Shabbat Shalom – Parashat Noach

Image: Watercolor of the Noah’s Ark story, by Prawny, via Pixabay.

This week’s Torah portion is Noach. It contains two famous stories: Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel. It might be tempting to think, “Oh, I know those!” and skip right over, but it would be a bad mistake.

The great thing about Torah stories is that even though the words do not change, every year when we come back around to them, we are in a different place in our lives. When I was little, I was fascinated by the thought of all those animals: it seemed wonderful! When I was a young mother, I thought about Mrs. Noah: poor woman, all those animals and children to care for! This year, I think about the Flood itself: after a summer of weird weather, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, and wildfires, it seems eerily close.

Then this past Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report that describes a world of food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population. They predict the end of our world as we know it, within the lifetimes of most of the people alive today.

So take a look at these famous stories: read the parashah for yourself! Here are some writers with different points of view on the stories in Parashat Noah:

We have to stop taking the world for granted – Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

It is Almost Too Late to Save Our Planet – Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin

Noah, the raven, and the dove – Rabbi Kari Hofmeister Tuling, PhD

The Open Invitation – Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Righteous In His Time – Rabbi Jordan Parr

End Violence and Stop Maelstrom Flooding – Rabbi Nina Mizrachi

The Scary Side of Noah’s Ark – Rabbi Ruth Adar

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Shabbat Shalom! – Noach

This week’s Torah portion is Noach. It contains two famous stories: Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel. It might be tempting to think, “Oh, I know those!” and skip right over, but it would be a mistake.

The great thing about Torah stories is that even though the words do not change, every year when we come back around to them, we are in a different place in our lives. When I was little, I was fascinated by the thought of all those animals: it seemed wonderful! When I was a young mother, I thought about Mrs. Noah: poor woman, all those animals and children to care for! This year, I think about the Flood itself: after weeks of weird weather, hurricanes, and wildfires, it seems eerily close.

We have seen the great city of Houston underwater. We have seen what wind and water will do to little islands in the path of a storm. Several counties here in California were consumed by firestorm; entire neighborhoods in Santa Rosa, CA are simply gone.

So take a look at these famous stories: read the parashah for yourself! Here are some writers with different points of view on the stories in Parashat Noah:

Noah, the raven, and the dove – Rabbi Kari Hofmeister Tuling, PhD

Rabbi 360 Podcast: Noach – Rabbi Seth Goldstein

Time to Break the Silence and Speak Out #metoo – Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

 

Righteous In His Time – Rabbi Jordan Parr

End Violence and Stop Maelstrom Flooding – Rabbi Nina Mizrachi

And God Created Diversity, And God Saw That It Was Good! – Rabbi Stephen Fuchs

The Scary Side of Noah’s Ark – Rabbi Ruth Adar

 

Shabbat Shalom! Noach

This week’s Torah portion is Noach. It contains two famous stories: Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel. It might be tempting to think, “Oh, I know those!” and skip right over, but it would be a mistake.

The great thing about Torah stories is that even though the words do not change, every year when we come back around to them, we are in a different place in our lives. When I was little, I was fascinated by the thought of all those animals: it seemed wonderful! When I was a young mother, I thought about Mrs. Noah: poor woman, all those animals and children to care for! This year, I think about the Flood itself: I feel overwhelmed – almost drowning! – in the U.S. elections, and I also worry about climate change.

So take a look at these famous stories: read the parashah for yourself! Here are some writers with different points of view on the stories in Parashat Noah:

Whence Evil? – Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Naamah, Wife of Noah, Sings as She Goes About her Work – Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Righteous In His Time – Rabbi Jordan Parr

End Violence and Stop Maelstrom Flooding – Rabbi Nina Mizrachi

And God Created Diversity, And God Saw That It Was Good! – Rabbi Stephen Fuchs

The Scary Side of Noah’s Ark – Rabbi Ruth Adar

Individual and Collective Responsibility – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

 

 

The Scary Side of Noah’s Ark

Midrash Tanhuma fills out details of the Noach (Noah) narrative that would never appear in a children’s book.

The word usually translated “ark” in the Biblical text is tevah, an Egyptian loan-word meaning “box.” This particular box kept the killer Flood out, but nonetheless it was a box of misery. The midrash tells us that Noach and his sons did not sleep for a year because all the animals needed feeding around the clock. 

Some of the animals were dangerous: a lion bit Noach so badly that he carried the scars for the rest of his life. Noach’s family was trapped for forty days and forty nights with ravenous, miserable animals. Quoting Psalm 142:8, Bring my soul out of prison, that I may give thanks, the rabbis tell us this refers to Noach’s prayer to be released from the prison the ark had become, because life inside his box had become nothing but agony.

The rabbis pitied Noach, but they also judged him very harshly: he accepted God’s orders without asking any questions. Abraham, by comparison, had advocated for his fellow human beings in Genesis 18:22-33, when he asked God to spare the evil city of Sodom if even ten righteous people lived there. 

The rabbis urge us to compare Noach, who only saved his own family, to Abraham, who cared for people he did not know. Had Noach had the courage to confront God on behalf of others, might he have saved himself and his family a nightmare?
What boxes do we construct in the name of comfort or safety that ultimately turn out to be prisons?

A version of this drash first appeared in the CCAR Newsletter.