Tomorrow I will do something I have done every year since 1984.
I will lain Parshat Noach.
Yes, I still remember the first time, Kingsbury shul, October 27th. I was nervous, I was excited and I was, for the one and only time – a barmitzvah boy.
The world has changed quite a bit in the ensuing 36 years and I don’t think as a 13 yr old I would have believed what the future has created in terms of technology.
I still remember about the time of my Barmitzvah, my Dad brought home something called a video recorder – I couldn’t believe it – you could actually record TV and watch it later! At the same time, a father of a friend of mine had a phone in his car! I couldn’t believe the technology.
Little did I know, how that technology would upgrade year after year, until the human race were addicted to these gadgets in our hands which we use for every conceivable thing. In 2020 the average user spends four hours a day on their smart phone, not to mention time spent watching Netflix, Prime, Sky, etc etc.
What do we do? How do we survive the flood of information, many times we can feel like we are drowning!
Enter Parshat Noach and a Rashi we all know so well.
‘Noach was a righteous man he was perfect in his generations’ (Bereishit 6:9).
In his generations: Some of our Sages interpret it [the word בְּדֹרֹתָיו] favourably: How much more so if he had lived in a generation of righteous people, he would have been even more righteous. Others interpret it derogatorily: In comparison with his generation he was righteous, but if he had been in Abraham’s generation, he would not have been considered of any importance. — [Sanhedrin 108a, Bereishit Rabbah 30:9, Tanchuma Noach 5]
Notice the lack of symmetry. In the first part he speaks of a ‘generation of righteous people’ and then later he talks about ‘generation of Abraham’. Could Abraham’s generation not serve as the model for both?
Before we answer Rashi, we need to understand the timeline.
Noach was 600 when the flood hit, but he lived for another 350 years after – in the new world. Yet apart from the story with the vineyard, we hear nothing from him. Seder Olam tells us that Noach was still alive during the Tower of Bavel incident. He was still alive, but he was silent.
There was another person who was alive during the tower of Bavel as Seder Olam also tells us – Avraham was 48 at the time.
Rashi therefore is just stating a fact in the second part of his teaching, ‘but if he had been in Abraham’s generation, he would not have been considered of any importance’. Noach DID live in the generation of Avraham and despite his greatness as an individual he was worthless to his generation.
He may have saved the world, but the rabbis found him lacking. Noach was able to withstand the evil of his generation yet made no effort to challenge the immoral and hedonistic lifestyle they were leading. That was both the greatness and the tragedy of Noach.
Avraham on the other hand, saw the challenges of his time and devoted his life to transforming and teaching about morality and monotheism. He is the one rewarded by becoming the father of our nation.
To be a Jew demands engagement with the world around us, yet to challenge the society in which we live in, to have our boundaries, our limitations to preserve our traditions and practices while still benefiting from the positives that the world has to offer.
And when it comes to the flood of information – we understand that it is maximum 24/6.
As I mentioned last week, Shabbat is so much a part of the solution of so much that is wrong in our society. Remarkably when I think of that boy in 1984 and my children – I can see how different their world is from my world back then. However, when it comes to Shabbat – it is almost identical.
The Shabbat my children love is away from phones and computers, immersed in books, meaningful conversations, quality family time and the community connection and that is also exactly the Shabbat I loved back in Kingsbury in the 1980’s.
In two weeks’ time we will be celebrating the 7th year of the Shabbat Project by holding our 3rd Shabbaton at Home, launching on Thursday November 5th at 8pm with the Chief Rabbi and Chief Rabbi Goldstein of South Africa. It is our attempt to bring the beauty of Shabbat and hopefully its observance to over 70 communities and 12 cities across the UK.
Everyone will once again receive from their shul a booklet of inspiration to read over Shabbat and then we will all come together on Motzei Shabbat at 6:30pm for the first ever ‘Great UK Community Shabbaton at Home Quiz’ with our friends at Etgar – it should be a remarkable event.
Yes, we can sometimes feel like we are drowning in this crazy world we live in, so once a week we climb into our Ark and for 25 hrs we can float, gaining inspiration and strength to once again on Motzei Shabbat engage with the world.
It is not enough just to be Noach – we need to be Avraham as well.