"blot me, I pray You, out of Your book which You have written"

One of the things that appeal to me about Judaism is the degree to which people actually argue and struggle with God. (Even literally, as is my understanding, in the case of Jacob, thereafter renamed Israel) And I am impressed with Moses' dedication here, to put his life on the line for his people.

In that vein, I too like the message that when it hurts people, it is wise to be err on the side of caution, even when an order to do so comes from God. Abraham arguing to God to spare cities if there could be found ten innocent souls and being halted from sacrificing Isaac.

Also, God teaching the sulking Jonah to have perspective and consideration for the lives in Nineveh is one of my favorite moments.

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I don't know if I've any additional insight to offer, but this is, for me, maybe the mysterious heart of human existence. Or, perhaps as far into that existence as I can see.

It reminds me of two other stories that break my heart open and allow me to see perhaps there is a place in Judaism even for me, not born to the burden. When something resonates, there is a call.

Story one, short version: When Moses stumbled at the end after saving the Israelites repeatedly through arguing with G-d to spare them even to the point, as in this story, of refusing to have his name "in the book" if everyone else was to be blotted out -- well, Moses was forbidden by G-d to enter into the Promised Land.

The teaching I read suggested this: At THAT moment, it was the task of the Israelites to stop and argue with G-d just as Moses did; if Moses could not enter, neither would they. What was to be done to Moses should happen to them - as they had benefitted from Moses' intercession and struggle with the Divine to show mercy, it was their turn to struggle for the same mercy for Moses.

As Moses had no one to do this for him, he could not enter. He had taught the people how to struggle for justice and mercy in his very actions and life... yet no one seemed to understand he was teaching them by these actions. No one stepped in to stand for him in his moment of weakness.

Story two, again, short version: I believe this may be a Hassidic tale; I cannot recall where I read it but I can recall the essential details.

A rebbe had a vision he went to Paradise. When there, he looked for various holy people he had known and found them all but one, a humble and good rabbi. He kept looking until, at long last, he found the missing rabbi standing outside the Gates of Paradise with his back turned. The man was crying and he had cried so man tears an ocean was filling with them.

The rebbe asked the rabbi why he had not entered Paradise. Was he forbidden to enter?

The rabbi, still crying, said, "No." He was allowed to enter but would not. When he saw that ALL were not allowed to enter he refused to go in and began arguing with G-d saying that if all could not be shown mercy after this world, he would not accept mercy for himself until all were so blessed.

All of us or none of us, in other words, I suppose.

And after some contemplation for years, because I am slow, I realized this story was our example for how to conduct ourselves here and now, in the world of action. Why wait until the Gates of Eden to work for and struggle for justice tempered by mercy? To paraphrase Hillel, "...if not now, when?"

Now is when to do the work, each of our unique part of the tikkun Olam, the repair of the world. By all means, we always stand outside the Gates of Eden here and here is where to argue for the Gates to open and goodness to be shared with all and by all regardless what others do or do not do. "If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"

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The second story reminds me of the Bodhisattvas, enlightened beings who put off their entering Nirvana in order to help others realize enlightenment and becoming free of suffering.

There is also a tale, though I can't recall where I read it either, in which one buddha could enter, but he looks back at the world, and sees the people still chained there and suffering and says something like: "How could I enter, as long they are there? It would be like a toe stepping in heaven, with the rest of the body left behind!"

All of us or none of us.

It also touches on privilege if you compare it to the real world. Like how it takes character to turn the back at Paradise, so too for realizing that just because you have it good is no reason to rest at your laurels as long people are still suffering in the world.

And ah, that reading of Moses' exclusion breaks my heart open too. I should reread it to get the full context, but I always found it one of the saddest moments. And this makes it sadder.

But I guess that is what made him a great prophet, a great teacher? Trying to help people, even though you can't be sure it will be returned in kind.

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Just to show that I'm kinda sorta paying attention to the weekly Torah portions, it's worth noting that not just Moses but the entire Exodus generation is barred by God from entering the Promised Land. God hands down the blanket ban in Numbers 14. God confirms Moses' own ban a little later in Numbers 20. What I think is significant in connection with RaDR's teaching today is that God makes two exceptions to the ban, for Joshua and Caleb. Why? Because they spoke up in favor of marching into the Promised Land at the first opportunity, whereas all the rest opted for the safer approach, which turned out not to be safe at all.

