I write this week in memory of my beloved mother, Ethel Block (Etel bat Avraham Avigdor), whose jahrzeit is next week. She was the sister, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother of many Scouts, and an active supporter of Scouting.
This week, we read Parasha Noach – the story of Noah.
At the end of Bereishis, God says he has seen the evil ways that have been taken up by both humans and animals, and he is going to destroy all living beings, except Noah and his family. God commands Noah to build an ark to hold those people and animals who are to be saved. This task takes 120 years, which gives people plenty of time to see what Noah is doing and get the idea that they should repent and change their ways. Unfortunately, no one repents or changes, and the world is destroyed by the flood that lasts for 40 days and nights.
After the flood, subsequent generations thrive in a world where everyone speaks the same language. The people sought glory for themselves and forgot their purpose of serving God. They thought that, if they built a great tower they could keep God from dispersing them. But God ends their efforts by causing everyone to speak separate languages, which makes it impossible to continue the building project.
One of the many interesting features of the parasha is that it starts and ends with a genealogy of Noah. The opening sentence of the parasha is “These are the offspring of Noah – Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations.” The last two chapters outline the generations of Noah’s children again, starting with the eldest, Japheth, and ending with the youngest and most righteous, Shem. Shem is the ancestor of Abraham.
The rabbis discuss the bookending of Noah’s generations in the parasha. Some say that Noah was only righteous when compared to the other people in his generation, who were evil. Others say that, if Noah had lived in Abraham’s generation, Noah would have been even more righteous because he would have lived among other righteous people, like Abraham and Sarah.
The rabbis do not come to a consensus on this subject, but the discussion reminds us that, if we want to live a good life, we would do well to think about those who came before us and those who will come after us. We want to take our best characteristics of the past and “be prepared” to improve them.
If there are things in your life that are great – your habits, talents, relationships with family and friends – use those and strengthen them so that future generations will say “he made the most of his life”. If your habits, the use of your talents and your relationships do not help you stay healthy, be helpful, and act productively, then change them so that future generations will say “he had the strength to overcome the obstacles that faced him”.