I’m going to jump right in to this week’s Torah portion, since we have a lot of ground to cover! In this week’s sedra Noach, perek 6, pasuk 9 states, “Eilah toldos Noach, Noach ish tzadik tamim hayah bidorosav Es HaElokim Hisalech Noach”. Translation, “This is the line of Noah, Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God.” Noah’s generation is commonly referred to as the dor Hamabel, the generation of the flood. In this parshah, God comes to understand that humanity is corrupt and believes the solution is to simply wipe the slate clean and start over…however one man, Noah, finds favor in God’s eyes. God sees in Noah righteousness and resolves to spare him the fate of his contemporaries. As the story goes, Noah is seen as the template for future humanity, as it is his progeny that will repopulate the entire world!
What was so righteous about Noah? According to Rashi, this dor Hamabul generation were living in a state of lawlessness – committing violent and forceful theft and traipsing around in a sexually promiscuous manner. God never explicitly mentions what makes Noah blameless or what qualities make him righteous. This is left for us to discuss…perhaps Noah kept to himself and was not impressionable to the lawlessness around him and this may have been enough to make him righteous in a world of chaos. I propose what separated Noah from his generation was a strong sense of faith. God shares with Noah in verse 18, “I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark, with your sons, your wife, and your son’s wives”. From this we can surmise that Noah’s wife, sons, and son’s wives were also righteous and deserving to live and begin the world anew. In Chapter 7, we learn that Noah has followed God’s instructions to round up two of every animals and that he has completed the proper tasks in preparation for the flood. The question I cannot remove from my mind is how does one live knowing that everyone not on the ark will perish?
When I think of the concept of faith in relation to Noah and this parshah, my mind is also reminded of Abraham. Noah and Abraham had very different responses to God when presented with God’s plan to bring about death and destruction. Noah pronounces his submission to God’s decision; Abraham pleads with God to spare lives in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah. What can we take away from these two different responses? Noah was a bystander – willing to passively stand by while God wiped out all around him, while Abraham was an upstander, advocating for lives of others. Both men showed faith in God, but it is not enough to have blind faith. Our faith must be consciously informed and we must employ the mind and heart that God has given us in practicing our faith.
The Torah is very specific with respect to some aspects of the flood and completely disregards what we may refer to as character development. In Genesis 7:11 it is written, “in the 600th year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst apart, and the flood gates of the sky broke open.” The Torah is very particular to share how old Noah was and the precise day of the year that God unleashed the waters. While the Torah is specific here and also when providing measurements and specifications for the ark itself, it is vague in providing any explanation as to what stood out about Noah and why he and his family were so exceptional. It may seem odd at first glance to place so much emphasis on these details; the world as Noah has known it is coming to an end, however I see these ambiguities as opportunities for us to engage with the text and one another in dialogue and discussion.
This week’s Torah portion ends with the tower of Babel. How can we understand the juxtaposition of the dor Hamabel (the generation of the flood) with the dor Haflaga (the generation building the tower)? During the time of the building of the tower there was one common language shared by all of humanity. A midrash, which you might have heard, is that the people of the dor Haflaga deliberately constructed the tower to make war with God. In Chapter 11:2 the Torah states, “and as they migrated from the East, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there.” Later, in chapter 11, God expresses his frustration by what the people are building and is angered by their actions. God’s solution is to scatter the people and to eradicate their common tongue and therefore put an end to their collaboration. Babel means bilbul, confusion. I see this generation, the dor Haflaga, through a different lens. The Rabbis of old thought of this generation as evil and having malicious intent in their construction of the tower. However, in light of the flood earlier in the parshah, where the waters were the force of destruction from above and below, could the actions of this generation be defended? I heard once, from a rebbe of mine that this generation was constructing the tower to protect themselves. The tower was not an act of aggression, but rather meant to unite the people to work together in order to survive God’s wrath. Their intention was to block the waters from above and be high enough to survive when the ground water’s opened up. We also know that in Genesis 9:15 God told Noah, “I will remember my covenant between me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” Therefore, I challenge us to see this generation not as evil, but as lacking faith.
Faith is what brings us here together – faith in one another and faith in something greater than ourselves. May we take away something from Parshat Noach that we can incorporate into our lives to enhance our understanding of faith and may we all have the wherewithal to incorporate our faith into making the world a better place.