Parshat Noach

Torah Reading for Week of October 27 – November 2nd, 2019
“Humanity 2.0: The Flood and the Creative Process”
By Rabbi Joshua Ginsberg-Margo, ’17
The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.
NB: It might be construed from the following that I have a callous attitude toward victims of disasters.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I am both saddened and aware, for example of the recent flooding in southeastern Texas and the resulting loss of lives and property.  I present the following only to provide another perspective of a very well known biblical story.
Claude Monet once said to Paul Durand-Ruel, “I took your advice and managed to make some quite good things out of paintings I considered irredeemable.”
And such is the story of Noaḥ and the Flood.  In this week’s parsha, Noaḥ is commanded by Hashem to build an ark for the purpose of saving himself, his family, and representatives from the animal kingdom.  Hashem explains to Noaḥ that, “An end to all flesh is coming before me, for filled with violence is the earth because of them; behold, I am destroying them with the earth.” (6:13)  As promised, Hashem brings torrential rains and bursts open the fountains of the deep, destroying everything and everyone on the surface of the planet save those on the ark.  From this disaster, a new version of humanity begins with Noaḥ, the one who had “walked with Hashem” (6:9) and found favor in the eyes of Hashem, “for you I saw as righteous before me in this generation.” (7:1)
The tendency of early Torah commentators was to try and justify the depth and breadth of the punishment by citing Hashem’s accusations of wickedness, violence, corruptness, and even robbery.  In his commentary on 6:11 and 6:12, Rashi explains that the corruption of the earth was due to immorality and idolatry and that even the animals were interbreeding.  Similarly, Nachmanides likens the Ḥamas in verse 13 to “robbery and fraud.”  However, I would like to consider that the Flood was not a punishment for transgressions, but rather an effort to revise creation.  It represents the redemptive and iterative process of artistic endeavors.
If the Flood was to be a punishment, then both humankind and the animal kingdom would have to stand trial, have an opportunity to face their accuser and defend themselves.  Furthermore, according to Hashem’s own law, to apply capital punishment, there needed to be a warning and witnesses.  None of the typical processes of jurisprudence are applied.  The covenant made with Noaḥ in 6:18 is the first covenant made with mankind.  Therefore, it would be both difficult and unfair to apply punishments for actions that precede the first covenant.  Instead, the Torah reports that Hashem “regrets” having made humankind on earth.  It even anthropomorphizes Hashem stating that, “His heart was saddened.”   This is not a god of justice, this is a creator unhappy with the results of His creative efforts.
It takes great courage to admit that an artistic effort did not work out as planned and that it needs to be scrapped and reworked.  In his memoir, A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway offers the following advice to writers, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.”  Hashem’s sadness is a natural part of the creative process.  Destroying one’s own creative effort is like destroying a part of oneself, and so sadness is an understandable reaction.
As Claude Monet is quoted above, sometimes a painting (or any art for that matter) needs to be reworked and then, the “irredeemable” can be redeemed.  Parshat Noaḥ is a story of Humanity, version 2.0.  It continues the process of creation and Hashem as Creator.  Parshat Bereshit concludes with Hashem’s realization that his creative work did not turn out as planned.  Parshat Noaḥ reveals the painful part of the creative process.  Like many artists, Hashem must rework the canvas or the clay, sometimes from scratch and sometimes with a remnant of the original effort.  In the case of Creation, and the with the goal of creating a world founded upon the ideals of justice and goodness, Hashem is forced to wipe clean the surface of the earth and start again.  Noaḥ, his household, and representative species of animals are the only products of the sixth day of creation that are “reused” in the new piece, a new version of humanity, based on the righteousness of Noaḥ.
May we all endeavor to maintain the covenant made with Noaḥ.  As Noaḥ painstakingly built the Ark, may we work to build a world of justice and righteousness, speedily, in our days.  Shabbat Shalom!