Noah - weekly Torah portion
"Noah walked with God”, we are told, and “Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.” Overall he was a good man, he did what he was told to do. He does not ask questions, he does not annoy. “God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt”, the people are evil, and God decided, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.” All but very few are going to perish and Noah, Noah he works on the ark. He does not ask questions, does not wonder the issue, and he certainly does not fight the decision to get rid of so many people. As we said, overall he was a good man, he did what he was told to do.
Abraham, the father of the nation, when he hears of a much small scale of disaster, two cities, Sodom and Gomora, and he speaks up, he is unwilling to accept the Godly verdict. The two cases, that of Noah and that of Abraham are similar, just that in Abraham’s case it is not practically all of humanity that is eradicated, only two cities, cities of corruption and evilness. But Abraham? Abraham argues, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” Abraham really knows that there is no way that there are fifty righteous people there so when he gets some he continues, “Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Can we find this kind of willingness to confront God? He just goes out and builds the ark, he takes care of those who are close and dear to him but fails to see the entire picture.
Moses, the greatest prophet of our nation, finds himself time and time again in a similar situation that Noah did many generations before, on each one of the many occasions when the Israelites come to him full of complaints. When God suggests to get rid of the People and leave only Moses and his family, Moses is there to defend the People. Not only his immediate family, he does not build and Ark for them or himself, one which will sail over troubled waters. Rather he confronts the issue and changes the verdict. While Abraham went out of his way to defend complete strangers, Moses defended his own People, but both of them, Moses and Abraham, looked at the broad picture that went way beyond the selfish view of their immediate relatives. Even though they know that they may be harmed by those that they save today, they still find ways to defend them.
It is told that when rabbi Levy Yitzchak of Berditchev was appointed the chief justice of the town the leader of the community resolved that they will not have him come to confirm laws and rules which are old and known. There is no need to have this important man deal with those, it was argued. One day they were busy putting in place a new rule that had to do with beggars. Instead of having them roam the streets and knocking the doors of houses around the town they would instead come once a month to receive a portion of Tsdaka from the synagogue coffers for Tsdaka. They of course asked the rabbi to join and he said that there was no need to do so as this was an well-known rule and that there was no need for him to talk about it. The leaders of the community, surprised, asked him to explain. He responded that this was already known from the times of Sodom and Gomorra, who’s intolerance towards Tsadaka was discussed in the Bavli. In this way the rabbi defended those weak people of society who do not have someone else to speak for them, and of course none of the leaders wanted anything to do in connection of the evil people of Sodom and Gomorra.
Noah was a good man, and he walked with God, but may be forget to spend some time with his human peers. Maybe he was the most worthy person to be saved in his generation but not necessarily the best to learn from when dealing with the relationships between humans. When trouble times hit us we should not learn from Noah but rather from Abraham and Moses. Take a stand that can save not only us but also others who may be otherwise doomed. It is not always possible to save all, but may be if we try we can save some. In some senses the way to save begins with our very own behavior, the things that we demand from ourselves and can provide as an example. A behavior that allows us to lead through paths that may be tough and that requires dealing with enormous forces. Sometimes they are there simply to challenge us and when we are willing to be challenged we also find a way around that results in some of the most magnificent solutions.
Reuven Marko, 12 October 2018, 4 MarChesvan, 5779