Parashat Noah: Restart! Every man to himself!
The Torah tells us in 6:9 that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time”. Therefore God asked him to build an ark for himself and for his family, where they, together with representative animals of all species, would be saved from the flood which was coming to eliminate the corrupt humanity which inhabited the earth.
Who was Noah?
Torah commentaries discuss much the significance of the clarification “in his time” and strongly criticize Noah. Why did Torah have to include such a clarification?
When God orders Noah to build that Ark for himself and his family, and announces to him that the flood is about to come, Noah submits and does what “God orders”.
Why is this criticized? We have in the Torah other examples of behavior confronting the divine rage. Moshe (Moses) for example confronted God pleading for the welfare of his People.
Noah was quiet. And this silence is extremely loud! Our sages have much difficulty with his figure. They explain that the clarification “in his time” is because this was a time of high corruption, and Noah was acceptable in his behavior; it is important to emphasize that he was certainly not a model to follow!
In this case, what does Noah symbolize? Noah, in Hebrew comes from the letters Nun Chet נח – Nochut, comodity, Lahuach, to rest, Nechama, consolation.
Noah is he who drives in accordance with traffic laws but who will not stop to help when he sees an accident.
Noah is he who won’t bother you, but will not help you either.
Noah is he who is a fine student but would never help a mate do his homework.
Noah is he who grabs the lifeline as he’s jumping off the sinking boat, not looking around, and shouting “every man for himself!”.
Noah demonstrates indifference rather than sensitivity and solidarity. Symbolically Noah is saved by enclosing himself inside an ark. Noah does not ask, as Abraham did, to find a righteous man in Sodom. He abides…
And in this aspect the Rabbinical commentary is fascinating, because our sages do not forgive Noah his lack of rebellion. They don’t forgive him for not having argued with God because they are very worried that he might become to be viewed as a model figure to pursue, a biblical hero, when in fact he represents everything that Judaism tries not to be.
Our Judaism is the tool we use in order to fight our own indifference and to express our commitment to our world. We do not build arks to enclose ourselves in. We rather try to make connections, and while strengthening our moral identity – to bond, to open our hearts and to encounter the magical diversity of creation.
It is our unique moral identity through which we connect to God, and which at the same time authorizes us to be critical. Weare obliged to constantly challenge our comfort, our mediocrity and our indifference.
When we are tired and exhausted and only wish to shout: “save yourself whoever can!!” Judaism is the part of our conscious which rises and shouts “Letaken Olam Bemalchut Shaddai” – repair the world under God’s sovereignty!
You’re probably asking yourself – if this is the case, why did God choose Noah to be the one who builds the ark? There can be several answers to this. One of these is because there wasn’t anyone else, perhaps…
I personally like the idea that Noah represents “the middle of the way”. He is just, he is not good nor bad, and in this way he represents the human potential of being, which started with Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, converting paradise into the world and their own almost-angelic character into humanity, and starting the time of moral decadence which followed. Noah symbolizes the opportunity to start once again, not only with his virtues but also through his deficiencies, his potential… God “pressed restart” on humanity, put it back to “zero”, but this time he did not create “Yesh Me’ayin” – he did not create Man out of nothing, but rather chose to continue humanity, keeping the “memory card”, granting free will and choice but this time together with the ability to discern good from evil. Keeping Noah alive is the deed which makes us remember the Garden of Eden, which preserves the memory of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge in this world. And interestingly, it is in order to preserve free will that Noah is actually an unattractive man. He is a mere potential.
What is the formula to realize this potential? I’d like to share with you a biblical idea (Psalms 34):
12 Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.
Remember, it is not only turning away from evil and enclosing yourself in an ark! It is also throwing a lifeline to those who are around you.
Rabbi Nico Socolovsky