By now, I trust that you are aware of the fact that we will be embarking on a grand experiment this week, as we spend Friday evening welcoming Shabbat with friends in each other’s homes, rather than in the synagogue. (Don’t worry! We’ll be back on Shabbat morning, at 10 AM, for a special Shabbat BaBoker service with our scholar in residence, Danny Siegel. Join us!) If you weren’t able to participate in this first Sharing Shabbat, but would like to sign up for the next one on January 23, click here.
A thought regarding this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Noach, the second of the Book of Genesis. The portion tells the famous story of Noah, the deluge, and its aftermath.
Our friend Noah gets a bad rap in our Tradition! The poor guy has the misfortune of always being compared to Adam (the first human being of all time) and Abraham (the first Jew). In comparison to those two, Noah never quite measures up.
The Torah itself is ambivalent about him, noting that he was “a righteous man, perfect in his generation” – raising the possibility that he would have been something of a Nobody had he lived at a different point in history.
Nonetheless, many of our rabbis affirm his greatness! For example, Rabbi David Kimchi of late 12th century Provence writes: “We do not understand the reason of those who say that Noah had little faith, whereas the text testifies that he was righteous and whole-hearted, and did all that the Lord had commanded him.”
And yet, detractors persisted! Some noted that Noah lacked faith, because Genesis 7:7 seems to imply that he only got on the ark after it had started to rain. If he really believed what God had said, he would have gotten on before the rain began.
Our Hasidic tradition offers a beautiful response: “Noah believed in those who lacked faith, feeling sure that they would change [their behavior in the world], and that was why he didn’t believe that the flood would come.”
I’m taken by these two readings because I think they represent two archetypes for those on modern faith journeys. David Kimchi’s Noah is a traditionally-spiritual person: open to the presence of God and prepared to respond accordingly.
The second Noah is much more humanistically-minded. His faith is rooted less in the spiritual presence of God, and is much more concerned about the needs and well-being of his friends and neighbors.
On this Shabbat as we gather at one another’s tables, take a moment and consider: which Noah do you resonate more with, and why?
As always: consider sharing your thoughts with Rabbi Brown over email, or more publicly on the blog by adding a Comment below.