Parashat Noah: What could TikTok and Facebook users learn from a 600 year old man who built an ark?

What could TikTok and Facebook users learn from a 600 year old man who built an ark?

“These are the stories of Noah. Noah was a righteous and perfect man, for his generation”

The Torah contextualizes a human being, who in the midst of a corruptive and chaotic reality is told by God to build an ark in order to be able to start over.

“Ele Toldot Noah” – These are the stories of Noah; Rashi explains that what precedes a good person is not genealogy, recognizing that the word Toldot can be read as “generations”, but rather his or her stories. “Ele Toldot Noah”.

The Torah contextualizes Noah not as a link in a genealogical chain but rather as someone who stands out by the virtue of his good deeds. 

The second part of this verse in the Torah portion is נח איש צדיק ותמים בדורותיו – he was a perfectly righteous man for his generation.

The emphasis of many interpretations is on the word “generation”, explaining that had Noah been born in a different generation, then the nature of his deeds and character wouldn’t have been more than just normal. The immediate comparison is with Abraham; When Abraham was told by God about the foreseen fate of the cities Sodom and Gemorah, he advocated for them. When Noah is told about the fate of the world he remains quiet.

Now, if we read Noah chronologically it’s very tempting to judge him as someone who didn’t do enough, because the next “stage” would be Abraham and Sarah’s commitment to do good. 

However, the Psalmist says “סור מרע ועשה טוב” – refrain from evil and do good. Each of these two values stands by its own merit. Reading them as an ascending line would undermine the immense power of סור מרע, of refraining from bad, from evil.

The Torah, in Parashat Noah,  is describing a negative social trend. And it is telling the story of a man and a family who were able to refrain from the temptation of taking part in that.

So what about TikTok and Facebook?

This week I received a letter from our school district, asking parents to speak with their children about refraining from engaging in harmful TikTok campaigns. It turns out that there are influencers in TikTok that every month give a new challenge for children to engage, record and post in social media. Last month it was vandalizing school restrooms. The superintendent said that this resulted in a huge financial cost for the school district.

It looks like even negative trends that seem to be beyond ridiculous succeed to gain followers. 

In addition, this week many of us heard the testimony of Frances Haugen, known today as the “Facebook whistleblower”. Mrs. Haugen worked at Facebook as a product manager in the field of civil integrity. She said that Facebook knows that negative content draws more engagement and attention and therefore they emphasize this kind of content in order to raise their usage and traffic. 

Setting aside the very important conversation about Facebook’s responsibility in this matter, I’d like to emphasize the fact that harmfulness and negativity are dangerously engaging. 

For years many of us have been looking at Noah as the one who was “just” able to refrain from evil, but what a lack of perspective in our “perspective”! We look at Noah in the realm of time. We look at Noah in the shade of Abraham, as if human actions followed a bettering and progressive course. And so, Noah was just ok, but not good enough, and this is because we are not really looking at him. 

The beauty of good deeds most often takes our attention and maybe because of its lack of visibility we tend to minimize refraining from evil to a stage in the process of “doing good”. However we shouldn’t be approaching this as  a progressive line but rather as two separate values.

Negative trends are constantly present in the story of humanity, and our generation, unfortunately,  is not different from that perspective. We see them on the road, in social media, in our civil discourse,  they are everywhere. 

We live in a time in which, thanks to things like social media, including Tik-Tok and Facebook, we have the possibility to see and experience many positive things. But it turns out that those good things can live next to very harmful and dangerous ones.

I wonder what it would be like for our society if we could look at Noah with refreshed eyes. Seeing him as no less than a hero for his time, and maybe for ours too! This would mean for us to reclaim the value of restraint. 

Then, perhaps, our need to build closed arks and remain in our silos would decrease, like the waters after 40 days of flood. Then, perhaps, we would feel less defensive and a bit more open.  

Then, perhaps, we would see, as Noah saw, a rainbow symbolizing that the storm has ended and that now is time for a new covenant.

May we recognize within ourselves the willpower for restraint and the courage to refrain. May our good deeds precede our name and may we find a path for righteousness in no other than our own generation. 

Shabbat Shalom

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