Come into the word

Rabbi James Stone Goodman serves Congregation Neve Shalom.

By Rabbi James Stone Goodman

Come on back in, Noah. You had such a good start, a guy with promise. The way the Book refers to you, ish tzaddik (Gen.6:9), such a lofty description. A righteous man. Maybe that’s what held you back, too much opportunity. Maybe you had too much and you know how that happens, you felt entitled. Everyone telling you you’re an ish tzaddik, a righteous person, maybe as you grew you didn’t develop and came to expect what you had not earned. Hey, who’s the righteous person in the room? 

That may be part of the problem for you: the room. The Book reads a righteous person then a couple of qualifiers: just right for your generation (6:9). Uh oh. What if your generation was not so elevated, what if you were born into a generation that was not so lofty? To be an ish tzaddik in that generation might not be such great shakes.

Grandfather of blessed memory used to refer to you as a tzaddik in peltz. What kind of tzaddik might you be? He would ask. A tzaddik in a fur coat, and then he would laugh that laugh that was heard from one end of the room to the other, the kind of laughter that suggested we’re all a little ruined here. When you’re cold, you can light a fire at the hearth and everyone warms up. Or you can put on your fur coat. That’s the Noah kind of tzaddik, he would say, a righteous person in a fur coat.

That’s a hard problem Noah and we all have some sympathy for you. Later in life, if you had learned to read better, you might have seen the signs in the Book. The clue to your redemption is there too. Come into the teivah, Noah, the book reads (7:1). That could have been your salvation. Come into the Ark, teivah, same word used for beloved Moshe rabbeinu (Ex.2:3,5) who came out of the teivah in the bulrushes. You might have entered the wrong kind of teivah, Noah. In that ark you saved yourself, your kids, the wives, and two of every kind of those sweet Dr. Dolittle animals.

Then there’s the terrible acting out of your decline. You turned to the sauce (Gen.9:21). It’s no excuse to say you humiliated yourself the way you did (with your children present yet) because you were spiced up, as Grandfather used to say. You got attached to substances. When you get attached that way Noah anything can happen and often does. You begin to violate all the codes of behavior you thought you would never violate. The first step Noah: take responsibility. It was not the drink acting, it was Noah drunk.

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Here is the secret sense of that problem: the emptiness within. That sense of entitlement Noah you began with, if you don’t work it you could be lost that way your entire life. And you will leave behind a legacy of mess. Your children — they will inherit a legacy of mess (9:25).

There is no filling a hunger that isn’t physical; that emptiness within Noah, we know that’s the root problem. You can’t drink enough you can’t drug enough you can’t eat enough you can’t spend enough you can’t fill enough a hunger that isn’t physical. The only antidote is spiritual, the perennial remedy, the real deal, a spiritual remedy.

The clues are all in the Book, Noah. Come into the teivah, the Book invited you. It means Word in addition to Ark. And if you didn’t know that or if you forgot, someone should have reminded you. Come into the Word.

Noah, you could have walked into the Word, become a tzaddik in language, talked through all your complicated stuff because that is the enduring remedy. Talk it work it get honest about it confront it ultimately eclipse it. Grow beyond your limitations. Talk it through. Talk with the right healers, get the good medicines if you need to and deal with it. Enter the Word. That’s the healing power, the power in language.

You could have become a tzaddik in loshen, Noah, a righteous person in language, and saved everyone.