כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-נֹחַ

as God commanded Noach.

We usually have the feeling that Noach isn’t as great as the other men mentioned in the Torah. Although he is described “a just man and perfect in his generations” (Bereshit 10:9), the degree of his righteousness is much discussed in the different Midrashim. Some of the ancient rabbis think that Noach was a just man only in comparison with his generation, which was sinful, but that he could not be compared with any of the other righteous men the Torah mentions.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks invites us to observe what Noach says when God tells him that the world is about to perish, when he is asked to make an ark to save his himself and family or when the rain starts to fall. The answer is nothing.

The Torah mentions four times in this week’s parshah that Noach did “as God had commanded him”.

For Rabbi Sacks obedience is not enough. He insists that Biblical Hebrew has no word for “obey”. Instead we find the word shema, which means listen, hear, attend, understand, internalize, respond.

If God had expected us to be obedient puppets, he would have created robots not creatures endowed with free will. Instead He wants us to do his will because we understand what he expects from us or because we trust Him.

He seeks from us something other and greater than obedience, namely responsibility.

By contrast Abraham, who in the Torah narrative commes just after Noach, is understood to be a paradigm of rightousness. He fights a war to save his nephew, he pleads with God to save the people of Sodom. He doesn’t wait for God’s command or permission to act.

Sometimes we have the feeling that the news is filled with stories where people seem to choose blind faith over common sense. It is therefore comforting and encouraging to be reminded that:

Faith is more than obedience. It is the courage to create.