In a Place Where There is No Man, Become One (Noah)

I'm guessing that many of you are familiar with Ghandi's exhortation to be the change that you wish to see in the world.

I don't know if Ghandi was a Talmudic scholar, but it does not come as a surprise to me that a similar teaching is in our Jewish texts. Pirke Avot (2:5) reads: In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.


One of the most famous scenes in our Torah involves Moses killing an Egyptian task-master.

Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. Moses turned this way and that way, and seeing that no one, he struck down the Egyptian.

I've always pictured Moses looking around to see if anyone would catch him, much as some of us may look around for police cars as we go just a bit faster on 316. Moses looked around, was relieved to see no one around, and then proceeded.

But there's another interpretation that speaks to the essence of being a mensch, a righteous person. Moses looked around to see if anyone would do the right thing. He looked this way and that way not because he hoped that there was no one there, but because he hoped to see others. But as we know, there were not. In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.


The very first verse of our parsha tonight is in stark contrast to the courageousness of Moses.

Noah was a righteous man in his generation.

This is not a compliment on Noah's character. It's basically the equivalent of our southern quip, Bless his heart. Noah wasn't necessarily a great man. He just happened to be the best in his generation - as our tradition understands it, he was the best of the worst.

If Noah was a righteous man, there wouldn't need to be the caveat added that he was a righteous man in his generation.


This story challenges us that each of us are called to be holy. We are not called to be holy in our generation. We are meant to look this way and that way, and see each other. Others should se us. We are the change that will come to this world.


This is a particularly troubling story tonight as our broken hearts are in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel. There seem to be many who not righteous, in this generation or otherwise.

This has been a week in which we pray that the Israel that exists is much different than the Israel of our prayers.

During these days, I've been thinking about something that Golda Meir said: We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.

In America and elsewhere, I have seen Arabs have come out along with us expressing their anger over the recent violence and bloodshed. We stand with them and with all others who are trying to be a human in a place where there seem to be far too few.

Israel is like Moses, turning its head left and right and not seeing many around. Tonight, she sees us. We pray for peace. We pray for change. We can be that change.

Shabbat Shalom.

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