Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Review of Lesson Six

Thank you for joining us for our sixth lesson of Biblical Reflections: Finding Yourself in the Book of Genesis. Here’s a quick recap:

A. The Failure of Leadership

The generation of the flood suffered from a failure of leadership. The leaders who were supposed to serve as role models acted immorally and failed to put an end to corruption by enforcing law and order. Even Noah, described as “righteous,” was unsuccessful at inspiring other to abandon their evil ways.

What leadership qualities might have allowed Noah to have more influence on his generation?The first quality of leadership is an inner strength, the feeling of security and confidence that is a prerequisite to “stepping up to the plate.” The second component, which builds on the first, is a selfless concern for others. Finally, the leader must have a vision worth sharing.

Noah was not able to summon these particular strengths. The text describes Noah as one who “walked with G-d.” He needed G-d’s constant support, for her felt a lack of lack of inner strength. Consequently, he also failed to pray for the generation. Although he did not sin himself, he lacked a broader vision and did little to transform those around him.

Abraham, on the other hand, “walked before G-d.” His solid inner strength enabled him to take charge. Selflessly, he cared for those around him, offering food and respite to tired travelers. He also taught monotheism to the world, envisioning a future free of idol worship.

B. The Ark as a Tool of Transformation

The ark was meant not only as a vehicle of refuge, but also as a means of heightening Noah’s sensibilities. Its shape was square, lacking a front or back that would allow navigation. This indicated that its purpose was to provide protection from the storm, but not to allow leisurely travel or an escape from the flood. The ark included a skylight. This symbolized that Noah was meant to become more receptive to spirituality. The ark was further divided into three levels: human, animal and waste. Noah had to take care of all the levels, signifying the need for him to learn to engage with various dimension of his own life as well as the world around him.

Noah spent twelve months inside the ark, significantly longer than the forty days of rain. This time was meant to transform him and prepare him for reentry into the world. After some time, his refuge began to feel like a prison, and Noah prayed for the time when he would be able to leave. The ark succeeded in teaching Noah that he could not remain unaffected by the fate of his generation.

C. Noah and Abraham: A Comparative Assessment of their Legacies

The Torah describes Noah as “righteous in his generations.” The sages discuss how he might fare in a different time. All agree that had he lived in a generation of good people, their influence would have ensured that he would have been even more righteous. All agree, as well that had he acted in the same way in a more upright generation, his actions would have been totally unacceptable. Yet given the particular challenges of his time, he acted admirably.

Before the flood changed the spiritual fiber of creation, people were either good or bad. Bad people were confined to a downward spiral. Good people were either overwhelmed by their environment (Gan Eden), or they were good because they were born in the shadow of role models. There was little chance that people who had begun to err would be able to reconnect with G-d when left to their own devices.

After the flood, the world was purified and was able to develop its own relationship with G-d. This is mirrored in the legacies of Noah and Abraham. This is the very reason that Abraham excelled as a leader and was able to agitate on others’ behalf. Noah lived at a time where it was possible to reignite the dim sparks of goodness within the sinner. In Noah’s time, however, there was far less potential goodness to retrieve.

Noah was able to survive the flood, but given the constraints of his time, he had no power to transform the generation around him. Abraham, on the other hand, was able to transform calamity into good. As the children of Abraham, each of us has the possibility to likewise deal with the difficult circumstances of our lives by not simply “persevering” in the face of difficulty, but by making those difficulties an opportunity for strength and blessing.

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