D’var Torah---Parashat Noach
At first glance, this week’s Parashat (Noach) is an abrupt departure from the story of Bereshit (Creation) and nearly all that we have learned from the High Holy Days regarding a God of compassion who is slow to anger and quick to forgive. We all know the story of Noach and his Ark rescuing a pair of each species of the earth while wiping out all of the other products of Creation. How could this have come about and why Noach? After all, God is exceedingly pleased with Creation, especially that of human beings despite the transgressions of the first people at Eden and beyond. The Creator seems ready to mete out punishments for sinning and poor behavior toward others, but also is quick to forgive and humans rapidly procreate, multiplying to fill a corner of the earth.
Then abruptly, things appear to be so bad, that a flood is brought about to wipe out nearly everything. And the person who is to be saved is deemed righteous, but only comparatively speaking, that is, righteous for his time. Not only Judaism, but nearly every other religion has a similar flood story occurring at approximately the same era. And of course, we know from the earth’s natural history, that through ice ages, meteor strikes, and other calamities, much of life on this planet was destroyed and most of the early species don’t even exist anymore.
So how did this all occur and why Noach? As we have often discussed in our Torah discussions and adult education classes, none of our patriarchal and matriarchal ancestors was perfect. To be human is to err. Noach is deemed righteous and yet he exhibits multiple flaws and blind faith to the detriment of all around him. He follows God’s orders to a tee, but does not warn his fellow humans of impending disaster, allowing them to witness his actions pretty much as that of an eccentric fellow. Contrast that with Abraham who argues with God and intercedes to save humankind in a later generation. And yet even Abraham exhibits questionable behavior deceiving people that Sarah is his sister rather than his wife putting her in a very precarious position and ultimately, banishing his first son and Ishmael together with his mother, and then stands ready to sacrifice his son Isaac.
So none of us are truly completely righteous and God-like. But we learn from the best qualities of our ancestors. Noach was far from perfect, but he was a mensch and he didn’t let the evil and corruption of his neighbors affect his own behavior. In every generation, we have people that are righteous for their time, rather than being 100% purely righteous. And in every generation, calamity has befallen the earth, perhaps not to the extent of the flood, but disastrous nonetheless. We Jews are no strangers to disasters, not only the natural climatic ones, but ones perpetrated upon us by others, witness the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Pogroms, and ultimately, the Holocaust. And in each case, we must learn that it is critical to repair the world, to ensure that we do everything within our power to alleviate suffering and strife. In our community, this consists of joining our neighbors in communities of faith and communities of service to talk about how we can eliminate hatred and love our neighbors and the earth that we occupy and hope that many generations that follow us will also occupy and be good stewards.
As we begin the new year of 5780, let us begin anew just as Noach and his family did to strengthen our family and friendship ties and make this a world that all can enjoy and feel safe in. Shabbat Shalom.