Under discussion at the UN Human Rights Council on Oct. 16 was the report issued by the UN Fact-Finding Mission on human rights abuses in last winter's Gaza War. The report, led by the former South African judge Richard Goldstone, was harshly accusatory of Israel, and most of the speakers on Oct. 16 piled on the vicious condemnation.
Totally unexpected was the speech by Col. Richard Kemp, speaking on behalf of UN Watch:
"Mr. President, based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare… Mr. President, Israel had no choice apart from defending its people, to stop Hamas from attacking them with rockets."
I watched the video of the Colonel's full speech, and it got me thinking. The words reverberated in my mind: The IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.
What inspires one man to stand up and say the truth to a room full of uncaring politicians? Politicians who voted for a resolution so one-sided that even Judge Goldstone condemned it!
Earlier, when discussing the vote with a friend, he expressed surprise that I was so concerned and bewildered. "These countries have always hated us, what is new?" In a sense he is right. A quick search on Google reveals that the "newly reformed" UNHRC has now condemned Israel almost thirty times, more than its combined record on North Korea, Cuba, China and Sudan.
And then I thought about Noah. "Living with the times," as we are directed to do, means finding relevance to current events in the weekly Torah reading. What would Noah – this week's portion's primary protagonist – have to say about the UNHRC and anti-Semitic politicians?
"Noah was a righteous man," the Torah tells us, "a perfect man in his generation." Sounds clear enough? Apparently not...
Some rabbis interpreted this verse in Noah's favor: even in his depraved generation he maintained his righteousness and integrity. Others explain it to Noah's detriment: he was only righteous in comparison with the rest of his generation; in the generation of Abraham, however, he would not have been considered special.
One of the first teachings taught in Ethics of the Fathers instantly comes to mind. What happened to "Judge all men favorably?" Why did some of the Talmudic sages feel the need to take an unambiguous statement and turn it into a criticism of a man who did no bad—especially when a positive alternative is readily available?
While Noah was pretty righteous, to have deemed him as such – in unqualified fashion – would have encouraged emulation of all of his behaviors. There was one area, though, in which Noah was found not worthy of emulation: his estimation of his fellow man. It took Noah one hundred and twenty years to build the ark, a long time no matter the size of a structure. The idea was that Noah was supposed to stimulate the interest of his generation, explain why he was building the ark and encourage them to repent. Yet in over a century Noah did not succeed in convincing one person to return from his evil ways; when the ark was completed, not one individual outside of Noah's immediate family was deemed worthy of being spared.
It would seem to me that Noah had given up on his generation. He saw in them no redeeming qualities. He considered it useless to endeavor to "make a leopard change its spots."
Perhaps in Noah's generation this was indeed the case—as G‑d Himself testified, "Their every thought is for evil." But after the Flood creation was changed. When G‑d promised that He would never again bring a flood upon the world, He was essentially saying that, from that moment on, every individual would have redeeming qualities. He was telling us to never give up on finding the decent, moral core within every human.
Thus some of the sages saw the necessity of teaching us that we must not emulate Noah in this regard—in our times, we must never give up hope.
It may be open season on the Jews at the moment, but if we brush off all the other nations as anti-Semites, we will end up being uncaring, and unable to effect change. While their message may hold no water, we must not allow ourselves to become cynical or give up hope on them.
Col. Kemp apparently understands this idea well.