Noah: Relative righteousness

noahs-arkSix words. Six words to express a world of learning and hope and vision. It’s not easy to do , but it works when you pick the right six words. Like, “Shma Yisrael,Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad”  Those are good words.

My friend Alden Solovy, a wonderful liturgist and writer, suggested a Facebook exercise last week: Write a six word prayer. Our Facebook feeds were filled with short bursts of wisdom. Then, Alden focused our attention on Noach, this week’s parasha, and encouraged us to write a six-word “commentary”.

“Not enough to just be righteous enough.”

Noah was called a righteous man “in his time”. The rabbis interpret that in a couple of ways. Either Noah was righteous compared to everyone else at that time, and the bar was pretty low for that, or he was so righteous that he would have been considered righteous in Abraham’s time. God was so upset with the way things were going with this human creation that God wanted to upset the chess board and start over.

There was another man who was known as righteous in his time, and that was Lot, Abraham’s nephew. We read more about Lot later in Genesis, but there is also debate as to whether Lot was really righteous like his Abraham, or just in comparison to what was going on in town. For example, why did his hospitality to the strangers/angels/messengers “rate” higher than his willingness to hand over his young daughters to the crowd in place of his visitors?  But I digress. Back to Noah and relative righteousness.

We live in a time when righteousness has real implications for how our society proceeds. The Torah states clearly thirty-six times that we are obligated to take care of the vulnerable in society, the widow and orphan, the ones at the most precarious places in our communities. This is a real measure of righteousness, and we can ask ourselves how righteous is the leadership in our country, as heartlessness seems to be ruling instead.

The words “righteous” and “just” and “generosity” are linked in Hebrew through the shoresh (root word) Tz-D-K. This is no coincidence.  Decades ago, this country turned its back on millions of refugees from hell. We continue to turn a blind eye to those who pass through hell’s gates to find safety. And we continue to call it “policy” to tear families apart. Every country has a right to determine who comes into the country, and every country has the right to secure borders. But “justice” is linked to “generosity”, and accommodations must be made.

Noah may have been  righteous enough when the world was about to be destroyed.  Our world is threatened by bigotry and intolerance and hate. I don’t think we can settle for “righteous enough” anymore.



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