Noah and Just Doing the Right Thing

Noah and Just Doing the Right Thing

From the movie Quiz Show I learned about the Charles van Doren TV scandal; how he won a fortune answering questions provided to him ahead of time. When van Doren testified before Congress several representatives praised him for stepping forward. One NY Congressman however, refused to praise van Doren for simply telling the truth. That Congressman believed that no one should be complimented for ‘courageously’ stepping forward about his fraudulent behavior. Making an analogy: I would not compliment someone who shoplifted several hundred dollars of merchandise and then-after the theft was revealed-returned all the items with a sense of regret. There are occasions when immoral behavior stands alone; and there are occasions when for doing the right thing no accolades are required.

Such I believe, is the case with Noah.

Noah was described as being righteous in his generation. In other words, he was a decent person in a sea of immorality. Yet, although Noah’s family was selected to be the lone survivors of a massive flood; Noah is rarely cited in history for exemplary bravery, courage or virtue. He was singled out less for his goodness than for his generation’s immorality. The few post flood accounts of Noah suggest a man who was ordinary at best. The pre-flood accounts describe a man, who (unlike Abraham) was no champion of humanity. Noah was not one to passionately defend anyone’s right to live. Throughout history we have not canonized Noah simply for doing the right thing instead of for living an unethical existence.

From the time our children are young, we teach them to tell the truth; even if the truth is painful to share. We may thank our children for being honest when stepping forward. However, we also teach them that even as they tell the truth; there must be serious consequences for their initial behavior. There are different degrees to doing the right thing. A person who goes out of his/her way to assist hurricane victims or victims of a serious crime does the right thing but is worthy of serious recognition. On the other hand, we should not effusively praise anyone who shames a classmate or cheats on a test simply because that person later admits guilt. Simply doing the right thing is a behavior to be expected and not to be excessively lauded.

Yes, Noah was a man who did the right thing when others did not. Because of his behavior he survived; to help populate a new generation. Nevertheless, neither the Bible nor subsequent history has ever acknowledged Noah for being a paragon of virtue. He was simply a good person; whose behavior should have been the norm rather than the exception. In our age, doing the right thing should always be the minimal standard by which we live…

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Klayman