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October 03, 2013 - Image 35

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-10-03

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Parshat Noah: Genesis 6:9-11:32
Numbers 28:9-15; Isaiah 66:1-24


n his commentary on this week's
reading of parshat Noah, the medi-
eval biblical interpreter Rashi relates
a midrashic dispute that seemingly has
been resolved by the biblical text.
In commanding Noah to build the ark,
God instructs him to fashion a tzohar,
often translated as a light. However,
Rashi, in his comment on
this term, quotes a dispute
between two sages, Rabbi
Aba bar Kahana and Rabbi
Levi. Rabbi Aba explains that
the tzohar was a window and
Rabbi Levi counters that it
was a stone that allowed light
to enter the ark acting as a
However, there seems to be
no need for clarification. The
supra-commentary on Rashi,
known as the siftei chachamim,
directs the reader to look later in the nar-
rative to read that after the flood, Noah
opens the window. There should be no
ambiguity. What then is the idea behind
this midrashic dispute?
Interestingly, there is another dispute
quoted by Rashi in his opening comments
to the sedrah. The text describes Noah as
an ish tzadik, a righteous man. Yet, even
here, there is room for interpretation.
One opinion declares Noah as an abso-
lute tzadik, able to withstand scrutiny
in any generation. The other opinion
sees the description as relative, such that
Noah would pale by comparison to other
biblical figures of righteousness, and it
was only in his generation that he could
be considered a tzadik.
An often-offered example of this rela-
tive righteousness is through comparison
to our patriarch Abraham. Abraham
gets involved with many endeavors; he
secures the release of Lot through war
and argues with God about the destruc-
tion of the cities of Sodom and Amorah
(Gommorah). Remarkably, Abraham is
never called a tzadik, while Noah, who
does not argue with God and does not
try to save the people, is explicitly called
a tzadik.
According to this opinion, Noah is an
insular tzadik; he keeps to himself. As
the great commentator on the human
condition, Bill Cosby, notes, Noah did not
go about trying to convince people that
the world was coming to an end and that


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they should change their ways; at best he
would only hint, "How long can you tread
Perhaps both disputes can be under-
stood as complementary, leading us to a

transformative moment along with Noah
and an understanding about the mysteri-
ous ambiguity. The ark can be seen as a
refuge, the ideal place for a
monastic existence, insulated
from the chaos of Noah's time.
The tzadik, of necessity,
needed to be isolated. By his
nature, he could not interact
with other people. And it is
the insular tzadik who places
an opaque stone as a tzohar
for the ark. The tzohar stone
will keep the chaos outside.
However, something changes
on the ark.
Rabbi Meir Lau, in his book
Out of the Depths, relates that on the ark,
all the species were housed together in a
very unnatural habitat. Animals that are
by nature territorial had to accommodate
others within their boundaries. Those
that would normally shy away had to be
in close quarters with others. There was
no other choice.
Society had to realign and cooperate
if it was to survive and eventually thrive.
Rabbi Lau expands on this and explains
that we need to see the world as our ark
and that would we all do so, we would
realign society and not simply survive,
but thrive.
After the rains stop, Noah realizes
that he cannot be insular anymore. And,
therefore, the narrative does not mention
the tzohar, but the window. Noah realizes
that he no longer requires the opaque
stone to filter out the world, but rather an
open window to be part of it.

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Rabbi Tzvi Klugerman is head of school at
Akiva Hebrew Day School in Southfield.

• Do you ever want to shut out the
• Can a person truly be considered
righteous if they are insulated
from the world?
• Why is Abraham never called a

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