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As Pieter already said, I absolutely love to see the way Biblical figures actually fight with God; that is something people of a Christian background like me are often made to overlook, likely for reasons.

So we've got Moses who witnesses the mercy of God towards all of his people, and therefore argues with God on the basis of mercy. As for Noah, his first interaction with the Divine starts with God's intention to destroy the world. So he falls in line and supposes it is righteous to destroy the world indeed. Another case of humankind fashioning a God after their own prejudices?

I cannot help but see in Noah a certain kind of contemporary ecological thought that will rescue and protect any animal EXCEPT for humans, because they find all humans to be guilty of ecocide, yes, even poor communities, people with disabilities or indigenous communities who actually take good care of the planet. No, let's flood them all.

I am also thinking to myself that an obedient man is a very dangerous man indeed. And that maybe the Biblical God is also learning as they go. As if both the Divine and humankind had something to add to the conversation of what is right and what is wrong. If one party simply follows whatever the "obvious solution" was without questioning it, things go awry. But there might be some hope of justice if God and humans struggle with each other. Law vs mercy, the greater picture vs the atoning circumstances, judging from the outside vs walking with the people.

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"So he falls in line and supposes it is righteous to destroy the world indeed." With my 929 group I'm currently reading the Book of Job, and your comment reminds me of the three "friends" who suppose if Job's children have died, his wealth has been destroyed, and he himself has been plagued, it must be the work of a just God. Good for Job for arguing with them, and with God--and good for Abraham for doing the same! And Moses, and Honi, and all the Jewish figures throughout the ages who have called God to account.

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I'm tying myself up in knots trying to wrap my head around this. If Noah lived in a completely 100% wicked society, how was he supposed to have learned the concept of justice? How was he supposed to know human life was valuable? But if he *didn't* have a sense of justice or altruism, then why did God call him righteous? What righteous impulse did God see in him, that wasn't strong enough to defend humanity from extermination?

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Me too...

I always thought Noah was the hero who listened to God despite the fact that it had never rained before. And in doing so, he saved creation through his faithfulness. And then I saw the movie Noah where all the people tried to get on the ark once the flood waters started to rise. It was a horrifically violent scene and made me kind of sick. But then I thought, well... they saw Noah building the ark. Didn't they ask him why he was doing that? Did they laugh at him for what he was doing? Look at crazy Noah building a boat on dry land. I mean, they could have built a boat for themselves if only they listened to Noah. So in a sense, their destruction was their own fault for refusing to believe.

And Moses - where would he have ended up being had he not argued with God? Might his argument been a tad manipulative? After all, he played the perfect salesperson making it all about God and how others would view Him if they did get wiped out. And then who the heck would want to worship such a horrible and destructive God who cared so little about the people?

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"their destruction was their own fault for refusing to believe" seems like a stretch -- they didn't refuse to believe, they just weren't told -- and not really necessary to explain anything? God decided all those people should be destroyed because of their immorality before they ever had a chance to ask Noah what was going on.

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That is true. It makes me wonder if God was mad for not listening to the angels who argued against this creation.

Given that I don't believe this really happened but that it is a myth that carries a point, I wonder even more about what the story tells about us and how we struggle to understand God.

How do we get from an understanding of a vengeful God who destroys at will, do a God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love?

Rabbi Danya's explanation of a good prophet is a good one. But the premise is based on the responsibility of the prophet. We are not all called to be prophets. Noah certainly wasn't one. But the text said he walked with God. His job was to listen and obey.

I would find it hard to believe that others didn't see what he was doing and stopped and asked questions. And I bet the family told others what he was doing and why too. The ark would have taken a very long time to build. So plenty of time for people to change their ways.

I am curious about what directly precedes the flood story... The sons of God who procreated with the humans. Very strange story.

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Yes, I came here to say this. We don’t have to read the story as Noah being selfish. We could read it as his giving other people every chance to repent before taking his family into the ark (at the last minute, by the way, when the rain had already started to fall).

There’s a midrash that says Noah didn’t build the ark right away but planted the trees out of which he would eventually have to build it. He hoped that in the time it took for those trees to grow tall, his neighbors would grow good.

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Thank you! I have always had a bone to pick with Noah. He may be righteous, but he is vain and arrogant. After he and his family are spared, after God establishes a covenant with him and promises to never again destroy all flesh by water, Noah gets his nose out of joint when his son Ham tells his brothers about their father being drunk and seeing him naked. Noah, who has experienced mercy and seen introspection demonstrated by the Creator, curses his son and all his son's descendants. Noah is not (as Moses will be) a conduit for God's mercy.

