Twenty-one years ago, our family was getting ready for a party. After Shabbat, we were going to celebrate my father’s installation as the Rabbi of a congregation in Chicago. We did not celebrate that night. As Shabbat ended, the week was ushered in with horrifying news from Israel. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated. I am sure many can recall their own memories of when they found out this tragic news.
This week’s Parsha, Parshat Noah, tells the famous story of Noah and The Flood. Noah is described as being “righteous, pure in his generation./נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה בְּדֹרֹתָיו” Rashi, explains that this description is a relative one. Noah was righteous in his generation, but may not have been so in others. Rabbi Elimelekh of Lizhensk (Noam Elimelekh) teaches that there is more to learn from this verse. He writes that “each and every generation is connected at its root to a specific commandment/mitzvah, which it needs to establish more than the other. For example, one generation might be connected to the root that leads it to establish the commandment of fringes/tzitzit more than other commandments So every generation at its root must grasp a specificmitzvah more than others.” Each generation is therefore responsible for bringing out something unique in order to improve the world they received for the generations that follow. Noah was righteous because he responded to the needs of his generation.
In that way, Rabin was like Noah. Rabin was by no means perfect. And this is not to say that we should all agree with all of his decisions and initiatives. However, Rabin was a leader who wanted to do what was best for his people. He responded to the needs of his people, and that changed greatly over the years. Originally trained as a farmer--Rabin spent time in an agricultural school--he joined the Palmah (the elite fighting wing of the Haganah in pre-state Israel) at a young age when he determined that Israel needed him to fight. And by the time he became Prime Minister for the second time, he had decided that the fighting needed to end. And in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize he described himself a Soldier in The Army for Peace.
As we enter this Shabbat, I want to push us to think about the needs of our generation. What mitzvah should we concentrate on to bring out the best in the world around us? How can we help support those around us as we consider what our world needs? How can stay in relationship with those whom we disagree with as we discuss what our world needs? We all need to be Noah in our generation. The future does not rest on the work of one person alone. May God grant us the strength to walk out of the Ark together, and begin to build the world as it should be.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.