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Entries in Noah (2)


We Must Not Be Noah

A blog post at Times of Israel


Noah and his moment

This year I have been feeling the story of Noah very deeply. Particularly, the image of this man who essentially went through a Holocaust with his family.

There is an interesting tension within our commentators (revolving around the words "in his generations") between those who would see Noah as righteous and those who would see him as mediocre at best.

It's easy to judge Noah. He wasn't Abraham - he did not plead to G-d to save the world, and he did not run around telling everyone that they needed to repent. He was "נח", passive. That is why we do not adopt him as one of our patriarchs or as a role model.

Abraham was told "Lech Lecha, leave behind everything you know and set out on a long journey." So was Noah. Both obeyed G-d. 

Abraham opened his house to guests. Noah built a (floating) house and faithfully took care of hundreds of animal guests for over a year.

Yet to be fair, Noah did not have any role models for action. G-d came and told him to do something very difficult, and he did it. He obeyed. We praise Abraham for his obedience at the Akedah, why should we not give Noah the credit for fulfilling the extremely challenging task he was given.

You could argue that neither did Abraham have any role models before him. True. But he did have Noah and the flood story (a midrash even claims that Noah was still alive when Abraham was born). He had a negative example to learn from. He also had a contemporary (and who knows, perhaps he even spoke to him?) to whom G-d had spoken and who had obeyed.  In other words, perhaps without Noah there could not have been an Abraham. Noah's actions and activities created the basis, was a precursor, for the greatness of Abraham.

Hegel speaks of thesis and anti-thesis. Perhaps Noah's very passivity and lack of pleading (thesis) led to the antithesis, Abraham's active mode and his intercession before G-d.

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But, truth to tell, Noah did miss a tremendous opportunity. After the flood, all idol-worship had been wiped out. There was only Noah and his family, and they know of the one G-d. Judaism's entire theology is bent towards the day when the entire world will know G-d. Noah had an opportunity to set the world on a foundation of monotheism when he emerged from the ark; to go out into the world and serve G-d. Instead, he got drunk and ended up cursing his own descendants. It is hard to blame Noah for getting drunk - he must have been unimaginably traumatised by emerging from the ark into a world where nothing he had known even existed any more and everyone was dead. But it was a lost opportunity and hence, it was subsequently up to Abraham to try to introduce monotheism into a world already riddled with idol-worship.

N.B. Interestingly enough, a lecture I heard last week by Dr Paula Friedrikssohn taught me that during the time of Jesus, another such moment came along in history. At that time, pagans were pluralists, and even those who might admire the Israelite G-d, would still cling to their own nation's gods. In other words, the norm was to worship numerous gods at the same time, but never to let go of your family gods. Along came Saul/Paul and began to announce to the pagans that they must surrender their idols and worship only the G-d of Israel (who was of course the G-d that Jesus and his followers believed in, being Jewish). At that time, many pagans converted to a form of Judaism, or at least Jewish belief (I am not sure if they had any practice).

Of course, the moment was lost, on some level, when this form of Judaism then morphed into a new religion that no longer resembled Judaism. Still, this series of events set into motion the advent of a new monotheistic trend in the world that would come to embrace millions and bring them closer to one G-d. Let's hope, pray and believe that this has to be a good thing.