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Home » Noach

Noach: Tolerate or Love

Submitted by on October 4, 2010 – 7:23 pmNo Comment | 3,057 views

Tolerate or Love

Which is the better model, to tolerate or love? Tolerant people respect everyone’s right and wish to do as they please, loving people get involved in the lives of their beloved. They will be right up there in your face, but with love. The others will watch you flounder from afar, but with respect. Which is better?

The grandest book ever written by an expert on Jewish life, namely the Torah, offers two opposing models of the Jew in the small community. Noah and Abraham both lived on tiny islands of ideas: their piety and theories shared by practically no one. Yet Abraham flourished and fathered an illustrious nation whereas Noah, after a brilliant stint in the ark drank himself into a stupor; never to be heard from again.

What differentiates these two models? Why did Abraham succeed where Noah failed and what can we learn from it?

Noah

Noah was a lone dove in a community of vultures. He alone was honest and upright. The moral decay of  his day had reached a point of no return, but Noah ignored popular trends and taught his children the path of G-d. There were no Torah day schools or monotheistic temples, but Noah taught his children to believe and to behave. On the streets his children encountered corruption and depravity, but at home there was serenity and peace. For the most part, Noah’s children embraced their father’s way.

G-d appeared to Noah and rewarded his success. The entire generation would be destroyed, said G-d, but you and your family will survive. You have done well, was the message, you deserve to survive. Noah built an ark, a refuge not only for his family, but for samplings from every bird, animal and insect. Together they survived the deluge. Together they lived for nearly a year.

And they survived. Actually, they thrived. Our mystics noted that despite the many species and the fact that predator and prey shared cramped quarters, there had not been a single instance of prey in the ark. There were shades here of the Messianic age, when the wolf will lie down with the lamb.

Outside, humanity was falling apart; tearing at each other’s throats to get ahead. In the ark, serenity reigned; human and animal, predator and prey, vulture and potential carrion carried on as friends. It would appear that Noah proved it  possible to survive and even thrive despite the lack of community and support. His ark was a refuge of safety and sanity.

The waters had settled, the earth crust had dried and Noah opened the hatch. Out paraded man and beast and Noah offered a sacrifice to G-d. This was his big moment; he had survived and had saved all biology. Yet, at the pinnacle of achievement disaster struck. Noah planted a vineyard, drank himself into oblivion, was attacked by his son Ham and woke up an angry man. Gone were the patience and love, replaced by anger and scorn. Rather than blessing, we now hear Noah curse.

With this, Noah destroyed his own obituary, sullied his perfect life story and provided fodder for his critics. To add insult to injury, this is the last we hear of Noah in the entire Torah. What went wrong? Why could he not bask in victory? Why the destructive alcohol?

Abraham

Abraham’s, was also a lone voice in a vast darkness. He argued for monotheism and faith, but was drowned out by the larger cultures of his time. He was imprisoned and threatened with execution, was exiled and reviled. Like Noah, he always maintained his faith, yet unlike Noah, he never broke. He did not throw everything away at the end of his life. What made him different?

Tolerance

The key distinction between Noah and Abraham is that Noah never intervened on behalf of others. He was a tolerant man; live and let live, he believed. Don’t tell others how to live their life and don’t let them dictate yours. They can do their thing on the street and I will do my thing at home. If they die, let them die. If I live, well let me live.

A tolerant fellow… all the way to the brink. As his neighbors gasped for breath, heads bobbing beneath surging waves, Noah sailed off into the sunset. This is not tolerance. This is abhorrence.

Abraham was different. He was never content to sit at home and believe. He took his message to the streets. He talked to his neighbors and persuaded his friends. He wrote manuscripts and gave sermons. He conducted debates and orchestrated massive faith spectacles. He did all he could to bend the common mind to G-d.

Was he tolerant of other faiths? No, he was loving and devoted. And because tolerate or lovehe loved he would not allow his loved ones to be pagan. He also would not let them suffer. When Sodom was threatened by G-d, Abraham prayed on their behalf. No, my dear friends, Abraham was not tolerant; he was exuberant. Exuberant in faith and in love; he swept one and all into his passionate embrace.

In Old Age

Noah stepped out of the ark and saw the desolation wrought by his tolerance. Forced to reap the fruit of his apathy, Noah could not look forward. What did he have to look forward to? His strength finally gave out. He lost his youthful drive and his lifelong struggle to live alone. With guilt his only companion he drowned himself (at least this once) in alcohol and emerged an unhappy man.

Abraham entered his old age in serenity and accomplishment. He had inspired thousands and they had followed him to the Holy Land. They were touched by his concern, inspired by his faith and gripped by his passion. Abraham knew how to love. Noah knew only to tolerate. Abraham lived out his life in contentment; knowing that his son would carry his vision forward. Noah died alone.

We must heed the lesson taught by Noah and Abraham. Faith, commitment and observance cannot thrive in isolation. If we find ourselves in small communities the way forward is to seek out other Jews and invite them in. If we hide behind closed doors we will live alone; our commitment will either fade away or destroy us as it did Noah.

If we make like Abraham and shine a light for our fellow, our community will grow. We will not worry about being the only observant Jew because the community will observe right along with us.

This essay is based on a Rabbinic teaching (Zohar Hashmatot 189a) that upon seeing the devastation wrought by the flood Noah bemoaned the loss of life. “How can a compassionate G-d punish so harshly,” wailed Noah. G-d replied, “Now you ask. Where were you for the 120 years before the flood when I awaited your prayers every day?” Chastised, Noah offered a sacrifice to atone for his sin. The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 61) notes that Noah partnered with the Satan in planting the vineyard. Ktav Sover, based on the Midrashic teaching that Noah drank the wine on the day he planted the seed, explains that the Satan accelerated the vine’s rate of growth. The Midrash further notes that this wine was the catalyst for all eventual  sins and exiles of the Jewish people. It is on this basis that we postulate that Noah lost heart toward the end of his day. See Toras Moshe (Alshich) for further insight to Noah’s partnership with the Satan.

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