For 120 years, Noach fulfilled G-d’s commandment and built the ark, all the while warning the people in his generation about the impending flood. When people would pass by his house and ask what he was doing, he would reply, “The Almighty said that He is bringing a flood upon the world”. The people reacted with vicious mockery.(see Breishit Raba, 30:7)
The question that can be asked is the following: For 120 years, Noach warned of the flood. And what came out of it? At first glance, absolutely nothing! In the end, the flood wiped out the entire world, except for whom? Except for Noach and his family. Not even one person was convinced to do “tsheuva”. Not even one! Noach’s “life endeavor” of 120 years was a waste of time. Or was it?
The story of Noach provides us with a concrete illustration as to what the true role of the chastising prophet is. Certainly, the major goal of the warnings and admonishment are to direct the people onto the proper path, in the hope that they will do “tsheuva” immediately . But in contrast as to what one might think, if the prophet does not succeed in bringing the people to “tsheuva”, this does not necessarily mean that he failed! A deeper look will reveal that the rebuke in itself has value. If we look at the prophets of Israel, we will notice an amazing fact: Generally speaking, they were a dismal failure. It seemed as if they influenced no one. The people were not interested in hearing them, and did not change their evil ways. Does this mean that there was no value in the warnings of the prophets? Of course not. After all, the words of the prophets are inscribed forever in our Holy Bible.
The answer to this question can be found in G-d’s words to Ezekhiel when He appoints him as prophet (chapter 2): And He said to me, Son of man, I sent thee to the children of Israel … that have rebelled against me… and you shall say to them, Thus says the Lord G-d. And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will refuse to hear, (for they are a rebellious house,) so they shall know that there has been a prophet amongst them”. And afterwards (3:7): “But the house of Israel will not hearken to you…” Can this be? If G-d knows that they won’t listen, why send Ezekhiel out and put him through such humiliation and abuse?
And so a new concept is learned here. The saying of truth has value, even if it has no apparent influence at that particular moment. What is the value? “So that they will know that a prophet was amongst them.” Even if immediate results are not seen, the value of the warnings are that they manifest the bringing in of G-d’s word into the world. The prophet who expresses G-d’s truth is giving expression to G-d’s actual presence in this world. It is showing us that the world is not “hefker” (chaos). There is justice in the world. By so doing, the prophet, in essence, sanctifies G-d’s Name.
We must realize: Even when it seems that the people are not listening, it is still an obligation to say the truth. Firstly, for the reason given in the Gemorah: “If before You (before G-d) it is known (that they won’t listen) – for them (the righteous who are supposed to rebuke), who says it is known?! (Shabbat, 58 – see in greater detail). In other words, we can never be sure whether or not our words will have an influence, and therefore, we must say them. But even more than this, we must realize that the words may have an impact tens or even hundreds of years down the road, as is written about the prophets whose influence upon the people they spoke to was not apparent, yet: “Prophecy which is needed for future generations is written down”.
Our teacher Rabbi Meir Kahane, HY”D, saw his major role as one of a”prophet” who must warn and rebuke the people. That is, to say the truth of G-d; the same truth which no one else dares to express, thanks to 101different excuses (“it’s not practical”, “it’s not realistic”). And while at a specific point in time it may appear that all efforts are in vain, such is not the case in the long run. For in the long run, it is going with the truth all the way which makes the real impact on the nation and on the course of history.