The beginning of the Torah is not a short and sweet story. The narratives of Creation, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and Cain and Abel, leave us struggling to understand the mysteries of human behavior. Life and death, jealousy and responsibility are just some of the themes that we are forced to confront at the very beginning of the Torah. We could actually spend an entire year just trying to understand the first parsha of the Torah!
And then everything goes from bad to worse.
And G-d said to Noah: “The end of all flesh is come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them” (6:13)
Society has fallen apart. The Rabbis of the Midrash explain that the “violence” of the generation of the flood was destroyed because the “violence” that they committed involved idolatry, immorality and stealing. And within this corrupt generation, God finds Noah, the one man worth saving. The rest of the world is destroyed by flood, and Noah and his family survive to rebuild the world.
But why is Noah worth saving? The Torah uses a strange way of describing Noah’s goodness: it says Noah was a “righteous man in his generation”. The Talmud debates what this means. One possibility is that Noah was actually a mediocrity, and he would be considered righteous only in his generation, in comparison to the evil people he was surrounded by. The other view says Noah was so righteous, he wasn’t influenced by his generation, and that even in his generation, filled with corruption, he managed to remain righteous.
But what is this debate really about? Why would some Rabbis look back and see Noah as mediocrity?
To answer this question we need to understand the big picture. The book of Genesis is about the search for leadership. As the generations evolve, God is searching for someone who can be the spiritual leader that can inspire others and build a nation that follows God. Noah was a great individual who was righteous on a personal level; yes, he remained good despite the corrupt atmosphere around him. But he was not a leader. While he was building the ark, he did not tell the people around him that they needed to change their ways. He did not attempt to convince people to change their habits. Noah was righteous, but only for himself. A leader has to care enough to try to inspire others, and Noah fails as a leader. To find this leader for the world, God would have to wait another ten generations until he found Abraham.
Shabbat Shalom, Lisa
Questions for the Shabbat Table:
1. What is so bad about stealing? (lack of respect for others’ property)
2. What makes a good leader?
3. What makes someone a hero?
4. How do we live within a society whose values are sometimes the opposite of ours?