Parshat Noach

Torah Reading for Week of October 23-29, 2011

The Call from the Rainbow
By Gregory D. Metzger, Third Year AJRCA Rabbinical Student


These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a good and just man. He was a pure man in his generation. [Genesis 6:9]

We all know the story of Noah and the flood. When G-d saw how corrupt the earth was, “for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth”, He decided to “destroy them all with the earth”.  Noah is singled out for being “blameless” and becomes the hero as he saves his family and all the animals.

As children, we sang songs celebrating Noah as a hero for building an ark and saving his family and the animals.  I still like the songs and have to admit to getting the verse “Noah, he built him an arky, arky, Built it out of gopher barky, barky” stuck in my head sometimes.

As an adult, I see Noah as flawed and incomplete. He is missing something important. He is missing conscience.  He is more like an angel than a man.  Angels have no free will.  They are obedient automatons who carry out G-d’s instructions without question, without fail.  In his book, Conscience: the duty to obey and the duty to disobey, Rabbi Harold Schulweis explains, “The human being is no robotic instrument of G-d’s play, but rather a person endowed with a dignity that encourages him or her to oppose the master, to defend the accused. . .” Noah lacks humanity.  The earth and all flesh were destroyed because man, Noah included, lacked humanity.

The Zohar imagines the following conversation:

What did G-d answer Noah when he left the Ark and saw the world destroyed? He [Noah] began to cry before G-d and he said, “Master of the universe, You are called compassionate. You should have been compassionate for Your creation.” G-d responded and said, “You are a foolish shepherd. Now you say this?! Why did you not say this at the time I told you that I saw that you were righteous among your generation, or afterward when I said that I will bring a flood upon the people, or afterward when I said to build an ark? I constantly delayed and I said, ‘When is he [Noah] going to ask for compassion for the world?’… And now that the world is destroyed, you open your mouth, to cry in front of me, and to ask for supplication?” [Zohar Hashmatot, Bereishit 254b]

Today, as in Noah’s time, the earth is filled with lawlessness.  It would seem that without intervention, there will be an end to all flesh and with it the earth.   In these times, it would be so easy to see the pain and suffering of others and the events unfolding in the world as Noah saw them – as G-d’s retribution for lawlessness.  We could see in them the need for self protection and need to isolate ourselves in a personal ark, one which separates us from the rest of the world.  However, we are also witness to humanity.

Today, we Jews are called to raise our voices in protest over the genocide in Darfur and the brutal conflict in Congo.  Today, we must lead the fight against genocide and mass atrocities everywhere.  Today, we must engage as individuals and communities to take actions that produce results.

As Jews it is our responsibility to extend to boundaries of justice.  It is our responsibility to ask for compassion for the world.  It is our responsibility to bring an end to genocide.

I have set my bow in the clouds and it shall serve as a sign. . . [Genesis 9:13]

As I was first writing this piece, a rare thunder storm struck Los Angeles.  I went outside and saw a double rainbow.  I saw the first as the sign of G-d’s covenant with us and the promise to never again destroy all flesh.  Perhaps, the second, even more beautiful rainbow was man’s response – man’s humanity.  A sign we will not stand idly by. . .

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