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Noah 5782 - Measure Twice, Cut Once

October 8, 2021

Whenever I’m assisting Rabbi Feivel with building anything, he always reminds me, “Measure twice, cut once.” God reminds Noah of the same principle, as he builds an ark to save a remnant of God’s Creation. In the first detailed materials and measurement list of the Torah, God tells Noah:

Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make it an ark with compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make an opening for daylight in the ark, and terminate it within a cubit of the top. Put the entrance to the ark in its side; make it with bottom, second, and third decks (Genesis 6:14-16).

Of course, this will not be God’s last materials and measurements list, and it will certainly not be the longest. A large chunk of the book of Exodus revolves around the exact layout and composition of the mishkan, our Tabernacle in the desert, and the sixth chapter of Kings 1 details the layout and composition of the mikdash, our holy Temple in Jerusalem. In Noah’s specific case, 12th century Spanish commentator Ibn Ezra teaches, God’s specific measurements are given so that the ark will both be spacious enough to hold all of the animals and stable enough that it will float. If water seeps into this ark, all of Creation will be destroyed. The specificity of those measurements are crucial to the survival of each and every species in existence.

We, too, can stand to learn to measure twice and cut once. Those who engage in building projects understand that one missing screw or one uneven board can send a table or chair crashing to the floor. Those who dabble in wiring or car maintenance know that a moment of carelessness can lead to injury or worse. In less dire circumstances, neglecting that time to record notes and measurements can result in five hours of work, followed by the realization that it could have been completed in thirty minutes and just a bit more initial reflection. 

For those of us who are not builders or fixers, that extra moment of thinking about our words and their consequences can change everything. One comma put in the wrong place or one misspelled word can lead to disaster in a work email. A big breath or two and a minute of reflection can prevent us from sending a text message or posting something on social media that may hurt someone we never intended to offend. As I mentioned over Rosh HaShanah, just a second’s pause can keep us from sharing an unnecessary or even inappropriate thought. Just that second’s pause can allow us to reshape our written or spoken words in ways that can best be heard by those we wish to read and hear.

When I think about our core principle - measuring twice and cutting once - I am reminded of the Boeing 737 Max, the airliner that caused 346 deaths, and after its 20 months of grounding, $80 billion of fines and losses to Boeing. Boeing, a company that has been active for 105 years, could not foresee  the consequences that would come from pressuring its designated aircraft inspectors to disregard the flaws they recognized in the 737 Max. When a company has been successful for so long, a mentality can develop that there’s no need to double check - after all, they’ve built aircrafts relatively safely thus far.

None of us in this room have lived the 105 years that Boeing has existed. If Boeing can experience so much ruin through its corporate hubris, none of us here are experienced enough at our trade or in our relationships to risk acting, speaking, or building too quickly. After all, even after his six hundred years of life, Noah still builds according to everything that God commands, observing each and every instruction. Checking twice requires humility, a recognition that even though we are made in the image of a perfect God, we are each imperfect, even in the habits and relationships with which we feel the most comfort. On this Shabbat, when negative commandments prevent us from building or planting or creating something new, let us take the time to practice reflection on our plans for the week to come. Today, we measure our future actions and words twice before we take those steps and make those cuts. Shabbat Shalom.

Thu, April 18 2024 10 Nisan 5784