Noah — 5771 — Survivor

24/10/2010 at 10:18 Leave a comment


Shabbat Noach

9 October 2010

Neil F. Blumofe


Our traditional commentaries devote much consideration to thinking about what kind of person Noah was.  The Hebrew renders him an ish tsadik, tamim hayah b’dorotav – a righteous man, maybe, perfect or simple in his generation – a phrase that vexes our theologians.  Some believe that distinguishing Noah in his generation is a call of praise – that even in his corrupt and base world, Noah maintained a high level, pursuing holiness and adhering to the ways of God.  Others see this calling out as a criticism – in a generation of malcontents and slackers, really, Noah was not that great – had he lived among greatness, goes this thinking, Noah’s life would have been insignificant and inconsequential.


However, there is a figure mentioned just after Noah who is an interesting juxtaposition to him – Noah’s great grandson Nimrod — who usually gets lost in this incredible portion of the flood and the Tower of Babel.  Nimrod is depicted as a hai-chail lehiyot gibor ba’aretz and also as a gibor tsayid lifnei haShem – our Torah calls him the first to be a mighty man on the earth and he was a mighty hunter before God.  It is noteworthy that imbedded in a list of the generations who grew up after Noah – these are the descendants of Noah’s sons – it is Nimrod who not only receives a mention – he also receives a description and an appellation and the Torah draws out his kingdom, specifically, as it traces lineage.


In their love and devotion to Torah, our sages tended to seize on any quirk of the text and draw significant meaning from it – therefore, according to two great medieval sages, Radak in Provence and Ramban in Spain, Nimrod is considered to be the one who establishes monarchy in the world and in fact, instigates wars between nations.  Our sages consider that Nimrod founded not only power through physical force – controlling people in this world — he was also able to influence people with his words and affect them spiritually – drawing them away from service to God.  A 19th century rabbi who lived in Germany, Samson Raphael Hirsch, outfits Nimrod as the prototype that begets the hypocrite – one who looks a certain way – one who creates an image of piety and upstanding behavior, yet who acts in a dissembling way to lead people further and further from each other and from lives of substance and meaning.


Our Midrashim are even more explicit – these stories describe Nimrod as the first of the corrupt actors on earth.  Nimrod wore the garments that God had made for Adam and Eve when they left the Garden of Eden – these were clothes that radiated splendor and all who saw them found the person who wore them irresistible and thus, successful in all things, including subjugation of individuals and communities.  As his kingdom grew – he became a mighty hunter of men – challenging God as he took aim and captured the human soul – turning them away from recognizing their divine origin.


Thus, there is a profound difference between Noah and Nimrod in how one lives his life – Noah represents an existence that is bound up with God, while Nimrod represents humanity’s power in determining things, banishing God to a decorative or auxiliary role at best – and at worst, a symbol that draws people in and is then soon abandoned.  Ancient Greek art shows this as well – Nimrod is represented as the warrior Hercules and Noah is represented as Nereus, who was a Titan – himself the child of the Sea and the Earth.  In many images, Hercules is shown challenging Noah, showing that now, after the flood, humanity is the measure of all things and a God-centered life is shown to be passé or somehow weak.


This struggle is consistent in the Torah, in Greek civilization and too in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Mesopotamian story of the adventures of the hero, Gilgamesh.  In each of these stories that describe an entire culture, there is a search for meaning in life and the omnipresent fear of death.  Gilgamesh, who is also Hercules and Nimrod seeks – Utnapishtim aka Neresus aka Noah, who is believed to hold the secrets of immortality, since each was birthed from the sea or survived a catastrophic flood.  The Greek author Hesiod wrote, “and the sea begat Neresus, the eldest of his children, who is true and lies not – and men call him the Old Man because he is trusty and gentle and does not forget the laws of righteousness – and he think just and kindly thoughts – Utnapishtim – is a Semitic word linked to the Hebrew – utnefesh ish tam – one whose soul, whose live is tam – the same word used to describe Noah – a living become of righteousness.


In this context, I will one day take another opportunity to show how revolutionary and vital our Torah is – taking the side not of the powerful nation- builder Nimrod as did the Mesopotamians an the Greeks – rather nurturing yirat shamayim in the emerging life of Abraham.


In discussing the primacy of God and the Human Being — we see this same struggle in our world today, as we seek direction and guidance, there are many barkers and carnival acts who want us to see their wares – whether it is drama on television, or assembly in our nation’s capital  — to restore honor, or sanity or fear, we are still gripped by snake oil salesmen who create an image of themselves for public consumption – Nimrods still looking for control.  So, let us be gentle on Noah who was simply living with an awareness of God – and let us take to heart the warning from this ancient art and these ancient texts – from the Epic of Gilgamesh – “the life that you are seeking, you will never find.  When man was created, he was allotted death, and God kept life for Divine’s own keeping.”  So, like Noah, let us find comfort in a simple life, with quiet acts of righteousness that although not riotous can prevail in soulful determination, as we find survival after the destruction of the world.


Shabbat Shalom.


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Bereshit — 5771 — Look Forward Without Anger Lech L’cha — 5771 — Pulling a Malchizedek

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