By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
The world loves a hero. Every season, Hollywood has to invent new heroes and superheroes to fill the box office coffers. And it works. Why? Well, that’s for another sermon. Today, I choose to talk about who is a hero and, more specifically, who is my kind of hero. Superheroes are fantastic. But you’ve got to admit, they’re over the top, rather otherworldly, and, realistically speaking, out of touch and out of reach. We can fantasize about flying through the skies in our capes, climbing skyscrapers with our webs, or rescuing damsels in distress, but at the end of the day, it is nothing more than wistful daydreaming. What bearing does it have on me and my life, me and my problems? The answer is, not much.
That’s why Noach has always appealed to me. He comes across as a real live hero, real in the sense of being human rather than superhuman and, therefore, realistically possible to emulate. Rashi describes Noach as a man of small faith who had doubts whether the flood would actually happen. According to the great commentator’s understanding, he didn’t enter the ark until the rains actually started and the floodwaters pushed him in. That explains why many people look down on Noach, especially when they compare him to other Biblical superheroes, people of the stature of Avraham or Moshe.
But this is what makes Noach my kind of hero. He’s real. He’s human. He has doubts, just like you and me. I know we are supposed to say, “When will my actions match those of the great patriarchs of old?” but I confess for me that is a very tall order. Noach, on the other hand, is a regular guy. He is plagued by doubts and struggles with his faith, which is precisely what makes him a hero. Because the fact is that, at the end of his day, his personal uncertainties notwithstanding, Noach does the job. He builds the ark, shleps in all the animals, saves civilization, and goes on to rebuild a shattered world. Doubts, shmouts–he did what had to be done.
There is an old Yiddish proverb that fun a kasha shtarbt men nit–nobody ever died from a question. It’s not the end of the world if you didn’t get an answer to all your questions. We can live with unanswered questions. The main thing is not to allow ourselves to become paralyzed by our doubts. We can still do what has to be done, despite our doubts. Of course, I’d love to be able to answer every question every single one of my congregants ever has. But the chances are that I will not be able to solve every single person’s doubts or dilemmas. And, frankly, I am less concerned about their doubts than about their deeds. From a question nobody ever died. It’s how we behave that matters most.
Noach, the ordinary hero, could easily be the guy next door. He is one of us. His greatness is, therefore, achievable. It’s not “pie in the sky.” His heroism can be emulated. If Avraham and Moshe seem the superhero types, too far-fetched for us ordinary mortals to see as practical role models, then Noach resonates with realism. After all, he had his doubts too, just like you and me. So Noach, the reluctant hero, reminds us that you don’t have to be fearless to get involved. You don’t have to be a tzaddik to do a mitzvah. You don’t have to be holy to keep kosher, nor do you have to be a professor to come to a shiur. His faith may have been shaky. Perhaps he was a bit wobbly in the knees. But the bottom line is, he got the job done. My hero.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.