Dvar Torah on Parshat Noah
Published by the Israel Religious Action Center, October 15, 2012
This week’s parshah contains the story of Noah. Noah built an ark. He brought in two of each animal, one male and one female. Noah’s wife and three sons and their wives all entered the ark. It rained for forty days and forty nights. Then God placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign that there would never be another event that would destroy human and animal societies in one fell swoop. So goes the commonly known story of Noah and the ark.
A careful read of Torah provides additional important details. Noah is referred to as a righteous man in his generation. What does that mean? The rabbis tell us that if Noah had lived in the generation of Abraham, Noah would have been perceived as an ordinary man, but because he lived during the generation of the flood, Noah was considered righteous compared to his peers.
And what about the animals entering the ark two by two? Yes, it is true that two animals of each species entered the ark if the Torah story is to be believed. However, the Torah also tells us that God instructed Noah to bring in fourteen of each animal whose flesh is kosher, including seven males and seven females. This allowed Noah and his family to have the capacity to slaughter some animals for food after the flood while others of the same species continued to procreate. One evolutionary step between the generation of Adam and Eve and the generation of Noah and his family is that, according to Torah, God instructed Adam and Eve regarding the eating of produce and God told Noah that clean animals may be eaten for food and must be slaughtered in a humanitarian manner.
The story of Noah contains a number of other important moral lessons, including the following:
Righteousness is relative. In Pirkei Avot 2:6, it says, “where there is no mensch, strive be a mensch.” In other words, where there is no human being who is acting appropriately, strive be a person who acts appropriately. Noah was called righteous in his generation because when everyone else was not acting appropriately, Noah did the right thing.
Teach what you know. It says in the Talmud that the Torah, when studied in order to teach is a Torah of lovingkindness whereas the Torah, when not studied in order to teach is not a Torah of lovingkindness. (Sukkah 49b) There is a midrash (interpretation) that Noah took a long time to build the ark in order to give the people of his generation an opportunity to take a hint and change their ways. According to the Chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichiv, Noah should have created a school to teach people how to behave properly.
Believe in yourself. According to Reb Levi Yitzhak of Berdichiv, there are two kinds of righteous people; those who are righteous and believe in their own righteousness and those who are righteous but see themselves as ordinary. Noah was the second type of righteous person. He was righteous, but he did not see himself as righteous so he did not track his own capacity to teach others how to act appropriately. Had Noah believed in his capacity for righteous, he might have had the capacity to teach others how to be righteous and that could have perhaps caused a tipping point that would have averted the flood.
Look for Rainbows – Sometimes there are signs in our lives that better times are ahead and we can count on God and the universe to help us with our predicament.
The Israel Religious Action Center staff and volunteers work tirelessly for social justice in Israel. Anat Hoffman and those who join Anat in writing weekly Monday emails give us opportunities to make a difference. By believing in ourselves and believing that an email that we send to Israel’s Prime Minister or other officials might make a difference and by believing that our financial contribution, however modest, can make a difference, we can become empowered to help make a difference for our entire generation. Rabbi Pamela Frydman is the Director of the Holocaust Education Project of the Academy for Jewish Religion and the author of Calling on God.