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10.20.2017 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 9:22 pm
by RabbiMark
Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age Genesis 6:9

In this week’s parashah, Noah is described as an ish tzaddik, a “righteous man,” and as tamim, often translated as “blameless,” in his generation. Rabbis and Commentators have disagreed for centuries about the nuance implied by this phrase. Some say that he was only righteous compared to the wicked generation in which he lived. Others say that he was objectively righteous and debate whether or not he tried to warn or save the people of that generation or if he remained aloof. The tradition does not offer us conclusive answers to these questions. I would like to look at the verse and the words chosen as I understand them.

The word tamim can certainly mean “blameless” or “perfect.” The word appears throughout the Torah and is varyingly translated as “without blemish,” “perfect,” “complete,” and “whole or wholehearted.” I’m not sure I believe that a person can be perfect or blameless. The book of Kohelet, which we just read on Sukkot, tells us that there is no such thing as a righteous person who does good and does not sin. The idea of wholeness or wholeheartedness makes much more sense to me. For me, to do something wholeheartedly is to bring my whole self into the endeavor to the best of my ability. That is what I believe a righteous person does. If I were looking for someone on whose back to place the preservation of all living things, I would go with the guy who gives everything he has to do the job.

The question that the rabbis are most interested in is why the text specifies that he was tamim “in his generation.” Is this term used to compare Noah to the others of his generation or to describe the way in which he walked in the world? For Noah to have been wholehearted in his generation does not say to me that Noah is better than the others in his generation; he may have been. It says to me that he was engaged in his world, that he was wholehearted not only in what he did, but also with those among whom he lived. The Torah need not tell us that Noah prayed for or endeavored to save the people who would die in the flood. The use of the word tamim leaves me no doubt as to whether or not Noah tried to save them; I don’t see how he could have done otherwise.

Of course, if we are to understand the verse in this way, we must acknowledge that we are dealing with a flawed hero, and the rest of the parashah bears that out. When I engage wholeheartedly, when I bring my whole self into an endeavor, my flaws come along with my strengths, and I’m certain that it was the same with Noah. We cannot know what Noah may have done on behalf of his generation. The Torah doesn’t tell us. I believe that he, a man described as righteous and wholehearted in his generation, did as much as he was able - and that we are asked to do the same.

Noah was not perfect - neither before the flood nor after - but I believe that he would have been seen as righteous in any generation. I don’t know that I will ever be described as righteous, but I hope that I might be seen as wholehearted in my dedication to my work and my family. This parashah offers me an example of how to walk in the world, engaged.

Shabbat Shalom,
Danny Lutz, Rabbinic Intern