Noach is a very difficult person to assess. The Rabbis of the Midrash
themselves were of different minds regarding Noach. The truth is that the
righteous, perfect, G-d-pursuing Noach is a very complicated person.
Therefore, tragedy comes forth from his behavior after the flood, just as
his behavior and influence before the flood apparently was unable to arrest
the world's dive into disaster. Noach certainly had the opportunity to
fashion the world in his image, so to speak, after the flood. But it was
not to be. The majority of Noach's descendants reverted back to the evil
behavior of society before the flood. It is almost as though the flood and
all of its tragedy was a waste. And I cannot think of a greater waste than
a wasted tragedy. And this is perhaps the greatest point of criticism that
the Rabbis leveled at Noach - that the flood and its lessons were never
exploited to improve human society after the flood.
And this is the strongest point of comparison and difference between Noach
and Avraham. Avraham also lived in a generation of tragedy and disaster.
Believers were thrown into the furnace, morality was scoffed at, the
project of the great Tower of Bavel was abandoned after countless lives
were lost in the attempt at its construction and Avraham was an isolated
figure of Godliness in a world of paganism and evil. Yet, Avraham himself
had assimilated the lessons of his generation within his being. He saw the
emptiness and lawlessness that surrounded him and resolved to create a
counter-force of goodness and faith that would eventually (according to the
opinion of Rabbi Menachem HaMeiri in the introduction of his commentary to
the book of Avot) win over half of his generation to the concepts of human
goodness and monotheism. Avraham, who always lived with danger and on the
brink of tragedy and disaster, never flinched nor fled, He did not withdraw
into himself and abandon his role of human leadership. He learned the
lessons of the generations that preceded him and did not allow himself to
be traumatized by those tragedies and wasting those terrible events.
The Jewish people, the children of Avraham, have reeled from tragedy to
greater tragedy in our long and difficult history and exile. In our
century, the Holocaust and the vicious pogroms of the first third
(pre-Holocaust) of the century, have decimated our people. They have not
only destroyed us physically but they have also crippled us emotionally and
spiritually. It would have been perfectly understandable had the Jewish
people in our time just curled up and withered away, turning the experience
of the Holocaust into a wasted historical event. The grandeur of our times
is that even though many Jews have given up on themselves, have
intermarried, assimilated, secularized, and disappeared, the Jewish people
as an entity has followed the path of Avraham and not Noach. Not only is
the State of Israel an example of Jewish determination and constancy, but
the strong development of a Torah life-style amongst large numbers of
Jewish communities the world over, is a testimony to dealing with and
defeating tragedy. Our Rabbis said that Avraham reaped the rewards of all
of the ten generations after the flood. He saw their disasters, experienced
the flames of his own potential destruction, and yet rose to proclaim a
Godly world of human good and compassion. That is what is meant that he
reaped the reward of those previous generations. He learned their lessons,
corrected their shortcomings, and moved on to create a new world that would
justify his faith. Our generation is faced with this very same challenge.
Let us build Avraham's world and reap the rewards of the countless
generations of human failure and misery that have preceded us.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Text Copyright © 2001 Rabbi Berel Wein and
Project Genesis, Inc.