October 10, 2002
Law and Order
Parshat Noah (Genesis 6:9 - 11:32)
In a Sept. 11 New York Times Op-Ed piece by Thomas L. Friedman on the feelings of angst that linger a year after Sept. 11, 2001, the distinguished columnist reports that he turned to Rabbi Tzvi Marx, a teacher in the Netherlands. Here's what Marx told Friedman:
"To some extent, we feel after Sept. 11 like we have experienced the flood of Noah -- as if a flood has inundated our civilization and we are the survivors. What do we do the morning after?
"What was the first thing Noah did when the flood water receded and he got off the ark? He planted a vine, made wine and got drunk.
"But what was God's reaction to the flood? Just the opposite. God's reaction was to offer Noah a more detailed set of rules for mankind to live by -- rules which we now call the Noahite Laws. God's first rule was that life is precious, so man should not murder man. [Additionally, put in place were prohibitions against idolatry, adultery, blasphemy and theft.]
"It is as though God said, 'Now I understand what I'm up against with these humans. I need to set for them some very clear boundaries of behavior, with some every clear values and norms, that they can internalize.'
"God, after the flood, refused to let Noah and his offspring indulge themselves in escapism, but God also refused to give them license to live without moral boundaries, just because humankind up to that point had failed."
It's so very typical of Friedman to focus on a tragic event and to help lead us out of the darkness of despair not only by means of his own sagacious observations, but with the guidance of a contemporary seer.
While we continue to work ourselves through the grief and shock that Sept. 11 heaved upon our hearts and minds, as that flood of feelings recedes, are we willing to be like Noah or do we have the capacity to emulate God?
Even though Noah is described as a righteous man, the Torah provides us with a caveat; namely, it is written that he was "the most righteous man in his generation." This is hardly a flattering statement!
After all, his peers were constantly disappointing God -- to the point that they had to be totally blotted out from existence. So, it's obvious that Noah was barely better than they were.
Therefore, if a new world and a more reliable set of human beings were to arise out of the ruins of the flood, God had no choice but to reluctantly use Noah as the progenitor, and to add to the mix a plethora of rules and regulations.
Today, we are witnessing a considerable number of men and women who have come away from the tragedy that was wrought upon victims and their survivors in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania -- and upon each one of us -- acting like Noah. They are so blinded by anger and drunk with power that they want to lash out at the world about them.
Falling prey to stereotyping and scapegoating, they choose to believe that most Muslims, Arabs and non-Jewish residents in or immigrants from the Middle East are either terrorists or advocates of terrorism. They want to settle their differences by trampling upon constitutional guarantees of freedom and due process. They want to unleash the military might of our nation upon its enemies -- real and imagined.
Noah-like, we can join their ranks or we can emulate God as depicted in this week's Torah portion by giving evidence that we are wise and prudent, strong and patient and ever-reliant on laws instead of raw passions.
Certainly, America has its enemies and we need to deal with them in ways in which their threat to our way of life is totally wiped away. But this does not give us license to cast blame on an entire people simply because of their religious affiliation or national origin.
Rather, we must concentrate on those specific individuals who are our antagonists, marginalize them and strip away their power and influence on others.
"Military operations, while necessary, are not sufficient. Building higher walls may feel comfortable, but in today's interconnected world they're an illusion," Friedman said. "Our only hope is that people will be restrained by internal walls -- norms and values. Visibly imposing them on ourselves, and loudly demanding them from others, is the only survival strategy for our shrinking planet.
"Otherwise, start building an ark."
This is sound advice that we and everyone else better listen to and accept before it's much too late.