Vladimir Putin is threatening the use of nuclear weapons. This news terrifies those paying attention, especially in Ukraine. However, the news benefits a few people. Those that benefit manufacture residential bunkers. The industry is booming in the US and England. The possibility of hiding in a nuclear safe room draws a comparison to the Torah’s story of Noah and the ark.
Noah did not need an ark until God spoke and gave Noah the blueprints. Noah faithfully executed the plan, set aside doubt, and operated on belief. God described the provisions needed and the animals to be transported. As fantastic as the predicted disaster might have seemed, Noah completed the task. As the text says, Noah was righteous for his times.
Who is Noah for today? Someone who invests in a bomb shelter for the home? The costs can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. Perhaps the motivating factor is the desire to survive. Humans have the instinct to run from danger and to preserve our lives. Noah acted upon that instinct believing that an unseen God intended to destroy the world.
In succeeding chapters of the Torah, Abraham learns of God’s plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham argues with God to reverse that plan. Unlike Abraham, Noah does not negotiate at all. He does not demand to bring other people on the ark. He does not beg God to spare the world. There are no Abrahams in Noah’s era. And this explains why the Torah says Noah was righteous in his time. Noah was not necessarily a tzaddik or righteous person. He was just better than anyone else in that era.
Once again, the world is confronting the prospect of nuclear war in a manner not experienced since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. A maniacal, evil dictator in Russia would ruin if not destroy the lives of millions in pursuit of power. Most of us choose to downplay the threat. A nuclear war defies common sense and seems unimaginable. And some are building bomb shelters for themselves to survive.
Who defines righteousness in our time as we are confronted with issues of survival? The congressmen who wish to cut funding to Ukraine? The xenophobes and racists who value their lives more highly than people of other skin color or ethnicity? Or the people who have so given up on humanity that they are more likely to spend $100,000 on a personal-size bomb shelter rather than engage with their neighbors in building a coalition of democracy-loving, peace-pursuing, and God-wrestling people.
Are you like the people in Noah’s time, sufficiently evil so that God is ready to abandon them? Or are you the ark-builder comfortable setting sail on your own? If neither is true, then it is time to read further in Torah so that we can all learn to become like Abraham. Our Abrahamic efforts are what is needed to save this world from harm.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame