Certainly we know that Jews should be giving people. But why? It’s a religious imperative, of course, but there’s also an added benefit: Giving seems to lead to increased mental health and life expectancy.
Some studies indicate that caregivers (even for non-family members) and those who consistently volunteer live longer than other people. Some studies even link owning pets with a longer life span.
When Hashem tells Noach to gather the animals into the ark before the flood, He makes two seemingly contradictory remarks. First he says to bring the animals to the ark (“tavi el hateivah”), but then He says the animals will come to him (“yavo’u eilecha”).
Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that Hashem was telling Noach that he won’t have to seek out the animals from their natural habitats since all the animals will approach Noach. Once they arrive near the ark, though, Noach would have to bring them inside.
This answer leaves us wondering, though: If G-d miraculously ensured that all the animals 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. From the perspective of strict judgment (“din”), Noach did not merit being saved from the flood. The only way he could survive is if G-d dealt with him with mercy (“rachamim”). But to earn G-d’s mercy, Noach needed to demonstrate mercy.
So while G-d could have just brought the animals into the ark, it was imperative that Noach be afforded the opportunity to demonstrate his ability to be compassionate by escorting them into the ark.
The stated purpose of this whole enterprise was “lehachyot – to make live.” The verb is intransitive, which means we don’t know who, or what, was supposed to live as a result of Noach’s actions. The Radak explains that the verb refers to the animals. But the 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. His acts of mercy triggered G-d’s mercy. By becoming the caretaker of the animals, Noach himself was 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 long, happy and healthy lives.