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Noach - Proactive
Israel needs us. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels.
We find ourselves in an exceedingly challenging period for the Jewish people. Unfortunately, all indications point to the situation surrounding the war in Israel getting worse, both in terms of the actual conflict and the media coverage of the war. The conflict is tragic, where lives are being lost daily, families are being torn apart, and people are being displaced. Despite the initial wave of support for Israel, fueled by the stark brutality of the attacks, the media landscape appears to have a short-term memory, swiftly forgetting Hamas’ committed atrocities and becoming excessively critical of Israel's actions. However, let's not forget that Israel's strategy is not about achieving a 'proportional response' to Hamas' horrific attacks. Instead, Israel's objective is to halt and ultimately eliminate the threat posed by Hamas, thereby preventing further harm to Israeli citizens, and the world at large. Achieving this goal is no simple task and requires a level of patience that, quite honestly, many are already finding difficult to maintain.
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I think the story of Noach in this week’s parsha provides us with valuable insights into the difference between proactive and ineffective approaches to our current crisis. By learning from Noach's experiences and examining his positive and negative qualities, we can better understand our current predicament and guide our responses.
Parshat Noach tells the story of the biblical flood (Mabul) and Noach’s reaction. It's interesting to note the interpretation from the Zohar that suggests the Mabul was a result of an excess of chesed, or loving-kindness. This notion challenges our conventional understanding of chesed as a purely positive character trait. The truth is, chesed in the extreme can also represent a lack of boundaries, inadvertently enabling behaviors that hinder personal growth and independence. When one excessively coddles another, they may unintentionally inhibit their ability to self-actualize and become self-reliant. This represents the less-discussed negative aspect of Chesed.
In a sense, the very nature of the Mabul can be seen as an illustration of this concept, where the absence of typical boundaries that keep water contained led to the deluge of water overwhelming and destroying everything in its path. It's a lesson that's crucial for us to reflect upon.
The story of Noach serves as a compelling example of this as well. He initially emerged as a tzadik, an individual who charted an independent path in stark contrast to the wickedness prevalent in the generation of the flood.
וְנֹחַ מָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי יְהֹוָה
But Noah found favor with Hashem. [Genesis 6, 8]
As we've discussed before, Noach found favor With Hashem by offering comfort to a world scarred by the curse of Adam. His inventive spirit, as seen in the creation of the plow to till the cursed land, defied all odds and skeptics, illustrating that the seemingly impossible could indeed be achieved.
However, later in his life, after exiting the ark following the flood, a transformation seems to have taken place. Suddenly, the Torah refers to him as a man of the earth:
וַיָּחֶל נֹחַ אִישׁ הָאֲדָמָה וַיִּטַּע כָּרֶם
Noah, the tiller of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.
This suggests Noach's reluctance to continue fighting the prevailing trend of his society. Noach seemed to have given up, perhaps becoming more cynical, seeking solace in alcohol, and desiring a more prosaic life that blended into the rest of the world.
וַיָּחֶל נֹחַ אִישׁ הָאֲדָמָה, נִתְחַלֵּל וְנַעֲשָׂה חֻלִּין, לָמָּה, וַיִּטַּע כָּרֶם, לֹא הָיָה לוֹ לִטַּע דָּבָר אַחֵר שֶׁל תַּקָּנָה, לֹא יִחוּר אֶחָד וְלֹא גְּרוֹפִית אַחַת, אֶלָּא וַיִּטַּע כָּרֶם
“Noah, the man of the soil, began [vayachel]” – he became profaned and unholy [chulin]. Why? “And he planted a vineyard.” Should he not have planted something else, that was constructive, a fig branch or an olive branch? Instead, “he planted a vineyard.” [Bereshit Rabbah 36]
The truth is that early indications of this transformation are evident in the original description of Noach's character. At first, he was regarded as a Tzadik, a righteous individual, a title that may seem honorable, but the midrash highlights its insufficiency. Being a Tzadik meant that he faithfully followed divine guidance and walked with God.
Noah walked with God [Genesis, 6:9]
However, according to the Midrash, in God's eyes, this wasn't enough because it did not involve challenging the prevailing system and charting his own path in life.
In fact, the flood itself is termed by Yishayahu HaNavi as “the waters of Noach”:
כִּי־מֵי נֹחַ זֹאת לִי
For this to Me is like the waters of Noah [Isaiah 54:9]
This is a term the Zohar understands as attributing responsibility for the flood to Noach because he didn't make efforts to avert the flood by praying for a transformation among the people of his era so that they wouldn’t warrant destruction.
