Shabbat Shalom! – Parashat Noach

Image: Noah’s ark. He and his sons are loading the animals. (Gellinger/Pixabay)

This week’s Torah portion is Noach. You know – the guy with the Ark? There’s another famous story in there as well, the story of the Tower of Babel. You know the kiddy versions of these stories, but remember those are sanitized! This week’s portion includes some truly strange stories.

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 month of weird sunny hurricane winds, monster fires and displacement, and the Darkness visited upon some of us in California by our own electric utility, natural disaster seems almost, well, natural.

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:

Is A Rainbow a Good Thing? – Blog: Six Degrees of Kosher Bacon

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

Another Brick in the Wall – Rabbi Dan Moskovitz

“A Tzaddik Knows the Soul of His Beast” – Rabbi Ruth Adar

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

The Open Invitation – Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Righteous In His Time – Rabbi Jordan Parr

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

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“A Tzaddik Knows the Soul of His Beast”

Image: Three domesticated alpacas. (Kasjan Farbisz / Pixabay

Parashat Noach (Noah) tells the Biblical version of the story of Noah and the Ark. Makers of children’s storybooks have long focused on a sanitized version of the story to tell a charming tale about a boat full of animals that boarded “two-by-two.” Midrash offers us some hair-raising details – definitely not for kiddos! – about what happened on an ark with lions, tigers, and bears.

This Torah portion also offers an opportunity to talk a little bit about Jewish values regarding our treatment of animals. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin points out that there are a number of Torah passages that address our behavior and attitudes about the beasts around us:

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements.

Exodus 19:9-10

If, along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young.

Deuteronomy 22:6

You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together.

Deuteronomy 22:10

You shall not muzzle an ox while it is threshing.

Deuteronomy 25:4

There is a Jewish legal term for these laws and their corollaries, which are developed further in discussions in Talmud and elsewhere. It is tza’ar ba’alei chayyim, the prevention of cruelty to animals. Human beings are permitted to make use of animals to do work, and we are permitted to eat some animals, within limits, but we are not allowed to be cruel.

The laws of kashrut specifically forbid cruelty in slaughter, including frightening the animal. The method of slaughter is a swift severing of trachea, carotid artery, and esophagus by a scalpel-sharp knife in one stroke, so death is very quick and as painless as possible. Some Jews go a step further and eschew eating meat altogether.

Our tradition regards careful attention to animals as the mark of a tzaddik, a truly righteous individual.

יוֹדֵ֣עַ צַ֭דִּיק נֶ֣פֶשׁ בְּהֶמְתּ֑וֹ וְֽרַחֲמֵ֥י רְ֝שָׁעִ֗ים אַכְזָרִֽי׃

A righteous man knows the soul of his beast, But the compassion of the wicked is cruelty.

Proverbs 12:10

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

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.