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Choosing Righteousness

10/12/2018 10:45:16 AM

Oct12

Rabbi Steven Suson

There is a popular Yiddish saying with similar versions in many languages, Der mench tracht un Got lacht, which translates to “Man plans and God laughs." I have never much cared for that adage because it minimizes the burden of responsibility on people to prevail despite unforeseen and sometimes negative or unfair conditions. I don't believe we must always be victims of our circumstances. We do have choices about how we react, behave, and plan for the future. The sum of the choices we make every day directly influences the realities that we experience.

Admittedly, there is some truth to the proverb. We are not afforded the opportunity to choose the timing or nature of events and circumstances which are often cast upon us. From the annoying flat tire that causes us to be late for work, to the sudden trauma or onset of illness that turns our priorities on their heads and our families into upheaval, too often we are reminded that we are not in control of external factors that impact our existence. Sometimes we indeed have choices, but not necessarily the variety of options we desire.

The Torah portion this week opens by introducing us to the protagonist, Noah. He is described as "a perfectly righteous man in his generation," who lived in an immoral and wicked society. The famous commentator, Rashi, points out that this description of Noah, which raves about him in glowing terms, is open to two very different interpretations.

 

  1. Noah was so pure that he succeeded to hold his moral ground and defend his values even in a time when temptation, debauchery and ugliness between people prevailed. Noah would have been an even better person, had he lived in a more righteous generation.
     
  2. In his own time, Noah was indeed the most righteous but the standard was low. Had he lived in a more enlightened era, he may not have been so great. Noah was only perfect compared to the wickedness that surrounded him in those days.


Noah didn't ask for the flood and he probably wasn't too happy about rounding up all those animals and saying goodbye to his home. Whether he was as virtuous as Abraham or as worthy as Moses, is open for debate. What is clear is that Noah made the best choices that were available to him and, for that, he was considered perfectly noble, viz. given his situation.

In that way, each of us has the ability to be remembered like Noah, perfectly righteous in our own right.  When we wrestle with the tough decisions that life throws our way and use the ethics of our ancestors as moral beacons, we will make lemonade from lemons and our actions and attitude will bring blessing on our homes and, as was in the case of Noah, redemption to the world.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Steven Suson

Sat, March 23 2019 16 Adar II 5779