Sermons and Parsha'iot               Parshat Noah:  Genesis 6:9-11:32                                        
 Summary

Adam’s descendants have corrupted the world with immorality, idolatry and robbery. Recognizing the wickedness in humanity, God regrets that human beings had been created. Adonai, therefore, planned to destroy all living things. Noah, however, was the sole righteous man of his era – an individual who, despite God’s disappointment, found favor with God.

God informs Noah of the plan to destroy the earth with water and instructs him to escape the Flood by building an ark of gopher wood, covered inside and out with pitch. The ark is to be 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits tall, with an opening to allow light in. The entrance is to be on the side of the ark. The ark is to be made with three decks. God tells Noah to bring his wife, sons and their wives onto the ark. God further instructs Noah to bring seven pairs of each “clean” animals on to the ark and one pair of each “unclean” animal. A pair is a male and its female mate. God also tells Noah to bring food into the ark for his family and the animals.

On the “seventeenth day of the second month,” the fountains of the deep burst apart, and the floodgates of heaven broke open. The rain fell for forty days and forty nights; the waters rose forty-five feet above the highest mountains, and all existence on earth was blotted out. After 150 days, the water begins to recede. On the 17th day of the 7th month, the Ark comes to rest on Mount Ararat. Once the flood subsides, Noah sends out two birds, first a raven which travels about the earth until the land is dry and the second, a dove which cannot find a dry place to rest and returns to the ark. Noah waits seven days, sends the dove out again and it returns with an olive leaf. Noah waits an additional seven days and sends the dove out again; it does not return. Noah takes this as a sign that it is now safe to leave the ark.

God then tells Noah and his family to leave the Ark. Noah brings offerings to God from the animals in the Ark which were carried for this purpose. God vows never again to flood the entire world and gives the rainbow as a sign of this covenant. Noah and his descendants are now permitted to eat meat, unlike Adam. Noah plants a vineyard and becomes intoxicated from its produce. Ham, one of Noah’s sons, delights in seeing his father drunk and uncovered. Shem and Yafet, however, manage to cover their father without looking at his nakedness, by walking backwards. For this incident, Ham is cursed that his son Canaan will be the lowest of slaves.

The Torah lists the offspring of Noah’s three sons from whom are descended the seventy nations of the world. The Torah records the incident of the Tower of Babel: All the peoples on the earth had one language. They migrated from the east and settled in the valley of Shinar. To make a name for themselves, the people decided to build a city to include a tower with a top penetrating the sky. God sees what the people plan to do and, concerned about their intention, turns their one, common language into many different languages, and scatters the people around the earth, thus preventing them from building the tower. The parasha concludes with the genealogy of Noah to Avram.

Commentary

      • According to the rabbis, God commanded seven laws to Noah, laws that existed even before the giving of the Ten Commandments. These laws apply to all people – not just Jews. These commandments are: acknowledging God; prohibiting idol worship; prohibition of murder; prohibition of theft; prohibition of incest and adultery; prohibition of eating the flesh of still living animals; and the obligation to establish the rule of law. What is the overall message of these laws? What kind of society do these laws imagine? What laws are missing for the kind of society you imagine? 

      • The Tower of Babel was seen as a challenge to the authority of God. In Pirke De Rabbi Eliezar we read, “ Let us build a great tower … ascending into heaven … we will enter heaven, dethrone God and dwell there. In Sefer Aggadah, we also learn “that if a man fell down (from the tower) and died, no heed was given to him. But when a brick fell down, they stopped work and wept, saying, ‘Woe unto us! When will another be brought up in its stead?’” In both of these examples, it seems that humanity has lost all perspective. 

Some Thoughts and Questions

      1. Why was God so regretful about the creation of humankind? Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezrich, taught that the generation of the flood put material wants and desires before spiritual ones. He based his teaching on Genesis 6:11, “ the earth became corrupt before God and the earth was filled with lawlessness.” He understood the verse to read: “And the corruption was that the earth was before God.” Earthly matters were given priority over Godly matters. The people’s mistake was that they preferred “the earth” – their materialistic wants – to God. Materialism became the most important value and holiness was secondary. It’s hard not to want things, and the desiring and acquiring of things seems human. When has this happened to you? How have you and your family tried to balance material desires and spiritual ones? Do you think these two desires are mutually exclusive? 

      2. This week’s parasha describes Noah as “a righteous man … in his generation.” In the midrash we are told, “Righteous in his generation, but not in others.” What are the characteristics of a righteous person in our generation? Who are some of the righteous people of our time? Would a person who is considered righteous in our time have been considered so in a past generation? … In a future one? 

      3. The builders of the Tower of Babel were very focused on their goal of completing the tower and reaching the heavens. Think of a time when you were very focused and determined to reach a goal. Did your actions/focus cause harm? If so to whom or to what? On the other side of the coin, if no harm was done, why not? How could you “re-focus” so that in addition to accomplishing your goal no damage would be done? 

      4. In the story of the tower of Babel, the babble of languages confused and confounded the people so that they could no longer work together. Initially, the tower builders banded together to work for negative purposes. Yet, here are often good reasons for being able to communicate in one language. Discuss the following questions: Why is the study of a foreign language a part of most school curricula? What is the value of learning another language? What is your own experience of learning another language? As Jews, we have our own foreign language: Hebrew. Why do we learn it? What does it teach us? How can peoples with different languages learn to talk to one another? 

      5. The text says “When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant …” Why would God need to be reminded of anything? For whose sake was the rainbow created … for God’s sake or for the sake of human beings? 

      6. In this week’s parasha, the world is destroyed by water. This suggests that undoing of the works of creation (the second day involved the separation of water from dry land) and the return to primal chaos. Clearly lawlessness, violence, and corruption still exist in the world. What keeps the world from being destroyed by this chaos in our time? Although God promised never to destroy the earth, what about people … can people destroy it? How? How can we save or protect the earth? Although God promises never again to destroy the world through water. In the light of our experience of the 20th century, what about fire? (Think about Auschwitz and Hiroshima; think about the oils wells burning after the Gulf War; think about the burning towers of the World Trade Center.)