Newsletter               October 18, 2012 - 2 Cheshvan 5773
   empty chair   

The Empty Chair     

It was a battle for the world's soul. Cain's descendants believed that, despite their efforts to repair Abel's murder (Genesis 4:20), the world was destined to soon end (Rashi; 4:24). Seth, Adam's third son, provided, in his father's words, "in place of the murdered Abel (4:25)," led his family to negate the influence of the Cainians. Seth's children continued to believe in God, and, convinced they were undeserving of a direct relationship with the Creator, worshipped Him through intermediaries (4:26). Cain's family was too angry with God for the approaching Armageddon. They became murderers and warriors (4:22).

Seth's family named their children as were Cain's; Enoch, Cainan, Lemech, and Mehalalel, to counteract the hegemony of the Cainian approach.

The lines drawn between the two families were clear, until the most prominent Sethian, Noah, began to build an Ark, declaring that, in fact, the Cainians were right; the world was coming to an end!

The Biblical News Network hosted a three-way debate between the Cainians, Sethians, and Noah, but one chair stood empty. Noah, after upsetting the balance, refused to participate. He was too busy finishing his Ark. People stormed out of the studio into a downpour, ready to kill Noah and smash his Ark to bits (Rashi; 7:13), but were scared off by the animals (Rashi; 7:16), and heavy rain.

Life inside of the Ark was too busy for anyone to have time to think, but one of Noah's sons was troubled by his father's silence. As soon as they exited the Ark, Ham, a man of action, determined Noah's silence to be self-castration (Rashi; 7:22); Noah had wasted his opportunity to influence the world, and Ham rejected his father.

Shem and Japheth appreciated Noah's approach, and as loving children, protected his dignity. They understood that Noah, by finishing the Ark was making his point far more powerfully than in a debate; the world may be destroyed but we can act. Philosophical debates about the future of the world were distracting people from their primary responsibility: Act! Noah, a Tamim, lived without needing to know the future (Rashi; Deuteronomy 18:13). He was concerned only with doing, fulfilling his responsibility to build, plow and prepare for the unknown future (Rashi; Genesis 5:29). Noah observed the Flood waters as plowing the earth for future life (Tehillah Yarhi); the person who acts rather than debate can see potential even when others only see destruction.

The arguments of the Sethians and Cainians continue to echo in the world. I've heard of rabbis using numerology to prove that the world as we know it is about to end, and the Messiah is ready to come. People debate the upcoming election as intensely as the Cainians and Sethians debated the end of the world, and they forget Noah's message: There is a reason why we don't know the future; our responsibility is to act, to build and be prepared for that unknown. Sometimes, even an empty chair sends a powerful message; when the missing person is too busy building the future to participate in never ending debates.
On a personal note: My mother ob"m's life of action is being celebrated by an extraordinary organization she founded, Bikur Cholim of Baltimore. Please go to The Foundation Stone home page for more information, and join me in honoring her life and accomplishments. Thank You.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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