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Parashat Noach 5779 — 10/13/2018

Parashat Noach 5779 — 10/13/2018

In honor of the arrival of Alma Virginia Wickelgren Rabinoff on 10/2/2018, 24 Tishrei 5779

Bereshit 6:9-11:32

Rabbi Goldin points out two sets of contrasts in parashat Noach, one implicit and the other explicit. The implicit contrast is between Noach and Avraham (who appears in the next parashah). The explicit one is between the generation of the Flood, which was wiped out in its entirety, and the generation of the Tower of Babel, which was only scattered throughout the world and whose language was confused. I think both these distinctions give us an insight into a very deep question: what is the nature of individuality and what is the nature of the universal? Let me start by summarizing R. Goldin’s analysis.

The Torah calls Noach …a righteous man in his generation. What does the bolded phrase add? In a well-known comment Rashi states that some take the added phrase to be in Noach’s favor: if he could maintain his righteousness in the midst of the depraved generation of the Flood, how much more righteous would he have been in a better, more moral time, when he didn’t have to swim against such a strong tide of evil? Others take it the other way: Noach may have been righteous compared to all the depravity around him, but had he lived in a better generation, he would have been nothing special. [My interpolation: The fact that after the Flood Noach plants a vineyard and proceeds to drink himself into a stupor tends to lend credence to the latter interpretation.]

In the Midrash, Noach is compared to Abraham, to Noach’s detriment. Where Avraham prays for Sodom and Gomorrah to be spared, and works tirelessly to teach his generation about Gd’s Oneness, Noach appears content to do as he is told, building the Ark, keeping his family together, saving himself and not concerning himself with the welfare of society. Furthermore, Noach is described as walking “with” Gd, whereas Avraham is described as walking “before” Gd. Avraham was a trailblazer, going in front of Gd, announcing Gd’s Existence and Providence. He was able to act independently, even to confront Gd, as he did regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. In the end, of course, his submission to Gd’s Will was complete, as we see in the incident of the near-sacrifice of Yitzchak. Noach, on the other hand, had a more immature relationship with Gd, walking “with” Gd, needing constant support, apparently not trusting himself to strike out on his own.

Turning to the comparison between the Generation of the Flood and the Generation of the Dispersion, we find that in the Generation of the Flood individuality ran wild, while in the Generation of the Dispersion it was communal needs that were uppermost to the complete exclusion of individual considerations. Two Midrashim fill in the details. Right before the Flood, the Torah tells us the world was full of hamas / “violence.” What was this violence? Our Sages tell us it was theft, but theft that could not be recovered in court. A merchant would come to town with dates. Everyone in the market would take one date and not pay for it. One date is not worth enough money that anyone could be prosecuted, but at the end of the day the merchant would be left with no dates and no money. In the case of the building of the Tower of Babel, the exact opposite scenario was playing out. Since the tower was extremely tall, it took a long time for people and bricks to get to the top, the construction site. If a person fell off the tower, nobody really cared. But if a brick fell, and the people had to wait for its replacement, there was general mourning.

What can we learn from these comparisons? R. Goldin draws two conclusions. Regarding the two generations, he concludes that a delicate balance must be struck between the needs of the individual and the needs of society. If there is too much emphasis on individual rights, and not enough enforcement of people’s communal responsibilities, we get a dog-eat-dog world where individual excesses destroy the social structure so necessary for everyone’s evolution. If individual rights are ignored in favor of the collective, the individual is enslaved and commoditized, and the soul that makes us uniquely human is crushed. We see both these kinds of excesses in our world today; no society has successfully balanced the imperatives of the individual and the society.

In the case of the comparison between Avraham and Noach, the issue is the relationship of the individual and Gd. Is one to be simply obedient to Gd’s commands, or is one to be actively engaged with Gd? Is one to quietly go about tending to his own personal spiritual development, or is he to take responsibility for the spiritual welfare of those around him? Clearly our tradition comes down on the side of the latter approach, as Avraham is the source of that tradition.

Now I would like to take the consideration a step deeper. We have seen over the past months that physics has located a single, unified field, and that all of creation is nothing more than a complex pattern of vibration of this unified field. What this means is that what we call individual objects are not really individual in the sense of being rigidly differentiated from one another. To be sure, on the surface they are different, in the same way that at their tips the index and middle fingers are different, but on the level of the hand, the two fingers are part of one underlying unity.

In the same way, each one of us is a part of an underlying whole, the wholeness of life. All life, all existence, is an expression of Gd and is unified within Gd. There are different layers of structure in Gd’s creation, from the atomic layer to the molecular layer, up to individual human beings and human societies and our world family. And just like we don’t “cut off our nose to spite our face,” for they are all parts of us, so if we saw clearly we would see our family, our community, our nation, our world, as part of us, as partaking in the same wholeness of life that we do. And the way we learn to see clearly is to allow our awareness to go to the level of the transcendent, unified field of all of life, and then to bring that awareness and clarity into all of our thought, speech and action. Then we will become a society of loving, caring individuals, all of us easily and naturally contributing simultaneously to everyone’s progress and to the progress of society as a whole.

Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parsashat Noach

“Noach” means “rest, comfort.”

Parshat Noach gives us rest and comfort.

In Parshat Noach, our world begins again after Gd destroys its population, all but those in the Ark.

In Bereishit, the world begins again: it is not a new creation. It is another joyful cycle in the infinitely rapidly cycling that is the vibration of Torah, the Liveliness of Gd. Torah and Gd are One.

It is not that there is even a new Creation, Gd is eternally complete: all is already accomplished in Gd. It is only that the Whole of Gd is in every point of Gd and that at every point, every moment, Gd reveals the Unity separating into Heaven and Earth, Subtle and Gross, and at every point cycling infinitely rapidly from layers of Subtle to Gross reveals the Wholeness within which they are always united.

In Parshat Noach, we see the story of how the diversity of the Gross and the Subtle is dissolved into the Ocean of Wholeness and yet an Ark with the seeds of diversity remains to reveal that the Wholeness is always there, diverse and also unified.

And so it is with us today: our daily routine, our religion, spiritual practice, are the Ark that carry us along to new beginnings, new insights into the Unity in diversity. In this way we participate in the process by which Gd eternally reveals the Unity in the diversity of life.

Baruch HaShem