The Prime Directive. For those who aren’t as familiar with the Star Trek franchise, the Prime Directive is a regulation in Star Fleet that it is forbidden to interfere, in any way, with the natural progress and evolution of a pre-warp society or culture. A number of episodes deal in one way or another with this rule but there is one in particular that I think warrants a closer look. In season 2, episode 15 of The Next Generation Data intercepts a message from a little girl, a distress call of sorts, who is afraid because of what is happening to her home. The planet is undergoing massive tectonic and volcanic activity that will ultimately wipe out all life on the planet. The problem is her planet has yet to advance to interstellar travel (and she doesn’t know Data’s in space btw), so for Data and the Enterprise to intervene would be a violation of the highest rule, The Prime Directive. There is an amazing scene where the senior staff of the Enterprise debate the moral and ethical issues presented by Datas’s “new friend”. Thankfully someone has uploaded the scene here https://youtu.be/4mH-L6UCCAE (apologies for the sound quality). This great debate about what to do about the life of this little girl and all her people is stirring and compelling. It begs the question: what kind of responsibility do we have to one another? Lets look at two other people who arguably failed where the crew of the Enterprise succeeded.
In Parshat Bereishit we have the infamous story of Cain and Abel. Both bring a sacrifice before G-d but only Abel’s is accepted and in his anger over the situation Cain murders Abel. Then comes the famous scene where G-d askes Cain where his brother is and responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). The medieval commentator Rashi says of this statement “It is an expression of astonishment”, meaning that it is meant to be read as a genuine question. That early on in the creation story the very concept of being responsible for your fellow man didn’t even exist. Cain is so taken aback by this and the subsequent punishment he practically throws himself on the mercy of the court so to speak, begging G-d for protection in his banishment.
In this week’s parsha, Noach, we have the legendary story of the flood. G-d commands Noach to build an ark and he does so, without question. One of the ongoing criticisms of Noach is his apparent unwillingness to warn anyone about what is coming or to argue with G-d on behalf of his neighbors. This is what some believe is meant when it says, “Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations” (Gen. 6:9) that had he lived in the era of Avraham he would have been considered nothing. We see this in Zohar Hadash when he cries out to G-d over the destruction and he is rebuked being told:
“Foolish shepherd! Now thou implorest My clemency. Hadst thou done so when I announced to thee the Flood it would not have come to pass. Thou knewest that thou wouldest be rescued, and therefore didst not care for others; now thou prayest.”
Both of these men failed at something basic: a responsibility to their fellow. This in contrast not only to Data and the crew of the Enterprise, but also to Avraham who, in a few weeks, will argue with G-d on behalf of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. As Jews, as people, we only have each other on this tiny blue dot. To quote another sci fi classic “Contact”:
“You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”
Both Cain and Noach failed to understand the importance of our interconnectivity, our shared heritage, and how each man is made, betzelem elokim, in the image of G-d, and is worth fighting for. May we remember this important quality, irregardless of color, creed, or identity.