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Jewish World Review
Oct. 24, 2003
/ 5 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
There is no greater waste than a wasted tragedy
Rabbi Berel Wein
There is a lot more to the story of Noah, which we read publicly this Sabbath, than what you learned as a kid
Noah is a very difficult person to assess. The Rabbis of the Midrash
themselves were of different minds regarding Noah. The truth is, that the
righteous, perfect, G-d-pursuing Noah is in actuality a very complicated person.
The tragedy resulting from his behavior after the flood just as
his behavior and influence before the flood apparently was unable to arrest
the world's dive into disaster.
Noah certainly had the opportunity after the flood to fashion the world in his image, so to speak. But it was not to be. The majority of Noah's descendants reverted back to the evil ways before the flood. It is almost as though the flood and all of its ragedy was a waste. And I cannot think of a greater waste than a wasted tragedy.
This is perhaps the greatest point of criticism that the Rabbis leveled at
Noah that the flood and its lessons were never exploited to improve human
And this is the strongest point of comparison and difference between Noah and Abraham.
Abraham also lived in a generation of tragedy and disaster. Believers were thrown into furnaces, morality was scoffed at, the project of the great Tower of Bavel was only abandoned after countless lives were lost in the attempt and Abraham was an isolated figure of Godliness in a world of paganism and evil.
Yet, Abraham himself had assimilated the lessons of his generation within his being. He saw the emptiness and lawlessness that surrounded him and resolved to create a
counter-force of goodness and faith that would eventually (according to the
opinion of Rabbi Menachem HaMeiri in the introduction of his commentary to
the Book of Avos) win over half of his generation to the concepts of human
goodness and monotheism.
Abraham, who always lived with danger and on the brink of tragedy and disaster, never flinched nor fled, He did not withdraw into himself and abandon his role of human leadership. He learned the lessons of the generations that preceded him and did not allow himself to be traumatized. He did not waste the experience of those terrible events.
The Jewish people, the children of Abraham, have reeled from tragedy to
greater tragedy in our long and difficult history and exile. In our time,
the Holocaust and the vicious pogroms of the first third (pre-Holocaust) of
the century have decimated our people. They have not only destroyed us
physically, but they have also crippled us emotionally and spiritually. It
would have been perfectly understandable had the Jewish people just curled
up and withered away turning the experience of the Holocaust into a wasted
historical event. The grandeur of our times is that even though many Jews
have given up on themselves, have married out of the faith, assimilated, secularized,
and disappeared, the Jewish people as an entity has followed the path of Abraham and not Noah.
The strong development of a Torah life-style amongst large
numbers of Jewish communities the world over is a testimony to dealing with
and defeating tragedy. Our Rabbis said that Abraham reaped the rewards of
all of the ten generations after the flood. He saw their disasters,
experienced the flames of his own potential destruction, and yet rose to
proclaim a Godly world of human good and compassion.
Abraham reaped the reward of those previous generations. He learned their lessons, corrected their shortcomings and moved on to create a new world that would justify his faith.
Our generation is faced with this very same challenge. Let us build Abraham's world and reap the rewards of the countless generations of human failure and misery that have preceded us.
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Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and
founder of the Destiny Foundation.
He has authored over 650 tapes, books and videos which you can purchase at RabbiWein.com.
Comment by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).
© 2003, Rabbi Berel Wein