We all know the story of Noah―the world was corrupt so God decided to flood the earth and begin again with the exception of Noah, who built and ark where he dwelled safely until the flood waters receded.
While everyone else was destroyed, Noah was saved. An obvious question is why, why was he singled out and saved? In a very unusual move, the Torah actually tells us why. Any regular reader of Torah knows that the Bible almost always makes us guess about the reasons behind biblical decision making. We don't usually know why things happen or how characters are feeling or what they look like, etc. Instead, we're forced to use analysis and creativity and tradition to answer those questions. But here, the Torah just comes out and tells us that Noah was righteous and that's why he was saved.
But what's interesting is that Torah doesn't stop there. The Torah doesn't simply say Noah was "righteous," it adds a caveat, explaining that, Noah was righteous "in his generation." Remember, his generation was corrupt and violent.
So is this caveat a compliment or a criticism? An accolade or a reproach? Can Noah be viewed as righteous, or, is Noah better understood as righteous "in his generation?" If Noah is only righteous in a generation of corruption, surely that colors our understanding of this biblical figure.
These ideas got me thinking about how we understand our young children. Do we understand children objectively, as individuals, or in a larger context? Do we get to know each child on their own terms, or to understand a child, do we have to compare that child to others? In short, like Noah, I wonder if children require a caveat?
When in your life has comparison within community been a help in understanding children and when has it been a hindrance? The story of Noah reminds us to be aware of the tension between these poles as we continue to nurture the development our young children.
Rabbi Diana Fersko serves as Associate Rabbi at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City.
Noach, Genesis 6:9-11:32
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 57-91; Revised Edition, pp. 57-83;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 35-58