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Noach(Genesis 6:9-11:32)

The Yes Man

No one in the entire Torah is introduced with such glowing accolades as is Noah. He is a "man," he is righteous, he is pure and he walks with God. Three separate times during the account of the Flood, the Torah tells us that Noah did "exactly as God told him to do."

And yet, who is Noah? Midway through this week's portion we are told that he lived for 350 years after the flood, and that's that. He disappears into history as quickly as he came. He is not like Abraham, the first Jew, to whom the Torah devotes four weekly portions, nor certainly the Moses who is featured in the majority of the Torah.

Where did Noah go wrong? What differentiates him from a man like Abraham?

I believe the answer lies precisely in the phrase that Noah did "exactly as God told him." God comes to Noah and says he is about to destroy all of humanity, and that Noah should build an ark to save himself. He doesn't flinch. "Yes, sir. One ark coming right up."

Notice something strange? God says He is about to destroy the world and Noah doesn't flinch. He just goes out and builds an ark.

When Abraham is told that God is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he fights tooth and nail for them. God did not tell him to do so, but God didn't need to. Abraham knew what he believed in and took initiative.

In contrast to Abraham, Noah was a "yes-man." And God does not want yes-men. If he had wanted robots, he could quite easily have created them. But he created us as humans instead - with feelings, thoughts and ideas. God created independence for us to use, not for us to suppress. Abraham stood up for what he believed was right; Noah did not have an opinion. He just followed God.

Following God is not a bad thing. But sometimes, in fact quite often, it's just not enough. God's laws are a structure on which to build, not a jail in which to live.

The word Noah in Hebrew means "rest," intransigence almost. He took the easy way of blind following, not the challenging path of leading the way forward that Abraham and Moses took. That's why the Torah forgets him so quickly. Robots are much less interesting than people.

October 21, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Anonymous, October 15, 2015 11:20 AM

Really excellent article! Thanks for posting!

(6) Irene, October 19, 2012 2:36 PM

The Yes Man

I don't believe Noach is a yes man robot. When we give a command to our children and they question our motive and try to change us, what do we as parents say to them? Don't argue with me, just do as I ask. I believe Noach knew the reason of what G-d wanted to do, and obeyed out of trusting Hashem. Aren't there times when we should do the same as Noach.

(5) Efraim Weinblatt, November 4, 2008 12:03 AM

Noach in the Torah

One additional comment that needs to be made regarding the remainder of Noach's life after the flood. Once a person's primary role in the Torah is completed, they are usually no longer mentioned. Avraham's death is mentioned in the end of Chayei Sarah, yet he lived many more years, well into Toldos. Yitzchak, whose life is chronicled mostly in one parsha, like Noach, in fact is alive for most of the remainder of Sefer Bereishis, but since his primary role was completed, the Torah mentions his death long before it happened and his life is no longer described. It is the same with Noach.

(4) Efraim Weinblatt, November 3, 2008 10:57 PM

Noach the Tzaddik

Dear Rabbi Rosenblatt I read your dvar Torah and unfortunately, I couldn't disagree with your comments more. Following exactly what Hashem commands is the most commendable thing - Bnai Yisrael with the Egel, Nadav and Avihu with the Aish Zarah, and others, all got into trouble when they did things on their own volition - it is doing exactly what Hashem commands that is the ideal situation. The Gemarrah in Sanhedrin lists the many ways Noach tried to rebuke his neighbors to do Teshuva, but he was unsuccessful. As far as Avraham, in fact the Ramban says he sinned greatly when he went down to Egypt on his own volition. Finally, Avraham might have "fought tooth and nail" to save Sodom, but there is not a single medrish or commentator who said he ever tried to have them do teshuva before the death sentence - it can easily be said of him that it was too little, too late. Just remember - in all of Tanach, only one person is ever called a tzaddik - twice in fact - and that is Noach.

(3) Geoff Frisch, October 31, 2008 2:16 PM

Finding Light In the Darkness

I lead groups for people mandated by the courts for alcohol and drug abuse. I am using your book to treat my clients. The initial reaction is very good. It is such a good book. Will you be at the Partners Conference in Dec?

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