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The Yes Man

Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32 )

by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt

No one in the entire Torah is introduced with such glowing accolades as is Noah. He is a "man," he is righteous, he is pure and he walks with God. Three separate times during the account of the Flood, the Torah tells us that Noah did "exactly as God told him to do."

And yet, who is Noah? Midway through this week's portion we are told that he lived for 350 years after the flood, and that's that. He disappears into history as quickly as he came. He is not like Abraham, the first Jew, to whom the Torah devotes four weekly portions, nor certainly the Moses who is featured in the majority of the Torah.

Where did Noah go wrong? What differentiates him from a man like Abraham?

I believe the answer lies precisely in the phrase that Noah did "exactly as God told him." God comes to Noah and says he is about to destroy all of humanity, and that Noah should build an ark to save himself. He doesn't flinch. "Yes, sir. One ark coming right up."

Notice something strange? God says He is about to destroy the world and Noah doesn't flinch. He just goes out and builds an ark.

When Abraham is told that God is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he fights tooth and nail for them. God did not tell him to do so, but God didn't need to. Abraham knew what he believed in and took initiative.

In contrast to Abraham, Noah was a "yes-man." And God does not want yes-men. If he had wanted robots, he could quite easily have created them. But he created us as humans instead - with feelings, thoughts and ideas. God created independence for us to use, not for us to suppress. Abraham stood up for what he believed was right; Noah did not have an opinion. He just followed God.

Following God is not a bad thing. But sometimes, in fact quite often, it's just not enough. God's laws are a structure on which to build, not a jail in which to live.

The word Noah in Hebrew means "rest," intransigence almost. He took the easy way of blind following, not the challenging path of leading the way forward that Abraham and Moses took. That's why the Torah forgets him so quickly. Robots are much less interesting than people.

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