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Parshat Noah: What Makes us Human?

How in control are you over your life? To what extent do you feel that it is you making the decisions? How much of the way that you think and behave is shaped by outside influences? One of the primary causes of unhappiness or frustration in life is the feeling that our lives are controlled by others. This feeling goes against one of our most fundamental traits as a human being; the desire to be free. This is especially true in the digital age. Our lives are becoming increasingly controlled by our smartphones and social media. This ceaseless feed of information erodes our ability to know who we are and to be true to ourselves. We sense manipulation by forces which don’t have our best interests in mind. One of the greatest illustrations of mankind’s ability to withstand the influences of the day, was Noah. In this week’s Torah portion we read how Noah retained his values and convictions notwithstanding living in a morally corrupt world. It was only him and his family that G-d saved. The rest of the world were beyond redemption. How does one man stand up to the entire world? Victor Frankel, the prominent Viennese psychiatrist taught, that everything can be taken from us except the ability to choose our response in any given set of circumstances. This is what makes us human. As Jews we have been especially empowered to influence our surroundings. We must therefore constantly aspire to be “influencers” rather than the reverse. We must remain vigilant to the subtle yet powerful influences which corrupt and obstruct our sense of identity and purpose. It is this ability to influence that makes us unique. It is this uniqueness that has allowed us as Jews to contribute to the spiritual and moral wellbeing of civilisation, a fundamental foundation to its sustainability. Human beings can either choose to influence or to be influenced. There are only two modes of operation. There is no neutral position. It is a choice we must make every moment of our lives.

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