These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a good and just man. He was a pure man in his generation. [Genesis 6:9]
The story of Noah and the flood is well known, yet Noah, the man, arouses our curiosity. The Bible says he was righteous “in his generation.” Does that mean that compared to an immoral and self-serving generation, Noah looked pretty good? Or was he indeed a noble soul?
To answer that question, let’s take a look at his contemporaries.
And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were pretty; and they took as wives all those whom they chose … The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.’ [Genesis 6:1-2, 11-12]
Noah’s society is one of corruption and thievery. Immorality is rampant. Men do as they please without regard for their neighbor’s welfare. Hmm, sound familiar?
Noah was apparently upright in his morals and did not partake in the evil actions of those around him. But neither does the Bible say he was performing all sorts of good deeds. We could suggest that Noah is an island, neither hurting others, nor helping them. This is the greatness of Noah – but also the tragedy of Noah.
Noah, as a righteous man in his generation, had responsibilities toward his fellow citizens. Noah did not intercede for his generation, nor did he defend them to God. He was detached. By contrast, when God informed Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham cried out for mercy; he pleaded with God to spare the city if there were even ten righteous within it. Also Moses interceded for the children of Israel repeatedly. But there is no evidence that Noah, aware of the coming flood, spoke even one word of prayer on behalf of his contemporaries.
Noah accepts the decree of God. If the people are guilty, in his mind there is no argument. So Noah toils for 120 years building the ark, yet in all that time, not one person was brought under the influence of this great religious personality. When he is finished building, he boards the ark with his family and the designated animals, leaving everyone else to perish.
Even after he leaves the ark, Noah’s spiritual stumbling continues. He and his family are the only human beings alive – surrounded by utter devastation. How does Noah cope with all this?
He plants a vineyard and then gets drunk on the wine. Is it that Noah cannot cope with the enormity of the destruction that he has witnessed? Does he perhaps feel that his own passivity towards his peers led to the destruction of an entire civilization? What thoughts whirled about in his mind – after the flood?
Noah lived for some 300 years after the flood, fathered children, watched countless generations come and go. Does he change his ways? Do we find him more involved, more concerned, more invested in those around him?
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech … And they said one to another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach to heaven … And the Lord said, “Behold, the people are one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have schemed to do.” [Genesis 11:1-6]
Noah was still alive at this time. A world of people gathered to challenge the Almighty.
Noah was tragically silent – again.
He will be remembered as a man who knew how to stay calm in the presence of incredible social pressures; a man who knew how to stand alone; but a man whose very ‘aloneness’ kept him from being a force for good within his generations.
But someone else is alive by now. Abraham was forty eight years old at the time of the destruction of the Tower of Babel and the dispersion of the peoples. Abraham saw and learned. Abraham would also have to stand alone but in a very different way. In next week’s Torah portion, we’ll be introduced to the other man who stood alone but in doing so changed the entire world.
In Tune with Torah this week = standing alone against the tide can be a great thing – or a mediocre thing. It depends on what moves the heart. Do we stand alone with a “could-care-less” about what others will have to suffer in this hour? Or like Abraham, do we stand for God – sometimes alone – but always with the welfare of our fellow man close to our heart?