By Laura Seymour
Last week we read the parasha about Noah and I taught our preschoolers all about this memorable story. Most of us have heard or read the many children’s books about Noah, but if you haven’t read it directly from the Torah, go back and read it to the very end. There are lessons galore especially for adults — and especially if you read it to the very end.
However, as I prepared to teach, I found myself reading more and more about Noah and his story. I came across this d’var Torah from the website
insideoutwisdomandaction.org (“Three Approaches to Confronting a Broken World” by Rabbi David Jaffe), and it really made me think about our world and how we are approaching the many problems we face today. This is nothing new — there have always been good and bad times — but there is much to learn from our Torah about different ways of approaching our concerns.
First from Noah — what did he do? G-d tells Noah that the world is going to be destroyed because of the evil in the world, and G-d gives details on how to build the ark and what to do once it is built. Noah does what G-d asks, although it must have been hard with the people thinking he was crazy for building a boat in the middle of the desert. We question why Noah did not do more or question G-d more or tell the people what was happening. However, he did as he was told.
Time passes and we meet Abraham. G-d tells him that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be destroyed. Adam appeals to G-d’s values, “Will the judge of the entire world not do justice?” Abraham is not afraid to question — he is the real activist in standing up to G-d and protesting. He wants justice and is willing to stand up to G-d!
Finally, we have Moses. After the Golden Calf, G-d tells Moses He will destroy the people and start over with Moses. Moses stands with his community — “If you are not going to forgive them, then take my life also.” He takes the ultimate risk and is ready to sacrifice himself to stand with his people.
Each approach offers us models of how to deal with the brokenness of our world. Rabbi Jaffe says, “Each approach may be needed at different times. Noah’s ‘follow-orders’ approach could be useful when embedded in a group geared up for action and needed to work with a high level of synchronicity. Abraham’s approach could be useful to rally people for action and Moses’s approach may be right for when direct harm is threatened.”
The lessons are there for us to take — we must answer first what approach might be needed. Look at past times and imagine but also look at today — take any of the many challenges we are facing now. Do we follow orders, stand up and protest or do we need to take a risk and be ready to sacrifice something valuable? The question also is for each of us individually — am I Noah, Abraham or Moses or do I change based on the challenge?
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.