Torah Portion: Noah
Book of Genesis
October 16, 2015
By way of introduction to Noah, the Torah states, “Noah was a righteous and blameless man in his generation.” (Gen. 6:9) The commentary in the Eitz Hayim translation of the Torah informs the reader “a righteous person (tzadik) is one whose conduct God finds to be irreproachable. A blameless person (tamim) is one whose unimpeachable integrity makes the enjoyment of God’s fellowship possible.” Given what the Torah will relate with regard to Noah’s life and times, one is left wondering what, in fact, makes him so righteous and blameless?
When God told Abraham he was going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the moral wickedness of the population, Abraham argued with God to save these lives. When God informed Noah he was going to destroy the entire world because of the corruption of humankind, but save Noah’s family and a handful of animals in an ark, Noah said nothing. The author and chronicler of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel, writes, “As soon as [Noah] learned that he himself was not in danger, he stopped asking questions, he stopped worrying altogether.”
Karen Armstrong, a participant in Bill Moyer’s dialogue series In The Beginning: An Interpretation Of The Book Of Genesis, juxtaposes the actions of Oskar Schindler to those of Noah: “A playboy and a philanderer, Schindler was no “righteous man” in the conventional sense of the word. . .Yet, ultimately he proved to be more righteous than Noah, risking his own life to rescue people deemed unworthy of life by his own society and peers. Most of Schindler’s contemporaries behaved like Noah, blocking out all knowledge of the carnage that was being perpetrated around them, obeying orders in order to save themselves and their immediate family.”
To trust in and be faithful to God, is that sufficient to be considered righteous? To blindly obey God’s calling, is that an indication of righteousness? Being faithful and caring to one’s family and an ark full of animals, while in the presence of a catastrophic destruction of lives, is that an act of righteousness? Is any of this enough to be consideredblameless?
The Babylonian Talmud offers this interpretation of the verse “Noah was a righteous and blameless man in his generation”-“In his generation, Rabbi Yohanan pointed out, but not in other generations. However, according to Resh Lakish, the verse intimates that even in his generation Noah was a righteous man, all the more so in other generations.”
What do you think? What are the limits of humankind’s responsibility for one another? Is righteousness a relative term? The ancient Rabbi Hillel said it best: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But, if I am only for myself, what sort of person am I? And, if not now, when? (Ethics Of Our Ancestors, chap. 1:14)
Rabbi Howard Siegel