Toward Shabbat – Noach

In this week’s Parsha we read of Noach’s heroic trial enduring the massive flood, rainbows and drinking wine, doves and ravens, and his sacrifice of thanksgiving. Sometimes Noach is compared to Avraham and deemed lacking in comparison. (Some say that Noach was ‘Only righteous in his generation’, which was so low in morals and behavior). But I think that opinion is ill-conceived. None of us are perfect, and to focus on his flaws rather than the unbelievable endurance and commitment that Noach manifested is not helpful. I am always annoyed when people compare one person to another .(For eg. in sports, ‘Who is the greatest player,’ rather than acknowledging the greatness and uniqueness of each who have revealed extraordinary qualities. Aren’t they all great in different ways? To say one is ‘the Greatest.’ tends to diminish the greatness of the other. The thinking of ‘Either/OR’ , rather than ‘Both’ creates a culture of winners and ‘others.’
So, of the many unique qualities of Noach, I will emphasize one quality that can be inspiring to all of us and that we can learn from. I see Noach as an independent spirit. His name Noach-‘Easy’ (quiet, restful), reminds me of a ‘hippie’ who marches to his own tune, one who takes a different path than others and listens to a voice different than the masses. He may have been considered ‘maladjusted,’ doing something bizarre, something different than all those around him, as a ‘hippie’ who threatens ‘our way of life’. But Noach made history, for more than being pious, more than being ethical, but by being a genuine and authentic INDIVIDUALIST.
Just imagine building an odd-shaped, strange-looking boathouse in your backyard. And then lead a parade of animals through the streets of your neighborhood into this ark. Imagine what your friends and neighbors would say behind your back. You would have to be someone who cares more for what you feel you are called to do, and be able to ignore the naysayers, those who would not take a path that seems different than what is acceptable by the majority group.
The Midrash tells us that Noach’s neighbors reacted to Noach in a judgmental way. The confident, successful people of Noach’s community sneered at him, laughed behind his back, mocked him. They said: “Imagine that; he says we are all wicked and G-d is going to save him and those animals.” And yet Noach continued to build and gather, hoping that the people would awaken and change their ways and the flood would be averted. He hoped they would listen to his message, as he felt his mission was a passion that he had to follow to save the earth. Only a powerful individual, with a strong independent conviction could withstand the social belittlement, and gossip behind his back. In our day, we have witnessed Greta Thornberg as this archetypal example, standing up to ridicule and courageously following  the “Call of Noach to save our planet”!
What also is astounding and revealing from the Midrash is the description that we find in the Midrash of a fault that Noach was purported to have. From this supposed lack we can see the rare quality of faith and courage that Noach possessed. The man who defied his society, who built this odd-looking boat, who preached that the very earth would rebel against the immoral conduct of its inhabitants; that man, say the Rabbis, “lacked faith, and thus did not enter the Ark until the surging waters tugged at his knees: perhaps he thought , there will not really be a flood.” And later, when he was in the Ark, and the waters rocked his boat, he was still afraid he would die and prayed frantically, “O’ Lord, Help us, for we are not able to bear the evil that encompasses us!” The man Noach, who proceeded with such courage, and endured ridicule because of his conviction, still had moments of doubt and fear through his journey.
We learn from this that even our greatest heroes, men and women of great faith, are not freed from moments of doubts, from the ‘dark night of the soul.’ King David, a man of great faith utters many verses of anguish and doubt along with his great songs of praise to G-d. He shouts out “O’ Lord why have you abandoned me.” (Psalm.22). We Learn that the man or woman of faith, the great individualist is not always certain of his /her choice. They proceed with fear and trembling. They experience the risk of uncertainty, the risk of his being incorrect, of being a failure if their ideals and hopes are not realized. Though they are not absolutely sure, they still allow their faith to carry them through. In Noach, according to the Midrash, there is a recognition of a trace of doubt found in every great individualist, yet he preached, he prepared and he built. He was not completely certain that G-d would bring the flood or that he would survive it. And if the flood would not come, he endured the possibility that he would remain a social outcast in the larger society. He possessed the strength to bear the possibility of being a failure in the eyes of society, of family, of public opinion; the courage to be himself even when that self is not approved of by society; the courage to do something which is right and good, though unpopular; the courage to follow his conviction even with the risk of being ill thought of. That is the basis of the greatest kind of faith: to proceed even with the element of doubt that accompanies it. It necessitates COURAGE to proceed even with the risk of failure. (Pau Tillich, in ‘Faith and Doubt,’ writes that all great faith is always accompanied with doubt and courage. Absolute certainty without risk does not require courage and is sought when one is ruled by fear).
Today in our society we each must conjure up our strong faith to become an individualist. We live in a society where we are pressured and shaped by mass opinion and judgments. Our ideas and opinions have to be acceptable to others, our manners must be pleasing, and we must avoid at all costs the torture of being unpopular. When all the nations of the earth become intoxicated with their own selfish ends and ignore the path of ethical conduct; when hordes of politicians wantonly wreck the behavior necessary for the survival of our planet, when in laziness, fear and ignorance the crowds oppose progress and safety, we must have the courage to speak out and promote the necessary action for survival. Our Parsha in the name of G-d proclaims: “I will not continue to curse again the ground because of man, since the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again continue to smite every living being, as I have done. The days of the earth, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat , summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.”(Bereishit, 8:21-22). G-d promises never to destroy the earth, but WE (human beings) are in the danger of doing this destruction ourselves. We must stand up as Noach and save our earth from destruction; the floods, the fires, the drought are upon us through the work of our own hands. It is up to each of us to reverse this destruction of our planet!
Noach gets drunk after leaving the Ark! Perhaps because of his relief that he has survived, perhaps because of the destruction that he saw, perhaps out of survivors guilt, perhaps because of intense exhaustion and the need to de-stress.
Noach brings a sacrifice of gratitude to G-d for saving him and his family.
G-d makes a covenant to rebuild the earth, and gives a rainbow as a sign of beauty for a promising future. Let us continue to walk with Noach and the Lord and build and rebuild a world of love and beauty as the Lord expects we can do. Let us revivify our capacity to be an independent individual, and say ‘I can” and let us work together to save our beautiful planet, and let us say amen!
I wish you all a sweet and uplifting Shabbat!
Love and Blessings,
Rabbi Mel