Genesis 6:9 to 11:12
Noah shines as a character of “good” in a corrupt world. However, Torah shows Noah’s faults. How should we view this flawed character?
“Noah was a righteous man, in his generation he was above reproach; Noah walked with God.” (Gen. 6:9) These words are our introduction to the man that God saved as the world was destroyed. We are told that he followed the commands he received from God regarding the building of an ark and collecting animals to be saved.
Was the fact that he followed orders enough to classify him as “righteous?” We are told that he was righteous “in his generation.” What was his generation like? …. In last week’s parsha we read: “When the Eternal saw how great was the wickedness of human beings in the earth, that the direction of their thoughts was nothing but wicked all the time… the Eternal regretted having made human beings on earth, and was heartsick…. But Noah found favor in the Eternal’s sight.” (Gen. 6:5-8)
And so Noah becomes part of a tale of the destruction of all other living people and animals on earth.
The same can be said about this week’s parsha, as I stated last week. I don’t look upon this story as history… but, a story with lessons that can teach… plots that reveal the weaknesses and problems that face all mankind.
The first half of Torah focuses on the several individuals…. Each has a different personality, different wants, and different views of God and the world around them. They all believe in the one God, but have differing relationships with this God. In many ways each of the men – and women – we will read about represent character traits found in people through the ages.
Noah is the first of the major characters we encounter. He believes in God – he has faith. He follows the commands God asks of him. But he seems interested only in his well being and that of his family. He is told that all humanity will be destroyed…. He doesn’t argue for their safety. He doesn’t try to mend their evil ways. He doesn’t mourn their deaths after the flood…. He just follows orders – the orders of God.
…. We all know people like Noah. They’re good people who won’t hurt anyone. But, they won’t reach out to help a friend or neighbor in need. This made Noah a righteous man “in his generation.”
The opening line of this parsha, quoted above, says Noah “walked with God.” He just kept pace with God by following the Eternal’s directions – not adding or subtracting.
Later we will read that Abraham “walked ahead” of God. He learned from God and then took the message to others in his household and community. He did more than was demanded.
Moses, the greatest prophet of all Torah, is said to have walked “behind God.” This is not a criticism; but, a comment reflecting his times. Moses was given the Torah – all the laws and commandments. It would be impossible for any person, including Moses, to completely follow them all. Moses did the best he could to follow… and teach the Israelites the importance of the laws and commandments. He was “following” the teachings of the Eternal. After the giving of Torah it would be impossible for any person to be ahead of God.
As we read the story of Noah, we can look at what he did and how he reacted … how those around him reacted. Think about how these traits can be found in people around you. How do they handle difficult issues in their lives? How are they similar to the strengths and weakness of Noah … or others we will read about later? We can learn from the strengths and weakness, and the successes and failures of all these characters… including Noah.
As we continue our journey into Torah we will encounter other significant characters. Each will be faced with different problems… have different solutions…. Each will look to God for guidance…. Then react in different ways. By studying these individuals we will see a cross-section of humanity…. We will be given the opportunity to learn from their strengths – and their weaknesses … from their successes and failures.
I see this first half of Torah as more than history… more than a group of stories … more than a story of God’s relationship to mankind. Torah is a teacher that guides us through the human condition.