Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Noach
With the storms that have crashed through the Carolinas and the Gulf Coast, I am tempted to write about the power of water and the line between devastation and renewal it negotiates. I would have to launch a conversation on Climate Change, environmentalism, and all things earthy. As I sat down to outline this conversation, I could not get past the beginning of the portion. Noah was a righteous man, IN HIS GENERATION. He was the best that his generation had to offer; a generation that was so evil that it warranted drowning with 40 days of torrential rains and the resulting flooding.
Now, I am not a Biblical literalist and do not believe the text to be historical, but I can’t help but marvel at the psychological and sociological truths that the text keeps bringing to light. Noah followed all the rules. God said, “Build an ark.” Noah built the ark. God said, “Take your wife and children and their wives on the ark. He put those people on the ark. God said, “Take two of every unclean animal and seven sets of every kosher animal and bring them on the ark.” Noah did as God instructed. He shut the ark, sealed it with pitch and waited out the storm.
We do not know if Noah had grandchildren or not, but no one asked about them in any event. Noah’s grandfather is Methuselah – the oldest man in the Bible. He never even asks if grandpa can get in the ark. The oldest man in the Bible dies in the flood without a word from his grandson. Did Noah ask about the other people? The rabbis create redeeming stories that say he did, but the Torah does not say so. Nor does he offer any words for the innocent animals that he left behind. He followed the “rules.”
Funny thing, though, our tradition does not speak of Noah amongst the righteous ancestors. We revere Avraham Avinu – Abraham, our patriarch. We honor Moshe Rabbaenu – Moses, our teacher. We acknowledge that all of humanity stems through the Noah story, but we never speak of him as the great ancestor. Abraham argued with God over Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses took God to task atop Mt. Sinai and then throughout the journey. We cherish individual thought. We admire people who stand up to do what is right. Sometimes, the “rules” are challenges, begging us to ask. We fail when we do not.
At times, Torah begs for the reader to debate the text, and in the midst of the debate, we have to struggle with what we know to be the right answer and the one proffered in writing. Our tradition teaches that in any question where we have to choose between life and death (blessings and curses), we must choose life.
The most important teaching in our tradition comes from Pirke Avot (Mishnah – compiled 1900 years ago). “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what good am I? If not now, when?” We have never settled for celebrating our own safety and security without regard for those left behind. Great leaders throughout time have postulated that we are not separate nations. Ultimately, we are “One Humanity.” If one person lives under oppression, none of us can live freely. Noam Chomsky went to the mat and argued, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” Rules that let some of us achieve while others fail are not humane rules, and certainly not in keeping with what faith traditions refer to as a “Loving God.” Certainly, circumstances often leave us powerless to change every situation but to never put forth an argument to protect another life is unthinkable and unholy.
In this respect, unlike the way in which we celebrate him in baby nurseries, Noah may have been the best his generation had to offer, but he was in no way holy. Never once did he ask on behalf of any other life. Following rules that lead to the destruction of life can never be a way in which we would choose to live. And yet, we live in a world where the mantra of political leadership begins and ends with “MY POWER – especially at the expense of my opposition.” It seems to me that if we figured out how to better behave at the beginning of these conversations, the rest of them would fall in to place. If we really cared for each other’s well being, we would not be arguing about Climate Change or the host of other “human well-being” matters that we have politicized at all cost. If one prays, one can do better. Humanity depends on it. Shabbat Shalom.