Sermon by Rabbi Evan Schultz – October, 2018
Who Are You – Adam, Noah, or Abraham?
Many of you may recall the old game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” where contestants are presented with three doors, behind one might be a car, behind the other $100, and behind the third an actual live goat. This morning I’d like to play an alternative version of the game, instead of three doors with prizes, sorry, I have three doors with biblical characters standing behind them. Each of you, the contestant this morning, one of these biblical characters will be yours to internalize and live by.
We start with door number two, a fine choice, extra prevalent this week, can we see what’s behind it? Ah it’s the man of the hour this week, Noah – yes Noah, the star and namesake of this week’s Torah portion, a man righteous, wait for it, in his generation, a man above reproach, Noah walked with God. When the earth became corrupt, what must that have been like?, God said to Noah, make yourself an ark of gopher wood and I am going to bring the floodwaters upon the earth to destroy all that lives under the heavens, all that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth shall expire, but with you Noah, I will establish my covenant. Why Noah? Bible scholar Aviva Zornberg explains, “Noah is different from his generation. They are full of evil, of violence; he is righteous. He is the only human being in the entire biblical narrative to be described as “righteous but in direct in direct encounter with God and in the narrative voice that begins the Torah portion describing Noah as righteous and blameless in his age. He lives by some kind of moral compass, he is the one exemption from the human experiment that has all but been a huge disaster.” But hold on a moment, Noah is not all doves and rainbows – he is described as righteous “in his generation.” What really was his merit? How righteous was he? The Talmud states, “Noah had a death sentence sealed against him. But he found favor in the eyes of God.” In other words, Noah is included in God’s regret, yet something about him finds favor in God’s eyes. He was a decent, good guy – his name Noah means comfort, offering the notion that he was a man who brought some relief to a world that was overcome with evil, a comfort from the devastating effects of nature. So I ask you audience, do you want to keep Noah, or see what’s behind door number one?
Let’s open door number one – yes it’s the star of last week’s Torah portion, Breisheet, it’s Adam! Yes Adam, the first human being, the one God entrusts with the care of the earth, only to see him disobey God, run and hide in shame, only to then be exiled from the Garden of Eden by God to never be heard from again. While God certainly finds redeeming traits in Noah, Adam, not so much. There are no adjectives like “righteous” used to describe Adam. As God completes each day of creation, God refers to those creations as “good” or “very good” – all creations except one, yes human beings, Adam. Adam means land, earth, there was such hope for Adam to become one with his namesake, to till and to tend, yet so quickly he was instead tempted, by the fruit of the tree, by the promise of divine like ability and knowledge. Kind of a tragic ending for Adam, not to mention his two sons, one of whom commits fratricide on the other. Adam doesn’t really offer us any sort of moral compass, redemption, nor does he find himself worthy of any sort of covenant with God. What do you think folks, should we keep him, or see what’s behind our final door, door number three?
Ok you asked for it folks, let’s open up door number three! And who is standing behind it – none other than that original patriarch himself, Abraham!
Yes, the man we’ll meet next week in parashat Lech L’cha, a man placed in an almost identical situation to Noah, as God threatens to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah due to their evil and immorality, it is Abraham who stands up to God and offers a passionate defense of Sodom, “Far be it from You, to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” In other words, Abraham appeals directly to God, he says, imagine what the people will say, that just like you destroyed the generation of Flood, you will be seen as an angry force of destruction! You said you would never again destroy the earth! That wasn’t just fake news now was it? Think about the God you want to be! The one who upholds the righteous and does not destroy them along with the wicked! Unlike Noah, who follows orders, builds the ark, and never challenges God, Abraham goes one step further, protesting God’s desire to destroy the cities. Abraham not only cares for the lives of the righteous, but is concerned for God’s very reputation in the world, how all of us might perceive and grasp such divine actions.
So which door is it contestants? Three weeks of Torah readings, three key figures, each representing a way of being in the world. Adam – no voice, and no real sense of moral compass. Noah a moral compass but no real voice at the end of the day. Or Abraham, moral compass and voice. Certainly we see a progression over the course of the three weeks, from Adam, to this week in Noah, and next week in Abraham. It certainly to me seems no accident that these three humans have been juxtaposed with one another, asking us which door we want to open and who we want to emulate in a world where evil, suffering, and immorality are rampant and real. And since God promised to no longer destroy the earth, it is up to us to choose who we want to be – seems like the best choice is to go with door number three.