It was a lovely—and until then—innocuous cell phone conversation with a friend. We had been speaking of nothing in particular, when suddenly, from his end of the call, I heard a shouted string of expletives. My friend, who was parking his car as we talked, had incurred the wrath of another driver who felt that the parking space was his, that he had seen it first and that it belonged to him. And so he let loose a torrent of vulgarities, loud enough that I, in the other end of the call, could hear them.
It was, unfortunately, typical. And I confess to occasionally being the irate party, the one who feels wronged by some maneuver—or out-maneuver—that leaves me feeling a rage inappropriate to the actual offense.
None of us is perfect.
We are, rather, like Noah, who is described in this week’s Torah portion as a righteous man, perfect in his generation [emphasis, mine]. The commentaries offer a host of interpretations vis-à-vis Noah’s relative righteousness. Was Noah truly a righteous man, or was he righteous only in comparison to his peers?
His story, with its unceasing rains sent by God and its ark with two of every kind of beast, can be read both literally and metaphorically: for all his quite human failings, Noah rose above the fray, and in so doing, he lifted humanity up, carrying it over and through stormy seas.
And while we are not (yet) beset by a flood of biblical proportions, an argument can certainly be made that we too are living in what an ancient curse called “interesting times.” There is danger and uncertainty. Stress and tension. We are witness to the dawning of a new reality, one which remains yet inscrutable and indescribable. But such times are also fertile and generative, evocative of the possibility of remaking the world.
I prefer to offer not a critique of Noah but a call to us all. Despite the offenses we feel, despite our discontent and dis-ease, can we not, like Noah, construct an ark of kindness, an ark of decency and compassion? Can we not rise above the discord and the pain, and in so doing, lift up those around us.
Rabbi Jay Strear
President & CEO
Please email Rabbi Strear at CEO@JEWISHcolorado.org with comments or questions.