Most are aware of the argument over whether Noah was truly a “righteous” man, a role model for all times or whether he was a “righteous” man only in comparison to others of his generation. This argument is based on the phrase describing Noach in the Parasha in Genesis 6:9 as a “tzadik tamim b’dorotav” –a righteous man in his generation. No less than the great Rashi calls this only qualified praise, while others say that it is even greater praise because it is even more difficult to be righteous when one is surrounded by evil.
Beyond that one must ask the question why God waited another 10 generations to start what would become the Jewish people. What was the difference between a Noach and an Avraham?
One of the most brilliant Jewish minds and best English writers alive, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks recently wrote about this by sharing an obscure Midrash on the interesting sentence in this week’s Parasha that God told Noah, “Come out of the ark.” Genesis 8:16. Noach had sent out a raven and sent out a dove 3 times. Noach knew that the flood was over and there was again dry land on which to live. Noach and his family had already been cooped up in the ark for more than a full year! Why did God need to tell Noach to come out of the ark? Rabbi Sacks presented the Midrash that Noach said to himself that since he was instructed to enter the ark by God, he should wait for permission from God to leave the ark. The Midrash goes on to quote criticism from the Sage Rabbi Judah bar Ilai that if he had been Noach, he would have smashed down the door himself to get out of the ark. Hmmmm. What is wrong with waiting for God’s instructions?
This, the Sages point out, may be the difference between a Noach and an Avraham. Avraham, as we will read again next week in Lech Lecha, is also instructed to take courageous action. Avraham is not told to build an ark, but Avraham is told to leave his home and homeland. However, once Avraham does so, Avraham takes it upon himself to be proactive in building a new and ethical, monotheistic society. Avraham is the person who argues with God over the destruction of Sodom, who risks all in going to war to save his nephew Lot of dubious renown, and who must be stopped from his zealous faith before implementing God’s test over Isaac.
Our Sages tell us that this is what it means to be a Jew, to be proactive in making the world a better place through acts of Tikkun Olam, tzedaka, housing the homeless, feeding the hungry and through any act of kindness.
The ark is the symbol of the place of refuge and the comfort zone. Ark in Hebrew is “tevah.” It also is the word used for a basket such as the one that carried baby Moses in the Nile. Moses, also like Avraham, left his comfort zone in the splendor of Pharaohs’ palace to help his people.
Only by breaking out of our arks and leaving our comfort zones can we truly fulfill our missions.
God has already given us permission and given us instruction. God wants us to move ahead.
This Shabbat we learn with Rabbi Herbert Yoskowitz on this week’s Parasha on the subject of “Love-kindness-curiosity versus obsessive narcissism in the Flood and Tower of Babel stories.” Humankind does not seem to get off to a very good start in the beginning. What can we learn from this?
Please join with us a 9:45 a.m. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like. We will finish in time for the Rabbi’s Sermon in the Main Sanctuary.