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“Noah is not just a man of few words; for over six hundred years he’s a man of none. Until after the flood has come and gone, its waters risen and abated, until the earth has become habitable once again and he has planted a vineyard and got drunk, he utters not on single syllable. When he does eventually open his mouth, the first sentence which emerges is a curse.
Instead, Noah is a doer. God orders him to build an Ark: he does as God commands him. God instructs him to take two of all the unclean species of animals with him and seven of each of the clean: he does as God has commanded. But is it always right to do as told, to obey without question, when the lives of countless others are at stake?
Noah, according to the Biblical account never reasons why; unlike Abraham, he never challenges God, never protests against the evident injustice of God’s decree. Is every single human being really wicked? he might have demanded of God. Is the entire human race truly at fault? If people have done wrong, do the birds and mammals therefore also deserve to die? How can you turn so rapidly against your own creation, the work of your very hands, which you so recently described day after day as good and finally as ‘very good indeed’? These are not questions Noah raises. The Torah does not testify that he experiences so much as a single moment of hesitation. He does, without demur.
Popular Jewish tradition blames him for this silence. He may indeed be a Tzaddik, a righteous man, as the text acknowledges. But he is a Tzaddik im Pelz, ‘a righteous man in a fur coat’, as the caustic Yiddish compliment pithily puts it. He may be good at heart, but if he wraps up his goodness in his own fur coat and keeps himself warm in snug isolation, of what benefit is his virtue to those around him? Such insulated sainthood is of little benefit to society; its impact on others is virtually nil. ‘Noah was a righteous, perfect man in his generations,’ the Torah states, in explanation of why he found favour with God. It is difficult to avoid the thought, unlikely though it is, that the sacred text may be employing irony.”
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