Wow. Glad to get that off my chest.

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Being told by God that he was the only good person on earth probably gave him quite the ego!

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lol, this gave me a chuckle! I imagine it would be quite the ego boost, yes!

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"You think I look funny naked and drunk? That's not what THE ALMIGHTY said when they called me the ONLY GOOD HUMAN IN EXISTENCE"

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In Lv 18 and 20, there are numerous examples of the expression, “to uncover" someone's nakedness. In all cases this means to have sexual intercourse, and Lv 20.17 uses both “to see” and “to uncover” someone's nakedness in parallel in : “if a man takes his sister, . . . and **sees** her nakedness, it is a shameful thing. . . he has **uncovered** his sister’s nakedness.”

So Ham "saw" Noah's nakedness. Does that mean Ham raped his father when he was drunk? No, for in every case, "to see a man’s nakedness” means to have sexual relations with his **wife**.

“The nakedness of your father” is “the nakedness of your mother” (Lv 18.7).

“The nakedness of your father’s wife” is “the nakedness of your father” (Lv 18.8).

“The nakedness of your father’s brother,” is that of “his wife”, “your aunt” (Lv 18.14).

“The nakedness of your brother’s wife” is “your brother’s nakedness” (Lv 18.16).

Moreover, three references in Lv 20 specifically say that if one lies with or takes someone’s wife, he has uncovered that *man’s* nakedness:

“If a man lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness” (Lv 20.11).

“If a man lies with his uncle’s wife, he has uncovered his uncle’s nakedness ...” (Lv 20.20).

“If a man takes his brother’s wife. . . he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness” (Lv 20.21).

The statement that Ham “saw the nakedness of his father” means that he had sexual intercourse with his father’s wife.

Now, a son who has sexual relations with his mother or stepmother commits rebellion against his father, since to take possession of a man’s wife was to supplant the man himself. So, for example, Absalom lies publicly with his father’s concubines in his effort to supplant him and take over the kingdom (2Sm 16.20-23). Scripture doesn’t tell us why Ham wanted to supplant Noah, but it makes it clear that he tried.

And this also explains why Noah cursed Canaan, but not Ham’s other sons. Canaan would be the fruit of Ham’s incest.

Canaan of course was Israel's first rival and enemy.

See Frederick W. Bassett, “Noah's Nakedness and the Curse of Canaan, a Case of Incest?” (Vetus Testamentum 21/2 (Apr 1971) 232-237.

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I, myself, am not a student of Hebrew, but The Torah: A Women's Commentary, and Alter's translation of the Torah, both say that serious understanding of the text is nowhere near as pat as Mr. Bassett would have us believe.

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what do they suggest it may mean, @annemarie quigley? i have trouble thinking of an alternative that covers all the bases as well as basset does.

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Had to let this one simmer a bit.

I have never understood the people who think that pulling the ladder up behind them is an appropriate response. Why can't we do more to build a ramp?

I work for a major financial institution. In the wake of George Floyd's murder, we've been having some hard discussions about the lack of diversity in our upper management. I believe that some of the C-suite folks involved are actually serious about it, including the head of my division. In May of last year, he had ONE Black man in the two levels of employees reporting directly to him - and that gentleman has since left the company (though there has been improvement since then as well).

I got a chance to have a career coaching session with a senior leader in this org and happened to get matched with a Black woman in our compliance and controls organization. I talked about where I wanted to go in my career, but also how I wanted to be a part of reestablishing ways to prepare diverse leaders, since our CEO publicly blundered about there being no diverse candidates qualified for senior positions. (Which is utterly untrue - we just weren't looking hard enough OR making an effort to develop our own pipeline.)

I want it for my Black colleagues even though I'm white. I want it for the women in my org (and I want a women's leadership program to include diverse voices and not just my own).

Why would you not want these things? Why would you not want to help as many people who are as far down the ladder as possible?

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I've been trying all week to find a way into this discussion, because it feels like a very tall order. Perhaps it's addressed primarily to the clergy and other folks in natural moral leadership positions in the audience? Most of us ain't Moses, that's for sure, and historical contingency won't thrust most of us anywhere close to an opportunity to change history by speaking up.

