Some Thoughts on Noach (5781)
by Marc Mangel
Hi everyone and greetings from Tacoma, where the fall color still has not peaked and everyone is healthy.
You may have heard that Jonathan Sacks is ill, so let us dedicate our learning today to him, HaRav Yaakov Zvi ben Liba.
In 2021, Education and Sharing Day will be on March 24. It was created by Congress in 1978 to honor the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson because of his tireless work for the education of all children – Jewish and non-Jewish. The concept of honoring the Rebbe on has caught on: in 2018, in addition to the President proclaiming Education and Sharing Day, it was proclaimed by governors or legislatures in all 50 states.
In the late 1980s, the Rebbe started the “Noahide Campaign” encouraging non-Jews to keep the Seven Laws of Noah described (more or less – as we shall see) in this week’s parsha.
The Seven Laws of Noah were recognized by the United States Congress in the preamble to the 1991 version of the bill for Education and Sharing Day:
“Whereas Congress recognizes the historical tradition of ethical values and principles which are the basis of civilized society upon which our great Nation was founded;
“Whereas these ethical values and principles have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization, when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws…”
The Noahide Laws are 1) Prohibition of idolatry; 2) Prohibition of blasphemy and cursing the name of God; 3) Prohibition of murder; 4) Prohibition on robbery and theft; 5) Prohibition of forbidden sexual relations; 6) Prohibition on removing and eating a limb of a live animal; and 7) Requirement to establish a justice system and courts to enforce the other six laws.
In the Mishneh Torah, the Rambam wrote that a non-Jew who is precise in the observance of the Noahide Laws is considered to be a Righteous Gentile and the Talmud (Sanhendrin 105a) says “Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come”.
In 2008, R. Moshe Weiner descried the Noahide Laws as “Sheva Mitzvot HaShem” and as a Shulchan Aruch for gentiles. Today I want to discuss their origin more precisely. In Chapter 9 (all Chapter references refer to Beresheit), we find “You may not eat the flesh of a still-living creature” (v 4) and the commandment not to murder (v 5,6). That is two of the 7.
Where do the other 5 Noahide laws (idolatry, theft, sexual immorality, blasphemy, courts) come from? I cannot find them clearly laid out in this week’s portion. R. Weiner, mentioned above, says that i) the commandments about idolatry and blasphemy can be found in Ch 2, v 16 and the Talmud (Sanhedrin 56b); ii) the commandment about sexual relations found in Beresheit Ch 2, v 24 and Ch 20, v 2; iii) the commandment about robbery comes from a description of the corruption of the earth in Ch 6, v 11; and iii) that the commandment about courts also comes from Ch 9, v 6 – where courts are implied. The tradition has it that these laws were given by God directly to Noah, and then later again to Moses.
The Rebbe taught that one the role of Jews today, especially in free societies, is to communicate the Noahide Laws to the non-Jewish world so that all people know how to behave in a Godly manner.
We can get a sense of how important this was to the Rebbe from a comment on the very first verse of this chapter: “The following are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man; he was faultless”.
In the book Daily Wisdom, which gives the Rebbe’s insights on the daily portion, he writes “By mentioning Noah’s righteousness before discussing his children, the Torah teaches that our truest ‘offspring’ are first and foremost our own good deeds. Our [biological] children should thus sense that our greatest aspiration for them is that they excel in good deeds”.
The idea that our children should thus sense that our greatest aspiration for them is that they excel in good deeds applies to all people – Jews and non-Jews alike