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If you like the Rabbi... Read This

Thursday, 19 October, 2017 - 11:54 am

 Noach - By Rabbi Gershon Schusterman [Rabbi Kushi's Father]

This week’s Sidrah, (Parshah/Torah portion), Noach, tells of a mass holocaust that befell the world almost 5,000 years ago. A flood brought about by forty days of rain, followed by months of turbulent storms, destroyed the entire population and living creatures from the world. The only survivors were Noach and his family, and the living beings that were in the Ark with him.

Noach was saved because he was unique amongst the people of his generation. While the populace lived a corrupt, immoral life, Noach was righteous. The Torah uses words like Tzadik (pious, righteous) and Tamim (complete) in describing him'. In fact his very name, Noach, from the Hebrew root word for consolation, implied his role and mission to bring consolation to the Almighty and the world after the corruption brought about the inevitable holocaust.

And yet, Noach had his detractors too. Rashi, in his commentary on "(Noach was righteous| in his generation," brings a critical view, saying: "Compared to his generation he was righteous; however, had he been in Avrohom's generation he would have been insignificant." A very strong statement regarding one upon whom the Torah showers such superlatives!

In fact, this attitude is alluded to by the Prophet Yeshaya. The terrible flood is referred to as  "Noach's flood water," almost as if he were somehow responsible for the flood itself!

How so?

The Midrash tells us that during the 120 years that Noach was building the ark, he was regularly questioned by his fellow men "What are you building?" He would simply reply, "I'm building an ark to be saved in, when G-d destroys the world." While the message was clear to those who chose to hear it, it was passive and weak to those who weren't interested.

By contrast, Avrohom Ovinu, of kind nature, aggressively taught the principles of Judaism (monotheism and other principles of morality as incumbent upon "the children of Noach ) to his generation. Indeed, he oftentimes employed strong pressure tactics to evoke an acknowledgement of the Almighty's sovereignity on the world.

Perhaps this point is inherent in the same phrase “[Noach was righteous| in his generation." There is a positive inference, that he was amongst his people, and yet there is an indication of weakness too. As the Talmud says, quite factually: "A rabbi who is beloved upon the people of his city, it is not an indication of his good qualities, but rather of his failure to discharge his responsibility to rebuke his community."

Jewish leadership is not a popularity contest. A leader must create the tension, in his or her community, between idealism and pragmatism; between where the people are at, and where they should be. Anything less is an abdication of the leadership role.

The Talmud tells us that "A generation in which the Bais Hamikdash is not rebuilt should view itself as if it was destroyed in it." Similarly, Noach's responsibility, or lack thereof, in his times, came to the point that the flood bears his name to eternity-"Noach's Floodwaters."

Our generation today, too, has many similarities to Noach's times. The verses "For the world was filled with corruption and immorality" most aptly applies to our world. We, the descendants of Noach and Avrohom must learn from our grandfathers, from their accomplishments and their failings. We must follow in the footsteps of Avrohom, showing leadership even when it is unpopular and may not be received well. In doing so, not only will we be discharging our responsibility properly, but, more importantly, we will bring about the solutions to the problems facing our communities and bring blessing to, and avert disaster, from our environs.

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