These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man he was perfect in his generations; Noah walked with G-d. [Genesis. 6:9]
If any man could be called perfect, it is Noah. He seemed to do everything right. As a young man, he invented the plough, which literally saved man from the curse of Adam. As the generations descended into venality and brutality, Noah stayed strong, resisting the evil around him.
And yet, there is an argument between two of the leading medieval commentators that is jarring. Moses Ben Nachman, or the Ramban, departs from his usual method of drawing from the Midrash and Zohar and sticks to the plain text. Noah was the greatest.
Shlomo Ben Yitzhaki, or Rashi, who lived more than 150 years earlier, makes an exception from his preference of sticking to the text. Instead, Rashi adopts the Talmud and Midrash and finds a serious flaw in Noah.
In his generation, he [Noah] was righteous. But if he had been in Abraham’s generation, he would not have counted for anything.
Why did Rashi choose this interpretation over the clear meaning of the Torah? Just a few verses later, answers emerge. G-d decides that mankind has become incorrigible, and the world must be destroyed.
And G-d said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the Earth has become full of robbery because of them, and behold I am destroying them from the earth.” [Genesis. 6:13]
How did Noah respond? He could have protested as Abraham did when G-d prepared to destroy a city. Here, G-d has told Noah that he will annihilate all of mankind along with animals and plant life. He will make the Earth desolate. And the righteous man says nothing.
At that point, G-d breaks the silence. He commands Noah to save himself and his family.
Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with compartments, and you shall caulk it both inside and outside with pitch. [Genesis. 6:14]
That begins a process of 120 years. Noah has to find the material that will withstand the flood of boiling water. He will have to become an ancient David Attenborough, searching for every species to bring to the ark. He has to worry whether the ark will have space for the thousands or more animals and insects.
Why couldn’t Noah have responded G-d the way Abraham did: What can I do to save the world? After all, G-d gave me 120 years, plenty of time to change the situation. If I make 100 people righteous will You rescind Your decree? Will 50 be enough; 30; 20; 10?
But Noah remained passive. He was righteous and that was enough for him and his family. So, now G-d established a covenant with Noah that he would remain under divine protection. Noah would not be killed at the last minute by evil men on his way to the ark. Noah and his family would leave the ark after the flood. The covenant would ensure that G-d would not ask the question: Why should you live while everybody in the world was killed?
Noah could have taken another path. He could have exploited G-d’s promise to save him to try to save mankind. He could have used the time not to build an ark but to groom righteous people. This would have been far easier than being cooped up in a ship for a year, assigned to feed everything from lions to fleas.
Thousands of years later, the prophet Jeremiah echoed this message. He turned to a sinful Israel and sighed.
Your sins have turned away these [blessings], and your transgressions have withheld the good from you. [Jeremiah. 5:25]
How many of G-d’s blessings have we rejected in the brief history of the State of Israel? In 1948, G-d brought the new state a ship packed with enough weapons to defeat five Arab armies within a few days. David Ben-Gurion, on orders of the departing British, sank the ship. Some 6,000 Jews paid for that.
— In 1949, the new Jewish army reached El Arish in the Sinai. This would have given us a buffer against aggression from Egypt and removed the Gaza Strip as any threat. Ben-Gurion, again under British and U.S. dictates, ordered the army to turn around.
— In 1956, Israel’s military conquered the entire Sinai within three days. Again, under American pressure, Ben-Gurion ordered a withdrawal. Gaza became the base of terror.
— In 1967, G-d gave Israel a victory over five Arab armies within six days. Sinai was again back in Jewish hands. So were Judea and Samaria, the Golan, and most important Jerusalem. By this time, Ben-Gurion was out of power, but his successor, Levi Eshkol, offered all of G-d’s gifts back to the enemy.
Eventually, G-d concluded that the Jews, particularly the leadership, did not want His blessings. They want money and power instead. Indeed, every tragedy has been exploited by the leadership for money. Nearly 2,000 dead, hundreds captive, 500,000 homeless, and what does the prime minister do? Does he order the 300,000 soldiers, held up in their camps for nearly two weeks, to defeat the enemy in the south and north. No, he asks for billions from Washington. Got to feed the monkey.
It’s a question that Elijah asks King Ahab: The king wanted a vineyard from his cousin. On the advice of his evil wife Jezebel, Ahab killed his cousin on the false charge of treason and then grabbed the vineyard.
Thus says G-d: Have you killed and now inherited? [Kings I. 21:19]
But Israel’s fate, regardless of its betrayal, will not be the same. More than 700 years ago, an anonymous volume appeared in Germany known as the Yalkut Shimoni. The book, virtually unknown for at least two centuries, contains more than 10,000 sayings from the Midrash and Talmud. Even today, scholars argue over the sources of the text.
The Yalkut quoted Rabbi Yitzhak, who probably lived during the Talmud, as discussing the era of the Messiah. In the year of the Messiah, all of the kings will fight each other. Persia will rule and taunt the king of the Arabs. The Arabs will run to Aram, today Syria, and seek advice. Persia will then destroy the world and the nations will tremble.
What will happen to little Israel? The Yalkut says Israel will be in total panic. This nation will cry, “Where will come; where will we go?”
But the Messiah will assuage Israel. Do not fear. Your redemption has come.
It will not be as the first redemption. For the first redemption was followed by sorrow and slavery. But in the last redemption, you will not have sorrow and slavery by the kingdoms afterwards. [Yalkut Shimoni. Allusion 499]