Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32)

What Does Your Ark Look Like?

These are the offspring of Noah; Noah as a righteous man, perfect in his generation…(Gen. 6:9)

Was Noah truly righteous OR was he righteous only in his generation? If he had lived in the generation of Abraham, he would not have been considered anything of significance. According to this explanation, Noah seems mediocre but when compared to the morally corrupt people of his own generation, he was the best of them. This second approach seems unflattering, unless we view from a completely different perspective. 

We can actually understand Noah’s being righteous only in his generation in a positive light. While it is certainly true that the actual level of commitment and spirituality of Noah was less than Abraham, he still was better off in leadership and spirituality than he would have been if he had lived in Abraham’s generation because if Noah had been a cohort of Abraham, he would have had little incentive to strive for greatness. If an average person lives next to a great person, it’s easy to be lazy and feel that someone else will be the courageous leader. One might say, “when I’m honest with myself, I pale in comparison to him; I’m just a simple layman with limited knowledge and talent.”

Noah, however, did not live in the generation of Abraham, he lived in “his generation.” In reality, he was greater than he would have been in another generation. This fits in well with the Talmudic statement “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.”

If you look at the Jewish community in the United States, we’re not living in a generation of Abrahams; we have the opportunity to be Noah, who tried to warn his generation about the impending flood but no one listened. In our times, there are two floods threatening to destroy the Jews. One is antisemitism; the country’s most prestigious universities supporting outright terrorism, blaming Israel for the barbaric cruelty they endured about two weeks ago. But we’ve lived, survived, and even thrived during terrible periods of Jew hatred during the past 2000 years. The most threatening flood of our existence is assimilation. We might not have many Abrahams to guide us but let’s at least be Noah and read the writing on the wall—and do something about it. He built an ark; we need to build Jews so that we can protect them from the modern-day flood called assimilation.

Noah made an ark out of wood but the Jewish ark over the centuries has been engaging in our identity and understanding the incredibly profound and practical texts that have guided us. When Jews learned Torah, their heritage, it gave them pride, courage, and the tenacity needed to remain Jewish. It was true in Greece, Rome, medieval and post renaissance Europe until the modern era.

How does one feel pride in being Jewish? You can’t be proud about something you don’t know about. We can’t fight the antisemites in the Middle East—or America—but we can remain proud Jews who stand up to the absurdly false rhetoric we are enduring. We need more knowledgeable Jews because those Jews will see it as their responsibility to instill pride in their family and community.

Now more than ever the Jewish people needs you to build an ark; what kind will you build? If you don’t know where to begin, you’re in good company; give us a call and you will be pleasantly shocked at how easy it is and how much light you can bring to our people—and the rest of the world.   

Good Shabbos

(Sources: Rashi; R. Dovid Kronglass)