There is no one in all of Torah who is introduced to us with such glowing accolades as Noah. He is righteous; he is the purest of his generation and he walks with God. Three separate times during the chapter of the flood, the Torah tells us that Noah did ‘exactly as God told him to do’.
And yet, who is Noah? He disappears into history as quickly as he came. He is not an Abraham to whom the Bible devotes four portions, nor certainly a Moses to whom the Bible devotes most of its chapters. Midway through the portion we are told that he lived for three hundred and fifty years after the flood and that’s that. Goodbye Noah. He isn’t heard from again.
What differentiates him from a man like Abraham?
I believe the answer lies precisely in the phrase that Noah did ‘exactly as God told him’. God comes to him and tells him that he is about to destroy all of humanity and so Noah should build an ark to save himself. How does Noah respond? He doesn’t flinch. Yes, sir. One ark coming right up. Exactly as God told him.
Notice something strange? God tells him he is about to destroy the world and Noah simply goes out and builds an ark for his extended cruise while everyone is dying?
Let’s contrast this with a similar story with Abraham in a couple of weeks. Abraham is told that God is about to destroy Sodom and Gemorrah, evil and debaucherous cities. He doesn’t tell God he’ll be sure to avoid the Sodom’s supermalls on that day, rather he fights tooth and nail for them – arguing with God and insisting that God save them. God did not tell him to fight, but God did not need to. Abraham made his own judgment as to what he felt was right and stood up for his fellow human beings – even when that meant arguing with God Himself.
Noah was a righteous man, yes. He did everything that was asked of him. He went by the book. But that’s not enough. Noah was subservient to God, but Abraham was a partner with God. Noah abdicated responsibility for the world to God, whereas Abraham grasped it with both hands. Whilst Noah was a righteous man, Abraham was a great man. There was nothing per se wrong with Noah. You couldn’t fault him. But he wasn’t great. The word ‘Noah’ in Hebrew means ‘rest’, as though he didn’t want to trouble himself too much.
The Torah doesn’t criticize him, but equally, it doesn’t remember him. Because it is great human beings who are remembered, those who stand up and take responsibility for the world around them. Noah ticked all the boxes, but watched passively as all of humanity was destroyed.
Parsha in a Nutshell
This portion talks of the flood and the tower of Babel, as well as the 10 generations leading up to the birth of Abraham.