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Noach


Written by the rabbi


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The rabbis were not so much critical of Noach - after all the Torah itself pays to him the highest of compliments calling him a righteous person - as they were wary of him. I have often felt that this attitude is born of the idea that Rashi himself states in commenting upon the origin of Noachs name. Rashi makes a point that the name Noach should not be construed as a derivative of the Hebrew word "nacheim" - meaning to comfort - but rather it is derived from the other Hebrew word "noach" - meaning, rest, leisure, comfortable but not comfort as in consolation. Rashi attributes this understanding of Noachs name to the fact that Noach was the father so to speak of modern agricultural technological advancement and progress. The iron plow, the first great essential tool for farming to develop and for humans to become settlers and abandon a nomadic existence, was an invention of Noach - it was his great contribution towards the advancement of human technology. Noach therefore becomes the source of human technological progress which grants us leisure, eases our physical workload and gives us many physical comforts in life. However, technology alone with all of its attendant blessings does not guarantee us any sort of mental, spiritual or social comfort. It does not console us in our hour of grief nor does it strengthen our spirit in our moments of self-doubt and personal angst. If Noach could have achieved these goals then Rashi points out that his name would have been Menachem - the one who brings true consolation and comfort to troubled souls. Hence Noach is viewed in tradition as being incomplete - technologically advanced but spiritually wanting - in short a pretty accurate description of our current world human society.

The Rabbis of the Talmud taught us that if "one tells you that there is wisdom, knowledge and skills present amongst the nations of the world you should believe him. However, if one tells you that there is Torah amongst the nations of the wo

rld, then do not believe him." Judaism and Jewish society has no basic argument against the advance of technology. We are not the Amish nor are we willing to be consigned a back seat in the drive to physically improve the human condition of life on this planet. Yet Judaism realizes that true psychological and spiritual comfort cannot be found in the latest version of the ipod. Noachs technology can be enormously beneficial in a society that adopts Avrahams values and beliefs. But bereft of any spiritual focus or restraint, technology run wild makes our world a more fearful place to inhabit and forces many to yearn for the good old less technologically advanced eras that preceded us. Noachs grand technology could not save the world from the ravages of evil that brought upon humankind the great flood described in this weeks parsha. Avrahams grand values and holy behavior even almost saved the seat of world evil, Sodom. The world is Noachs world but its survival is dependent upon the survival and eventual triumph of Avrahams children, ideas and beliefs.


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