So it seems that Noach began as someone who initially charted his own path and resisted God's curses but ultimately yielded to them.
In contrast, God favored Avraham, who fearlessly challenged the norms and rejected idol worship, even though it was the prevalent custom of the time. Avraham recognized the need for change and took active measures to address the issues at hand. He charted his own path, not succumbing to the "floodwaters" of his corrupt society. Avraham understood that Chesed, the foundation upon which God's world is built, required continuous work, pruning, and improvement, through his personal growth and contributions, to better both himself and the world.
Presently, the world appears to be submerged in a metaphorical flood, where boundaries don’t exist, and critical analysis and differentiation are lacking. It can be shocking, but is still common, to hear people making the ridiculous assertion equating the Israeli army to Hamas, failing to acknowledge the massive distinction between the two: between Israel's desire for peace and Hamas’ relentless desire for Israel's destruction, at all costs. Israel's clear goal is peace, but the absence of a sincere partner for peace necessitates self-defense. This is a point that we should make clear to ourselves and to the world.
The story of Noach not only emphasizes the importance of individuality and boundaries but also underscores our ongoing responsibility to speak the truth. It's crucial for all of us to remain informed and engaged with the ongoing situation, even amidst the distractions of daily life. Staying informed about developments in Israel is a top priority. We must also differentiate between the various groups and individuals involved in the conflict, understanding that supporting Israel does not imply endorsing perfection but recognizing its right to self-defense.
The impact of this war on civilians, both Israeli and Palestinian, is heart-wrenching. Israel acknowledges that there are Palestinian civilians who seek peace with Israel and do not share Hamas' destructive goals. Israel's intent is not to harm these innocent civilians, as it does not target them or any civilians. In contrast, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups, along with their supporters, openly celebrate the harm and death of all Israelis.
To gain a more nuanced understanding of this complex conflict and how to engage in discussions about it, seeking guidance from informed voices on the internet can be immensely helpful.
If we have the means, writing letters to government representatives, and newspapers, and engaging in popular website discussions to influence public opinion about Israel is also valuable. For example, we can encourage people not to refer to Hamas as militants or combatants, but as savage terrorists. We can play a part in shaping the narrative.
Attending rallies and voicing our support is also an opportunity to make a difference. While here in America we do not possess arms and artillery, our voices can be powerful tools for fighting antisemitism and supporting Israel’s right to exist, and right to self-defense. Let us make our voices heard.
If possible, financially supporting charities that address the urgent needs of those in Israel affected by the conflict is also incredibly important. Even small contributions communicate that Israel is not alone, and when scaled can make a significant impact.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, as we have said many times before, sincere prayer and diligent Torah study in support of Israel can have a critical impact. I find it inspiring that, perhaps for the first time, our shul, Mekor Habracha, has established a daily Mincha/Ma’ariv minyan in Center City. That minyan, as well as our weekday morning minyan, has a focus on learning. Currently, at Mincha/Ma’ariv, we are studying Hilchot Tefila, with the goal of enabling us to daven with greater attentiveness and increased kavana (intentionality). At our morning services, we delve into Hilchot Shabbat. This additional effort enhances our observance of Shabbat so we can receive the special merit of shmira (protection) from Shabbat, both for ourselves and our Israeli brethren.
The lesson of Noach is that we must stand for our truth and avoid complacency as time passes. Instead of mirroring Noach, who, despite an initial display of strength, eventually lost the will to challenge, we should aspire to follow in Avraham's footsteps. Even when faced with the prospect of being thrown into a fiery furnace, or bringing his son Yitzchak as a sacrifice to God, or any of his other challenging tests from God, he didn’t despair.
Avraham's proactive approach compels us not to permit prevailing anti-Semitic hyperbole to shape the narrative; Avraham’s approach teaches us that we can make a difference.
We must recognize that Israel is not merely a distant concern; the well-being of the Jewish people everywhere is an integral part of our lives. Israel is our extended family; when Israel faces hardships, we must share in its struggles. Through our contributions of time and resources to the Jewish people, we can contribute to the eventual successful resolution of this conflict and pave the way for peace in Israel and the world, ushering in a brighter future, with the hope of Mashiach's arrival, God willing, very soon.