8/9 Nov: Lech Lecha: Shabbat comes in 4:07 pm, ends 5:10 pm
We learnt last week that Noaḥ was a man who ‘ walked with God’ (Genesis 6:9). This week, we see very similar language employed when the Holy One charges Avram with his fate: ‘ Walk before Me,’ says God to Avram (Genesis 17:1). The word for ‘walk’ is the same in both instances – hit-haleikh (התהלך) – but the way in which that word is employed differs. Noah walks with God; Avram is told by God to ‘hit-haleikh l’fanai’, הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי: ‘Walk before Me.’
Perhaps walking with God and walking before God are the same action. However, were that to be the case, we would need to read Noaḥ as being a superior character to Avram: while Noaḥ was able to walk with the Eternal without external prompting, Avram required the charge. While this makes sense of ‘hit-haleikh’, it does not track well with what we know of their characters. Avram was chosen to be the father of the Jewish people, and not Noaḥ; Avram is given the promise of the Holy Land, and not Noaḥ; we see Avram act righteously in aid of his fellow human beings even when it required arguing with God, whereas Noaḥ’s goodness is only described in terms of comparison with those around him (Gen. 6:9).
Our rabbis of blessed memory read the difference in their walking as a resounding endorsement for the morality of Avram, soon to be Avraham. Noaḥ walked with God, according to the medieval commentator Rashi, because Noaḥ required God’s support. Avram, on the other hand, had the ability to walk in his righteousness without aid. To their eyes, it is precisely Avram’s ability to be strong and righteous without God’s guiding hand that allows Avram to work as God’s partner, and thus to shape the destiny of human worship.
Rabbi Natasha Mann
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman