There is a story about two Jews who are standing at the door of the synagogue, waiting for a minyan to be gathered. They waited and waited, and no one came. The one said to his fellow: Let’s count how many we really are. You and I are two. Me and you are two more – together four. The two of us are two more and together six. If you count to yourself, it will be six. Six plus six twelve. There are two extra – let’s go home. Noah in Hebrew translates “to live comfortably.”
Our Parasha begins with the words, “These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous and innocent man in his generation; Noah walked with God.” The name of Noah is repeated three times. And it seems too much. Apparently, he could have said: Noah was an innocent, righteous man in his generation, and he served God. The answer might be that the third Noah is not the name of the man, but something else.
All our famous ancestors in the Torah, got their names for a reason. Adam was called Adam because he was created from earth. Abraham was called that because he was the father of many nations. Isaac – because his mother laughed. Jacob – because he grabbed his brother by the heel. Moshe – because he was rescued from the water. And what was said about Noah? He will comfort us! Before he was born, the fingers on human hands were stuck to each other. Noah was the first one with separate fingers. If so, according to the Hebrew translation, he should have been called Menachem or Nachman…not Noah. “Noah” means comfort and relaxation.
From the following verse we can offer the interpretation, “Noah walked with God”. Despite Noah being in communication with God, he moved slow and relaxed. He didn’t show major interest in reaching out to the people around him or helping them improve themselves and save them from the flood.
This may be the reason why he is called Noah, and this is the reason perhaps that it wasn’t said of him that he was an absolute righteous man – but that he was “righteous in his generation” – only in his generation is he considered righteous. In his generation, people were still debating about
God. There were those who believed that there was a God, others who believed that there was no God, and there were those who said that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Noah didn’t do enough on behalf of his generation as Abraham did. And despite all of Noah’s shortcomings, God found him to be the man most worthy of all to carry on his shoulders the most important mission of his generation. And when God saw how difficult it was for Noah to carry out the mission and to fulfill all the commandments, he gave him only seven commandments, which are known to this day as “the seven commandments of Noah’s sons.” Do not to worship idolatry. Do not curse God. Do not to murder. Do not sin in incest in the family. Do not steal. Do not eat part of an animal while the animal is alive, and to judge according to law. Those seven commandments must also be kept by all non-Jews, even in our days.
But after God gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people got a new set of different commandments, more complex and more challenging. We are trying to keep them, but not always successfully. Our mission in life is not to stay in the same place in our comfort zone, or to be a “Noah,” but to move forward, always looking to reach the next level of spirituality.
Which commandment is the least comfortable to fulfill? Which Mitzvah is the most fun to fulfill?
If you were asked to rewrite and to commit to FIVE commandments that would be unique and singular for the Jewish people, what would you write? What commandment that you are familiar with, but are not able to fulfill, would take you out of your comfort zone and bring you to the next level in your relationship with God?
Rabbi Refael Cohen