Shabbat candles: 5:52 p.m.
Torah: Genesis 6:9-11:32
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10
Havdalah: 6:50 p.m.
Because of the corruption of humankind, God brings a flood to destroy all life except Noah (the “righteous man”), his family, and the animals in the ark. After the flood, God promises Noah never again to “smite every living being as I have done. Continuously, all the days of the earth, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” [Genesis 8:21-22].
Parshat Noach teaches us about how our world works. It gives us answers to some of our most heart wrenching questions: Why is the world so imperfect? Why are there disasters, disease, tragedies? Will God ever do this again? Why do we have good days and bad days? We may not like or understand the answers, but this portion at least seeks to give us some insight into these questions.
Originally, there was no disease and few natural disasters. We lived to unimaginably advanced ages: Methuselah to 969 years; Noah to 950. There were no checks on human corruption. Sin piled up. The world became worse and worse. The world’s system, which is all of a unity, could not sustain that amount of greed, untruth, rapaciousness, and crime. So God decided to sweep away the old system and put an entirely new, self-regulating system in place. In this new system, the maximum life span would be 120 years. Human imperfection that led to selfish or sinful acts would be worked out and expiated little by little, constantly, in small and large ways. No person would be allowed to accumulate too much sin. Less worthy acts would be taken care of in the course of a life. God would constantly communicate with us through the positive and negative circumstances in our lives, letting us know the results of our actions. We would be able to take an honest look at our lives and know how we are doing because of the circle of choice- and-result that connects us to God: We do something good and experience blessing, or at the very least, good feelings from performing mitzvot. We miss the mark, do something less worthy, and are sent a correction.
But it is not always so clear why negative things occur, or why terrible things happen to people who are virtuous. Rashi comments [on Gen. 6:9], “The offspring of the righteous are good deeds.” Our sages agreed that the more righteous deeds a person does, the clearer is the correspondence between what happens to that person and their deeds. However, as part of society, we bear responsibility for the acts of our community. We may ask: Why in the story of the flood did so many have to perish? Why the animals and plants? The story teaches us that what we do affects everything else. We are connected to all existence, all being, and to God. When we choose only for ourselves, God is hurt, and the world cannot continue in that way.
The sober and very adult message of Noah is that if the world were not the way it is, if there were not built-in corrections to human sin, life would be even worse. There would be no progress and we would experience hopelessness. Sin would pile up. Life would go in a negative direction.
However, there is good news in this tale: the Noah story teaches us not only how our world is constituted but also about our great power to create blessing. When we strive to do what is good, like Noah, we need not be overwhelmed by destructive forces. We participate in our own salvation by choosing that which helps the world to be a better place.
As the sage S’fat Emet taught, it is up to us to broaden the good impulse within us for our own benefit and the benefit of the world. Our task is to pour the balm of love upon that which is wounded and to be of those who repair what is rent. The Eternal God knows our intentions, sends us blessings, and allows us to live even when we fall down, judging us in mercy and helping us to improve.
May we be worthy of the great power for good given to us, and the faith, dignity, and respect for us that has been accorded to us by the Source of Life. Our world is beautiful; and we have an enormous effect on our lives and also on the world. The system works in our favor. God wants to bless us. May we broaden the goodness and Godliness within us, and experience how much blessing we may create.