On the other hand, what *small* opportunities do we have to "use our voices, our positions, our opportunities, our capacities"? On my job, I recently seized an opportunity to develop a plan to add individuals' pronouns to our customer data. I'm actually in charge of the technical side of the project, but I also have the background of a transgender family member and three former and current colleagues who've transitioned. It's also in line with an organizational strategic goal, so it's an easy one. On the riskier side, in my past I've helped lead a union drive where I worked. It eventually succeeded after I moved on in my career, but I feel my biggest contribution was speaking up for continuing the campaign at a point where the leaders of the organizing committee wanted to quit.

What examples do others have to share?

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So is it Abraham who bargains for the lives of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah? He doesn’t win, because there aren’t enough non-awful people there. He gets Lot out, that’s it. But he intercedes to spare everybody. Not on a flat out “be merciful” basis- he agrees maybe *some* people probably *do* deserve destruction— but surely not everybody, and can’t the many be spared on the merits of the few? (Is that related to the story of the 36 righteous ones who sustain the world by existing in it?) Percentage wise, it doesn’t take a lot of goodness to make the world worth sustaining.

Jesus told at least one story comparing the few people following the Divine will to leavening in flour: invisible, outnumbered, and powerfully transformative.

Also: I get that there are lessons we can draw about how we could act now, and/ but also, there’s a tricky quality to the idea that Moses, or Noah, or the Hebrews, or Abraham, had the job of opposing God’s destructive tendencies. If God is willing (or wanting) to spare or forgive, why not just BE merciful? Why pin it on a mortal for not stopping you?

I’m all over the place, here. Just playing with the idea that Mercy is free for the asking, but we have to think to ask, on each other’s behalf, not our own?

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Man, don’t even get me started on Ham.

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This is fascinating; thank you for this and the rest of this series so far.

Going through the first half of Genesis 6 with my partner this evening: unlike (say) the Babel story or Sodom where we get more homiletic details about what not to do, it's intriguing that we aren't even told what the rest of humanity had done wrong. Cain's descendants in Genesis 4 do a lot of civilization-building, except for Lamech who is vengeful and murders. There's the business about the b'nei Elohim marrying human women and bearing the Nephilim, which is immediately before God's decision to blot out most of humanity but not otherwise explicitly related to it. And yet humans were apparently evil all the time. Was it so bad that it can't be described? Was nobody left to record it? It almost feels like there's a chapter missing.

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A Prophet puts Gods needs before his own.

A Prophet can be the lobbyist and can be the judge.

A Prophet can not be a being motivated by envy.

A Prophet can have family, friends and finances, though this is rarely the case.

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Thanks for this thought-provoking post. Like others here, I immediately thought of Abraham and his getting God to agree to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if they contained a minyan (effectively) of 10 righteous men.

Looking at Noah from this angle, though, exposes Abraham's own feet as possibly being of clay. Laura pointed out how that could mean that I've gone too easy on him (as if I have any standing to criticize him in any case) in admiring his willingness to argue for 10+. Instead, though, maybe 1+ righteous people should have been enough. Or 0+.

But that's less the problem I have than that in a few chapters (spoilers!), he isn't even going to fight for his own son. Why not?

Again, I'm hardly worthy to pass judgement on him, but the new perspective does make him more human in the "to err..." sense.

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New to this forum and playing catch up 😊. Excited to be learning and the opportunity to hear different perspectives. On your observation of Abraham…I came across a teaching that child sacrifice was not unusual (if not expected by the gods worshipped at the time) in Mesopotamia so having this unknown G-d require him to sacrifice Isaac wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was G-d stopping him and providing a ram..in essence making the statement that not only were His people not to continue with child sacrifice but also that He was different from other gods. Another example was circumcision-some of the rituals of the time required self mutilation (I am in no way saying circumcision is mutilation-sharing what was said) for various reasons (pleading for rain, sign of mourning etc) but He required it once and never again.

Hope that gives you a different perspective

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Thanks for your reply. Though one can go too far with "So and so was a person of their time", it is nonetheless a true statement. Your reminder that many cultures of the time practiced human sacrifice was also helpful (one might could argue that we still do via the death penalty, though I'll admit that any valid argument along those lines would be rather complex). In such an environment, merely reaching a point of view that a deity (whatever that word entails) worthy of respect would not demand that we murder each other might be a noteworthy accomplishment.

Anyway, your response was exactly the content I came here for!

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I really like this. I don't have much more to say about this. Just let it be know it has helped me understand how to view God a little more.

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