Do we wish to strive for the middle mark or for excellence? This is one of the questions before us as we begin the stories of creation again. One of the ways we perceive the genius of our sages is seen in how they develop the calendar and the scriptural readings in relation to that. We all know we have just concluded the month of Tishrei, with all its festivals focusing us to be the best we can be. Yet the opening stories of the Torah immediately highlight that striving for excellence is not necessarily the human way.
Last week we opened with the story of Adam, the original earthling from the earth. Having eaten, like his wife, from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, he is confronted by God concerning his choice of action. God asks, “Where are you?” Adam responds, he was afraid and so he hid. God further asks if Adam ate of the tree of knowledge, to which he replies, “The woman You put at my side – she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” Blame and excuse before acknowledgment. God then queries the woman who says, “The serpent duped me, and I ate.” Blame and excuse before acknowledgment. Perhaps it is no wonder that of their first two sons, one will murder the other, and ten generations later God see that “great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time.”
Into this dire situation steps the hero of this week’s story, Noah. He lives in a world perhaps not too different than ours. “The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness.” Refugees fleeing from war, human slavery, rape, domestic violence, child abuse, let alone corruption, abuse of power and no accepting of responsibility. At least Noah was according to our story, “a righteous man, blameless in his age.” So God calls Noah to build an ark, and Noah complies. Noah sees what is wrong with humanity and builds the ark to take him, his three sons and all their wives, along with animals for the future as the society around him is exterminated. Are they really the only eight innocents among all humanity? Some have suggested that the phrase “blameless in his age” means that compared to the others, Noah was blameless, yet he still did not have that striving for excellence needed to help repair humanity. He complies with God’s call but does nothing to improve the situation. He does not intervene to prevent wrongdoing, he does not try to rehabilitate or guide those who have strayed, he does not try to save the innocent. He saves himself and his family – and another ten generations later humanity will be scattered over the entire earth, one people unable to communicate with another.
Adam and Eve, the ones who hide from responsibility, who place blame on others before. Noah, the one who saves himself, who does not teach, guide, bring change. Thus, a new model is needed, and at the very end of the week we will hear of the birth of Avram, a man who will show humanity a very different way of acting in times of crisis and in days of darkness. We will see that when the call comes to him that he is a man of action, of taking responsibility, of challenging evil, of effecting change – even with God. Corruption and lawlessness is often part of the world in which we live – are we more like Adam, Noah or Avram?