I spent years in the Creationism/evolution debate. Christian creationists keep taking about believing the Bible. By that they mean a literal 6 day creation and Flood. It amazes me that there entire worldview revolves around two parchyiot.
I have two theme points to make before my drash. I read Odysseus’s Scar1 and I am still blown away. The Torah never tells us what people are thinking, it never lets us inside anyone’s head (or, biblically, in their heart). We started with that grand cosmic view and we come down and stop at eye level from the outside.
1 If you have not read this essay stop right now and do so. It will change how you read the Torah. No theology, just about reading text.
Second theme is something I think I will come back over and over this year. There is a powerful quote from Elie Wiesel (I find several versions): “God gave Adam a gift, not how to begin but how to begin again.” We see that again with Noah. He has to begin again after the Flood. If I were looking at that I’d say that Noah fails, and particularly fast when he curses his son.
Bereishit 6:9 Noah was a righteous man, he was blameless in his age.
But those aren’t what really struck me on this reading. Rather it was Rashi’s comment about the two rabbinic views:2 that Noah was particularly good because he was good in a bad society and that Noah wasn’t that special because the standards were low.
2 “Some of our rabbis explain it to his credit: he was righteous even in his generation, it follows that had he lived in a generation of righteous people he would have been even more righteous owning to the force of good example. Others, however, explain it to his discredit: in comparison with his own generation he was accounted righteous, but had he been in the generation of Abraham he would have been of no importance.”
In this we have the unsolvable question of whether we are product of or society or not. We have the question of whether morality is absolute or relative. In the brilliant and necessary Jewish manner the Talmud doesn’t answer. It tells us the debate and moves on. I think that Rashi in the different views is saying yes to both. We are the product of our society and there is a standard we have to strive for.
Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics struggles with the same question. In an immoral or corrupt society you have to stuggle just to survive. In a place with no problems and no want you don’t have the opportunity to be moral. Instead you need a society where you have choice, but also have security. Aristotle then moves from ethics to politics to discuss how to build such a society. And this may well be the last time I will be able to bring some relevant classical thinking to a drosh. So I will stop in a high note.