Torah Portion; Genesis 6:9-11:32 Noach (rest)
Haftarah: Isa 54:1-55:5
Suggested Acheron K’tuvim: 2 Peter 3:8-13
Be a Pioneer
Central question of this message: Will you strike out into uncharted territory when G-d calls you to do something that you have never yet done?
We are in the second portion of Torah today. Noach. Noach means “rest”, or “comfort”. It takes its name from the central character of this parasha – Noah.
9 These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 11 Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.
There are some interesting Hebrew words I wish for you to see in the opening passage.
Noah is described as a “righteous man”. “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.”
In Hebrew it reads, “ish tzadik tamim”. The “ish tzadik” is easier, and we easily translate that as “man, righteous”. But “tamim” is not so easy.
Tamim can mean “entire”, or “complete”. But it also carries with it the concept of “simple”.
Then there is the next phrase, which our sages have found very interesting. “in his time”. Literally, the Hebrew word b’dorotav means “in the generation of him”.
Our sages have speculated that Noah wasn’t all that much of a tzadik, but that he was a relative tzadik, when compared with all the other people at that time. They say that if Noah had lived in the generation of Abraham, he would have been considered as “worthless”. That’s a pretty severe statement, and it suggests that G-d “grades on the curve” when judging righteousness. Maybe He does… maybe not. I don’t know.
But it does remind me of a joke. Two hunters are out hunting bears. One is older and wiser, and the other is younger and more vigorous. The older man is the guide, and the younger man is the hunter. They both have back-packs, a fanny-pack with lots of other gear, and both are carrying a rifle.
They see a huge bear and stalk to within an easy range for a shot. They are maybe only fifty yards away. At this distance, they see that the bear is much larger than they first thought. It is without question a huge animal, and the older guide is wondering aloud if only a single shot will bring down the giant.
They engage in a whispered conversation regarding how the younger hunter will need to take his first shot, then get ready to quickly take a second, or maybe even a third shot to stop the charging bear.
As the younger hunter was shouldering his rifle, ready to take his first shot, he hears considerable noise behind him, where the older man is standing. He lowers his rifle, turns to look, and sees that the older guide has removed his backpack, his fanny pack, and has laid his rifle across them on the ground just behind the younger hunter. The older man is even taking off his hunting shirt in an obvious attempt to be as unencumbered as possible.
The young man turns and with some youthful bravado says, “Even after all that, you won’t be able to outrun that bear.” The older man replied, “I know. Y’see, I don’t need to outrun that bear. I just need to outrun YOU.”
That, for you fans of theoretical physics, is a simple illustration of the theory of relativity. Was Noah “relatively righteous”? Yes.
It does seem that the remainder of the earth’s human population was, relatively speaking, evil, because of another phrase in the same passage
“11 Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.”
The Hebrew word that is translated as “violence” is chamas.
And what had this chamas done to the world of perfection that G-d had created? It had spoiled it.
The Hebrew word translated as “corrupt” in the passage is shachat.
It carries with it the concept of decay. What does something that is living do once it dies? It rots. It decays. That is how G-d described the creation that He Himself described as “good” in our first portion of the Torah.
How much of the world’s population was given over to violence and destruction of G-d’s creation? All. So, it might actually be that Noah was the “best of the worst”, as our sages speculated.
But Noah would prove himself to be in many ways much like Abraham, whose obedience was “reckoned to him as righteousness” (see Gen 15:6).
Noah wasn’t summoned to take a three-day journey to a place he’d never been before. Noah was summoned to create a massive structure which had never yet been built on the earth, and prepare it to withstand a storm which had never yet come upon the earth.