Noah, Abraham and Moshe

Back to square one.  With the High Holidays behind us, we are now back to the beginning of the Torah.  The book of Genesis contains such riveting stories that each time I study it, I feel like I am indeed “back to square one,” but in a positive way. A new year always brings with it fresh perspectives.

While I usually enjoy a focused study on the details of a particular narrative or law in the Torah, it can also be very enlightening to take a more panoramic view.

This week’s parsha, Lech Lecha, is the first Torah portion that discusses one of the great leaders, Abraham, throughout the entire portion.  I am thinking about other great leaders. Last week’s Torah portion we read about Noah, another great leader.  Although the Torah goes on to discuss the lives of other great leaders (such as Isaac, Jacob and Joseph), the next leader who comes to my mind is Moses.

Three great leaders: Noah, Abraham and Moses.  Each of them serves as a prototype for our conduct in today’s modern world.  Each of them imparts unique life lessons.

A question: Of these three leaders, why was the Torah given through Moses?  Wasn’t Noah righteous enough?  Was Abraham not worthy?

To shed a bit of light on this, let’s take a brief look at the lives of these three righteous leaders.

Noah lived during the generation of the flood.  It was a time of larceny and corruption, yet Noah remained a “righteous man, pure in his generation” (Genesis 6:9).  He built a huge ship to save himself and his family, as well as some animals.  He even built the ark in public, so that others would see and inquire what he was doing.  This would then afford him to opportunity to rebuke and warn them of the impending deluge.

Yet the Zohar (I, 67b) tells us that Noah, “did not pray on behalf of the world,” and he only beseeched the Creator to save him alone.  In fact, this is the reason that the flood waters are referred to as, “the waters of Noah” (Isaiah 54:9, the haftora of Parshat Noah).

As great as Noah was, the mystics viewed him as self-directed, lacking concern and compassion for those around him.

Abraham, on the other hand, was definitely concerned for the well-being of others.  This is the reason he had a tent open on all four sides: so that he would not miss the opportunity of offering food and drink to passers-by.  Furthermore, he prayed for the salvation of the wicked people of Sodom, as the Torah recounts Abraham’s question to G-d, “Perhaps there are 50 righteous people in the midst of the city…. To do such a thing as this, to put to death the righteous with the wicked, equating the innocent and the guilty, would desecrate You. Would the Judge of the entire earth not perform justice?” (Genesis 18:24-25).

The continuation of the story is familiar: 50 righteous men are not to be found, so Abraham lowers the ante to 45, then 40 etc., until he entreats G-d to save Sodom if He can find 10 righteous people.  As it turns out, even 10 righteous people are not to be found and, “Abraham returned home” (v.33).  In plain English, he gave up trying to save them.

And now we turn to Moses.  Like Abraham, Moses stood up for those who were not exactly righteous.  In Abraham’s case, the people of Sodom; those who made the Golden Calf in the times of Moses.

Yet not only does Moses demand that they be spared, he goes to a further extent than Abraham, but “threatening” G-d that if He will not forgive them, then he would like to be removed from the Torah (Exodus 32:32).  That’s right, the man who we refer to together with the Torah – the Five Books of Moses – was willing to have his name completely removed from the entire Torah!

A spiritual man who was so completely removed from these sinful people, was willing to descend to their level and give himself away on their behalf!

The entire purpose of the Torah is to unite the upper and lower realms, and this is why the Torah was given specifically through Moses:  Just as Moses (the most elevated person) united in solidarity with those who made the Golden Calf (the most iniquitous people), so too the Torah unites the upper & lower realms.

Noah worked on saving himself; that’s step one. Abraham symbolizes step two, in reaching out to those around him.  Let’s continue to step 3 by emulating Moses, who was willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of others.