June 14, 2024
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The Simchat Torah Pogrom and the Floodwaters of Noach

When the floodwaters subside, Noach is alone. Just mere weeks before, human civilization was robust and populous, though it had fallen prey to greed, lust and thievery. As the world flooded with crime and injustice, Noach received the order to build an ark with room for no more than eight human passengers, and now they remained the last remnant of the humanity that was, and the forebears of the society yet to come.

Yet Noach, in his careful observance of the instruction he had received, never once considered building another cabin onboard, or handing out life jackets in the town square, and he certainly did nothing to combat the crime wave and moral turpitude that had overtaken the society in which he lived. He followed the rules, kept his head down, and waited it out.

In this week’s Haftorah, Yeshayahu seems to point a finger at Noach for his actions. He calls the flood mei Noach, the floodwaters of Noach. It is as though Noach bears a degree of responsibility for the obliteration of society, as the tzadik biSdom, the righteous individual in a morally bankrupt society, who maintains personal integrity but fails to have any impact on the surrounding community.

What happened on Shabbat-Simchat Torah was nothing less than a pogrom, the largest massacre of Jews in Israel since the Second Temple period and larger than the pogroms of Ukraine (1919) or of Kishinev (1903)—among the largest single events of massacre in all of Jewish history.

In the face of such evil, we will not bear the sin of Noach. We are not staying in our safe rooms, we are not running away from Israel to wait out the storm. Just the opposite—thousands have spared no expense to return home to fight! Our alumnus Elchanan Kalmanson, z”l with his brother and brother-in-law were not conscripted, but ran into Kibbutz Beeri to save dozens of people. Our students, spouses, children and grandchildren are not Noach. We are the children of Avraham, who fought a war in order to free hostages, protect what is good in the world, and eradicate evil. This war is a continuation of the way of Avraham. We are certainly not paralyzed, but mobilized and emboldened to protect ourselves and restore the balance of justice. We are the children of Avraham!

Avraham’s war to rescue Lot was not a geopolitical opportunity nor was it an expression of hatred of others. Avraham, throughout his lifetime, extends his hands in peace and cooperation to those around him. He cared deeply for the people of Sodom and developed relationships and partnerships with Ephron and Elimelech. Similarly, as the students of Avraham, we wish to believe in the good of the other. But there is a time for peace, and a time for war, and we insist on ensuring our security, ridding society of a modern Amalek, and defending our people and our homeland.

At the funeral of his son, Roey—an alumnus of ours who died after saving many of his friends in the IDF—Yami Weiser noted that his son did not fall in battle, but rather was elevated in battle. His heroic acts and those of all of our soldiers are expressions of valor and commitment to our highest moral ideals.

The floodwaters of Noach are upon us when we allow ourselves to be witness to evil, without doing our part to bring about a change. As Elie Wiesel once stated: “Indifference is the epitome of evil. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” It is our obligation not to build arks, but, in the spirit of Avraham, to fight evil and to be lighthouses that will guide our world towards a better tomorrow.


Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is the president and rosh hayeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, a Modern Orthodox network of 32 educational and social institutions and programs transforming Jewish life, learning and leadership worldwide.

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