The below is Martin from LA’s comment on this weeks Torah potion, Parshas Noah. In red are my comments. Martin from LA is a student of Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks. As as result I consider myself a student of the Chief Rabbi and have been inspired by the Chief Rabbi’s Torah. Martin from LA is my cousin, my friend, and my co-marathoner. At least he is still running and I am not.
The Torah readings continue with the introduction to Noah and the flood story. Virtually every culture has a similar story. That Noah and the flood are mythical is irrelevant. The myriad lessons contained therein are of import.
I only take issue with you in this entire piece that Noah and the flood are mythical. The Torah cannot make up stories of our history, especially after reading the first Rashi in the Chumash. The problem then is separating myth from fact. I believe the entire story happened. My kids completely agree with you.
Noah is a perplexing character. He is described in the Torah, at the beginning of the eponymous Sedra, Noach, as a righteous man, faultless and walking with God!
He, alone in the Hebrew Bible has such appellations! Abraham and Moses, for example, do not come close.
But, despite such praise, the man that was supposed to save the world and rebuild it anew, in the end couldn’t even save himself as he wallowed in a drunken stupor and was an embarrassment to his children, and according to one opinion, sexually assaulted by his so Ham. And unlike Adam and Eve previously, who were ashamed of their nakedness, he was not even aware of his nudity.
How could this be? The man seemed to be the paradigm of religiosity, obeying every jot and tittle of God’s commands to him.
The Sages, in their Midrashic analysis of the flood parable, give Noah short shrift indeed. He is heavily criticized for not doing more to try to encourage a depraved humanity to repent and perhaps prevent the oncoming deluge. In fact he did nothing, but just busied himself meticulously following the minutiae of the ark’s blueprints.
Never understood the criticism. No one would have listened. Maybe Noah felt that the proper way is to live a religious life by example. Abraham’s defense of Sodom on its surface appears to be misplaced mercy for a society that choose brutality with their riches over a just society. Abraham should have said, I will go and teach them. I was only satisfied in Abraham’s defense when I answered the question of misplaced mercy, that of course, Abraham was not saying let Sodom be spared any judgment. He told God or understood God, that God will punish them for their evil ways, just not to destroy them. If you do not say this, then Abrohom is a fool. I have not found a source for this, but this has to be the understanding.
The Sages were particularly disturbed by his unwillingness to leave the ark after the floodwaters had subsided. Despite being certain that the land was now dry he only finally debarked because God instructed him. The Sages excoriated him for this. He was to be performing the most vital role in human history, the reconstructing of a shattered world and he dallied in the comfort and safety of his home not prepared to take the risks necessary for his daunting task until God approved his exit.
Abraham did not sit back in quiet obedience when God told him of the impending destruction of Sodom.
The Kotzker criticized Abraham that when God told him that his children will go through a bitter slavery, Abraham did not protest and scream GVALT, my kids will be exiled for 400 years and will have to go to slavery! They will have a holocaust!
Likewise, Moses did not await God’s permission to act on the injustices he saw in Egypt.
The Sages, who claimed that they would have torn down the walls of the ark and taken themselves out, were teaching us in this Midrash that to build a better society, you do not await permission.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky, (amongst others) even before the storm clouds of Europe began to darken warned European Jewry of the approaching destruction and begged them to leave and go to help build what was to become the State of Israel, a process that had begun 50 years or so previously. He was mostly ignored.
Some simply comfortable in their current surroundings, others claiming, that just like Noah before them, were exemplary in the observance of the God’s commandments, that a Jewish State can only be built with God’s permission.
The result was catastrophic.
You are correct.
No disease has been cured, no technology invented for the benefit of society, no hungry child fed, no poor have been clothed and no State has been built by those that prefer to sit in an ark studying and even devising more minutiae than taking the courage to create a better world.
We need a balance. We need Torah scholars and we need builders. We need them in sync, each understanding their roles. We need Torah and the scholars to provide this radiant glow that positively affects everything it shines on. A foundation stone for a Jewish society to be built based on the Torah, just values, charity, and Torah knowledge.
This is my theme of Kotzk and when I write the definitive book on Kotzk, I will touch upon this very subject. On the surface, the Kotzker seems to have withdrawn from this world for 19 years, when in reality he was a major leader and leading the Jewish world.
“Devising more minutiae”.
Both Reb Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, the Meshak Chocmah and Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok Kook would agree with you.
The Hebrew bible consists of 3 sections. The Torah, which Orthodoxy believes is the revealed word of God. Followed by the Prophets, that section from Joshua, through Judges, Kings, and the various 15 Prophets, and finally Writings, such as Psalms, Proverbs, Esther and a bunch of others that you may or may not of heard of. The Haftora is a short reading taken from the 2nd section, that either has a connection to the Torah reading or the season, and is read at the conclusion of the Torah reading. How it came to be, nobody knows. There have been many speculative guesses, and the most well-known and promoted ad nauseum in the Orthodox world, may be the silliest. That is, the Greeks (and later the Romans), banned the public reading of Torah, but we fooled ’em by substituting another section of the Bible.) Personally, I prefer the argument that the Haftora reading was a polemic against sectarians who rejected anything other than the Torah itself as being part of the Jewish cannon.
Regardless of it’s genesis, it’s very ancient, at least 2000 years old, and is universal in practice throughout all denominations(There are occasional differences on the choice of Haftora)