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Noah 5761-2000

“Noah: The Man Who Brings Comfort To The World”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

The story of this coming week’s parasha, parashat Noah, actually begins at the end of last week’s parasha, Bereisheit. We read in Genesis 6:28, that at the tender age of 182 years, Lemach bears a son. Genesis 6:29 reads: “V’ yikrah et sh’mo Noah laymor,” and he called his son Noah, saying “Zeh y’na’cha’may’nu mee’ma’asay’nu u’mee’ma’asay ya’day’nu, min ha’ada’ma a’sher ay’r’rah Hashem.” This [child] will bring us rest from our work, and from the toil of our hands, from the ground which G-d had cursed.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that the language used by the Torah in Genesis 5:28 to describe the birth, “Va’yoled ben”, and he bore a son is not used in any of the previous births. The word “ben,” Hirsch emphasizes comes from the word “to build.” It is particularly appropriate to use this word in this instance because Noah was to become the primary builder of the world, a role which would be continued through him to his descendants. Furthermore, points out Hirsch, the verse: “Zeh y’na’chamay’nu mee’ma’asay’nu,” this child will comfort us from our work and from the toil of our hands – – teaches us that technology has the power to reduce pain in the world and can be used effectively to eliminate or control a great deal of evil in the world. Specifically, Hirsch asserts, that children can be a consolation for their parents’ inability to complete their tasks, that is if the children are nurtured properly and are committed to conclude the work that the parents were unable to finish.

This positive description of the potential role of Noah comes in distinction to the beginning of Genesis 6, where the Torah relates that the children of Cain also tried to advance the world through technology, but were emphatically determined to do it without G-d. Rather than search for spiritual values, their leadership sought physical fulfillment. When G-d sees this, scripture says in Genesis 6:6, “Va’yee’na’chem Ha’shem kee ah’sah et ha’adam ba’aretz,” G-d changes His own self-will and regrets the fact that He created the human being. He feels sadness in His heart, and subsequently says, in Genesis 6:7, “Em’cheh et ha’adam asher ba’ra’tee, kee nee’cham’tee kee a’see’tim,” I will blot out the human being whom I have created, from the face of the ground…for I have reconsidered my having made them. Finally, in Genesis 6:8, G-d says, “V’Noah mah’tzah chen b’ey’nay Ha’shem,” Noah found grace in the eyes of G-d.

This introduction to Noah is perhaps even more revealing than the well-known introduction to Noah found in Genesis 6:9, where Noah is called “Tzadik” and “ta’mim b’do’ro’tav” – – a righteous and perfect person in his generation. Those verses, which are the subject of much exegesis, underscore that Noah was the most “righteous in his generation.” This qualifier can have two meanings: 1) to his detriment: that had Noah lived, in another, lesser, generation, he would not have been seen to be so righteous, or 2) to his credit: that despite the fact that Noah’s generation was so evil, he still remained righteous. In fact, had Noah lived in a less evil generation, he would have been far greater.

The Torah’s ambivalence about the true nature of Noah is never really resolved. But, one thing for sure, the earlier introduction to Noah, found in the end of parashat Beresheit, is not ambivalent at all, but rather firm in its message. By constantly repeating the Hebrew root letters of the name “Noah,” the Torah clearly underscores the theme of Noah, the man who brings comfort to the world: “Zeh y’na’cha’may’nu,” (Genesis 5:29) Noah will comfort us; “Kee nee’cham’tee kee a’see’tim,” I regret that I made the human being; “Va’yee’na’chem Ha’shem kee ah’sah et ha’adam,” (Genesis 6:6) G-d regretted that he made the human being; and finally, “V’Noah ma’tzah chen,” (Genesis 6:8) Noah finds favor. “Chen” is a reverse spelling of the Hebrew name, Noah.

The story of Noah is revolutionary. It is revolutionary in that G-d tells us that Noah introduces technology. In fact, according to tradition, Noah was first to introduce the plow to civilization, in order to reduce travail in the world, but it is through the persona of Noah that the Torah tells us even more. Noah is not only saying that G-d has given us the technology to heal all the evils which human beings have introduced into the world, but that the first step to healing those evils is to stand up and accept responsibility. The essence of Noah, his very name Noah, declares that human beings need to find favor in G-d’s eyes. We have to stop blaming G-d for the bad situations in which we often find ourselves and realize that we are accountable. Yes, we can cure cancer! It is in our hands. G-d has given us the cure. It is only a question of whether we are determined enough to find that cure, or will we tragically choose to fritter away these Divine opportunities, by diverting billions to produce nuclear weapons. We are all aware that there is enough food to feed the hungry of the world. The only question is whether there is enough will to distribute the food equitably and fairly, and to stop the horrible wastefulness that is common in most economically developed countries.

When my parents, of blessed memory, were living in Brooklyn, a thief broke into their home through the fire escape and stole a small television. It was a signal for us, their children, that our aged parents needed to move to a more secure neighborhood. One day, in synagogue, after their move to the new neighborhood, my father turned to me, in a put-on rage, and said, “I would like to get my hands on that thief. Boy would I like to get my hands on that thief!” I couldn’t understand why, after so many months, my father was still so agitated. I asked, “Why are you so upset now?” “I’m not upset,” he replied. ” I would like to get my hands on that thief, so I can give him a ‘Y’ya’asher Ko’ach.’ I want to say thank you to him, because if it weren’t for that thief, your mother and I would never have moved out of that old neighborhood.”

The pain, travail and illness that human beings suffer are a challenge. If it weren’t for these challenges, there would be few advances for humankind. We must all be grateful for the opportunities that these challenges offer. That is exactly what “Noah” stands for. He brings comfort and finds favor, even in times of adversity. Whenever Noah encounters dark clouds, he defies the darkness and allows the light of G-d to shine through. Noah is one of the very few of G-d’s creatures who always searches for the Al-mighty, so he can say to Him: “Y’ya’asher ko’ach,” Thank You, thank you, G-d, for the opportunities. And now let’s go build together!

May you be blessed.