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ב"ה

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Friday, 23 October, 2020 - 10:05 am

The popular saying in the construction industry is, “Measure twice. Cut once.”

The Russian version takes it a whole bunch further: “Measure seven times and cut once.” Apparently, wood was in even greater demand in Russia of old…

Although Noach was not American or Russian, he seems to have taken this expression to a whole new level. Noach spent 120 years building the ark, as is described in this week’s eponymous parsha. Why did it take him so long?

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A high school principal told me he always waits at least one full day before administering serious punishment to misbehaving students. That way, he explained, I know I am not acting from angry impulse, but out of measured discipline.

Delaying the sentence assures that it is a just, compassionate and productive sentence.

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G-d asked Noach to build the ark to prepare for the flood. G-d was angry with the behavior of mankind. He wished to destroy the world. He decided that He would spare Noach and his family, but the rest would perish.

Yet G-d does not mete out His plan for another 120 years! Hashem waits one hundred twenty years before the flood actually begins. Why did Hashem wait so long to administer the deserving punishment? And, why did Hashem ask Noach to start construction immediately if the flood would not begin until over a century later?

*

Certainly, G-d need not be concerned with the human frailties of my friend the principal. But, G-d still chose to postpone. Because – although drastic measures are sometimes required – punishment is simply anathema to G-d’s character.

I gleaned a double-lesson from this. Acting immediately often means acting impulsively. When it comes to causing another person to suffer – even when justified – I should always delay. If it’s important enough for a piece of wood, how much more careful must we be when dealing with a fellow human being! And, if it’s important enough for G-d – when dealing with the most corrupt society in history – it’s important enough for me.

Even though G-d was not susceptible to our mood swings, He still wants us to learn about patience.

And He also wants us to recognize that the key is not punishing wayward people, but rather influencing them to mend their ways. The Almighty gave a 120-year warning to the citizens of the world, by way of Noach’s record-breaking construction project. Every time someone asked Noach what he was up to, the reply would be a warning of things to come. “Mend your ways and I will abandon my task,” Noach would say.

So maybe, my friend’s insistence on delaying punishment was not only good measure for himself, but also a lesson to students about the opportunities for redemption.

And maybe, the next time I am challenged by bad behavior from my children or others, I need to think about patiently guiding them to change, rather than simply enforcing discipline.

Often, when you measure again, you suddenly realize you need to cut somewhere else. And, every once in a while, you realize that you don’t need to cut in the first place.

Comments on: Measure Twice, Cut Once
10/25/2020

Yehuda wrote...

Yasher Koach, Rabbi.