By Ilan Rotberg
This week’s parasha, parashat Noach, is one of the better known stories in the Torah. God decides that he needs to destroy the world with a huge flood because he feels everyone on the face of the earth is perpetrating gross violence and filthy corruption.
However; God finds one righteous man among them, Noah, and instructs him to build an ark that will be home to a pair (one female and one male) of every animal. This ark will serve as a refuge for Noah’s family, as well as the animals, when incoming flood will rid the earth of all life.
Rain pours for forty days and forty nights, annihilating civilization. Upon the conclusion of the flood, God sends a rainbow, a testimony of his new covenant with man, and the world is renewed.
It all makes for an action-packed children’s story, but as Jewish teens in an ever changing world, there are still plenty of lessons we can learn from the parasha.
God’s salvation of Noah in particular affirms that there remains a place for Jewish individuality among an ever adapting secular culture.
More than ever before, we as people are constantly clumping ourselves into groups. Whether it be by social status, types of interests, political views, etc., we have this constant obsession about associating ourselves with others.
Don’t get me wrong, hanging out with people we like can be extremely beneficial. Especially as young people, having friends and building a social network is awesome. Yet, in the wake of sometimes too much exposure and assimilation to the mainstream, Jewish teens are losing commitment to our core values and a sense of individuality.
In 2013 he Pew Research Center found that one in five (22%) Jews now describe themselves as having “no religion.” Among younger Jews (born after 1980), “68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.”
It shouldn’t take big name think-tank analysis to wake up and see that a solid chunk of the Jewish people don’t see a place for themselves in the American Jewish community. This notion is not only sad, but heartbreaking, considering the adversity that we have overcome time and time again on a global scale. Essentially, our religion is shrinking and we need to find a way to reverse the negative effects on our communities.
In this very parasha, we see that “God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.” The fact that God perceives the entire Earth to be corrupt suggests that this every single person had to be assimilated at one point of another into its culture.
The reason that God chooses Noah is not because he thinks that Noah is a good builder, smart, or even a good Jew. God chooses Noah because amidst the horrors of a corrupted civilization, he sees righteousness in him.
Noah is the one man who doesn’t fall for the peer pressure, who doesn’t assimilate, who stands for his own values as an individual. As such, he is the only one who God decides is worth saving. God knows that when he moves on to building a new social fabric (post flood), he wants to champion uniqueness and persistent belief in one’s values.
Noah’s values are the ones that young Jews today should be striving for. In the wake of the information age, of this vast new culture of assimilation, young Jews must remain strong. We ought to champion our own individuality as a people with no fear because after all, we have gone thousands of years together without giving in. As teens, we must utilize the example of Noah, and many Jewish leaders since, to stand firm and realize that despite being small in number, the individuality of our principles must never be watered down.