megilat Kohelet (9:14-15), imagines a city besieged by a powerful king, and a “wise, wretched man” cunningly devises a strategy to enable himself and the rest of the townspeople to escape. And yet, “not a person remembered that wretched man.” Despite his wisdom which saved the entire town, he received no recognition because he was poor, unknown, and not socially connected.
The Midrash (Midrash Zuta, Kohelet, cited by Torah Sheleima to Bereishit 8:1) applies this parable to Noach. God, the King, prepared to annihilate the earth, and Noach, the wise man, urged his fellow “townspeople” – his contemporaries – to repent. Alas, the verse tells, “not a person remembered that wretched man” – which the Midrash explains to mean that nobody paid heed to Noach’s warnings. The Midrash continues that the Almighty proclaimed, “You did not remember him – but I will remember him.” And thus the verse states that after the flood, “God remembered Noach and all the beasts and animals that were with him on the ark, and God had a wind pass over the earth, and the water subsided” (8:1). Nobody paid attention to Noach – except God, who protected Noach and his family during the flood, and ended the flood so they could exit the ark and began their lives anew.
Very often, we use fame and prestige as the barometer with which to gauge people’s success and even worth, equating renown and popularity with achievement. The unfortunate result of this distorted perception is that many people focus their efforts on earning respect and recognition, instead of following their beliefs and convictions, and living the life which they think is best for them. Too many people spend their lives trying to win approval and recognition, rather than living according to their ideals, pursuing their ambitions, and maximizing their unique potential. The Midrash here teaches that we should not be concerned about whether or not we are “remembered” by other people – whether we are noticed, recognized and given respect – but rather about how God “remembers” us. What should matter to us is what the Almighty thinks of us, not what other people think of us. Noach was ridiculed and scorned by his contemporaries, but was lovingly “remembered” by God, who cherished Noach’s piety to the extent that He saved the earth and allowed human life to continue in Noach’s merit. We are assured that even if people do not know of, or respects, our efforts to act righteously, these efforts are highly regarded by God, which is all that truly matters.