Noah 5781: Talk about Delugional!.
Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32 )
GOOD MORNING! With the presidential election now visible on the horizon, both Republicans and Democrats are making a final push and flooding the nation with ads on television, social media, and print media. Fascinatingly, I finally realized the one point on which both Democrats and Republicans agree: each one believes that the world will come to an end if the other party wins the presidency.
Anyone familiar with last week’s Torah reading knows that at one point the earth was ACTUALLY threatened with destruction. It tells the story of a time when mankind had utterly corrupted itself and became morally bankrupt: “God saw that man’s wickedness on earth was increasing. Every impulse of his innermost thought was only for evil, all day long. God regretted that He had made man […] God said; ‘I will obliterate humanity that I have created from the face of the earth’” (Genesis 6:5-7).
This week's Torah portion is called Noah – named after the man the Almighty charged with saving a sliver of mankind and the creatures that inhabited the earth. Noah was a righteous man, in fact he is the only person in the entire Torah to be called a tzaddik – a righteous person (ibid 6:9). Noah is not considered the first Jew – that title belongs to Abraham. Thus, quite remarkably, the only person in the entire Torah to be called a tzaddik was a non-Jew!
The Almighty gives Noah very specific instructions on how to construct the ark. I am going to presume that – outside of seeing a cartoon drawing of the ark – most readers have no idea what the ark actually looked like. By contrast, most people have seen pictures of and are familiar with the ill-fated Titanic. So I have prepared a chart comparing the two.
Now a couple of items probably jump out at you, but the most puzzling is why it took Noah 120 years to build the ark? It actually reminds me of the following joke:
God appears to Noah and asks him to build an ark to save a few good humans and two from every living species. He also gave Noah the blueprints, saying, “You have 6 months to build the ark before I will start the unending rain for 40 days and 40 nights.”
Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard – but no ark.
“Noah!” He roared, “I’m about to start the rain! Where is the ark?” “Forgive me, Lord,” begged Noah, “but things have changed.”
“First, I needed a building permit. That’s been held up because I’ve been arguing for months with the fire inspector about the need for a sprinkler system. Then my neighbors claim that I’ve violated the neighborhood zoning laws by building the ark in my yard and exceeded the height limitations. We had to go before the city’s planning and zoning board to ask for a variance. They wanted to know how I was going to get it to the ocean and I tried to explain that the sea would be coming to us, but they just thought I was crazy.
“Getting the wood was another problem. In order to save the spotted owl, there’s an EPA ban on cutting local trees. I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the owls – but of course that went nowhere! Oh by the way, the EPA is also demanding an environmental impact study on your proposed flood.
“When I started gathering the animals, the animal rights groups sued me. They insisted that I was confining wild animals against their will. They argued the accommodations were too restrictive, and it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space. I’m also still trying to resolve a complaint with the Human Rights Commission on how many minorities I’m supposed to hire for my building crew and the trades unions say I can’t use my sons. They insist I have to hire only union workers with ark-building experience.
“So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least 100 years for me to finish this Ark.” Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky. Noah looked up in wonder and asked, “You mean you’re not going to destroy the world?”
“No,” said the Lord. “The government clearly beat me to it.”
Jokes aside, according to our sages, Noah purposefully took 120 years to build the ark so that people would ask him what it’s all about and hopefully after hearing his explanation they would take the opportunity to repent and mend their ways.
Here is another fact you may not have known: Not all the species that Noah collected into the ark were limited to two (one male and one female). Noah brought additional kosher animals.
“From the pure animals take for yourself seven by seven, a male and it’s mate” (Genesis 7:2).
Why would God ask Noah take more of the kosher animals? Mankind had not yet been given permission to eat the animals – that only came after Noah and his family left the ark (see Genesis 9:1-3).
The answer is that upon leaving the ark the Almighty wanted Noah to have the opportunity to bring sacrifices and the only ones permitted to be sacrificed were the kosher animals.
But this is still troublesome. As the great medieval commentator Rashi points out – the ark was a pretty miserable place to be: It was crowded, noisy, smelly, and mostly dark. Compounding those issues was the fact that some animals eat during the day and some at night, so Noah and his very limited crew were on call 24 hours a day. Rashi points out that Noah was actually coughing up blood from the stress of it all (Noah even prayed to God that the time on the ark be shortened but was turned down) (see Rashi’s commentary on 7:23).
So why did the Almighty ask Noah to exacerbate the issue by bringing in even more animals than were necessary to the ark? Noah lived for three hundred years after the end of the flood; he could have simply waited a few decades until the different species of kosher animals became re-established, grew into large flocks and herds, and then easily brought sacrifices. Why the urgent need to pack them into the ark at this time and make a difficult situation more unbearable?
The Almighty was conveying a very important message to the survivors of the flood. Even though Hashem had been bitterly disappointed by the state of humanity and their immorality to the point that He decided that they had forfeited their right to live, He still desired a relationship with mankind.
It was critical for those entering the ark to know that Hashem desired a relationship with them. Every relationship is built on communication and one of the first ways of communicating with the Almighty was worshipping Him with sacrifices. In fact, the prayers that the Jewish people offer every day of the week in synagogues all over the world were instituted in place of the sacrifices that were brought in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, beginning about three thousand years ago.
The means of communicating with the Almighty were the kosher animals that were to be brought as sacrifices upon exiting the ark. By assuring those entering the ark that the Almighty wanted to continue to maintain a relationship, it enabled them to not feel abandoned or alone. Furthermore, when they exited the ark they were immediately able to reconnect with God. That is why it was critical to bring many more kosher animals on to the ark, even if it meant more work and discomfort.
This also has a lasting message for all of mankind: No matter how far you feel you may have strayed, God is patiently waiting for you; and yes – He desires that you once again begin a conversation with Him. What could be more empowering than that?
Noah, Genesis 6:9 - 11:32
The story of one righteous man in an evil generation. The Almighty commands Noah to build the ark on a hill far from the water. He built it over a period of 120 years. People deride Noah and ask him, "Why are you building a boat on a hill?" Noah explains that there will be a flood if people do not correct their ways. We see from this the patience of the Almighty for people to correct their ways and the genius of arousing people's curiosity so that they will ask a question and, hopefully, hear the answer.
The generation does not do teshuva, returning from their evil ways, and God brings a flood for 40 days. They leave the ark 365 days later when the earth has once again become habitable. The Almighty makes a covenant and makes the rainbow the sign of the covenant that He will never destroy all of life again by water (hence, James Baldwin's book, The Fire Next Time). When one sees a rainbow it is an omen to do teshuva – to recognize the mistakes you are making in life, regret them, correct them/make restitution, and ask for forgiveness from anyone you have wronged as well as from the Almighty.
Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk and then occurs the mysterious incident in the tent after which Noah curses his grandson Canaan. The Torah portion concludes with the story of the Tower of Babel and then a genealogy from Noah's son, Shem, to Abram (Abraham).
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Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.
– Soren Kierkegaard