For the week ending 5 October 2013 / 1 Heshvan 5774

Parshat Noach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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It is ten generations since the creation of the first human. Adams descendants have corrupted the world with immorality, idolatry and robbery, and G-d resolves to bring a flood which will destroy all the earths inhabitants except for the righteous Noach, his family and sufficient animals to repopulate the earth. G-d instructs Noach to build an ark. After forty days and nights, the flood covers even the tops of the highest mountains. After 150 days the water starts to recede. On the 17th day of the 7th month, the ark comes to rest on Mount Ararat. Noach sends out a raven and then a dove to ascertain if the waters have abated. The dove returns. A week later Noach again sends the dove, which returns the same evening with an olive leaf in its beak. After another seven days Noach sends the dove once more; the dove does not return. G-d tells Noach and his family to leave the ark. Noach brings offerings to G-d from the animals which were carried in the ark for this purpose. G-d vows never again to flood the entire world and designates the rainbow as a sign of this covenant. Noach and his descendants are now permitted to slaughter and eat meat, unlike Adam. G-d commands the Seven Universal Laws: The prohibitions against idolatry, adultery, theft, blasphemy, murder, eating meat torn from a live animal, and the obligation to set up a legal system. The worlds climate is established as we know it today. Noach plants a vineyard and becomes intoxicated from its produce. Cham, one of Noachs 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, Canaan is cursed to be a slave. The Torah lists the offspring of Noachs three sons from whom the seventy nations of the world are descended. The Torah records the incident of the Tower of Bavel, which results in G-d fragmenting communication into many languages and the dispersal of the nations throughout the world. The Parsha concludes with the genealogy of Noach to Avram.


We Have The Technology

“They said to one another, 'Come, let us make bricks and burn them in fire.' And the brick served them as stone, and the lime served them as mortar.” (11:3)

Technology is the conceit of the modern world.

The GPS system in our car allows us to receive satellite signals locating our position to within six feet anywhere on the planet. Behind the helm of our trusty gleaming V-8, we are the kings of the road. Previous generations pale into technological primitives.

We have the technology.

With a cellular phone we can call from the desert, from the top of a mountain, from the middle of nowhere, and communicate to anywhere in the world. And what are those deathless words that we wish to communicate across the tens of thousands of miles?

“Hi! Guess where I am!”

Now that’s what I call progress.

We may know where our car is better than ever before, but when it comes to knowing where we ourselves are, that’s a different story.

If we had developed in any real sense over the last couple of thousand years, would we still find anything of value in Shakespeare? If the human spirit had undergone a comparable degree of progress to technology, the poetry and art of those who died hundreds of years ago should seem impossibly quaint to the modern eye. If we were really more advanced, no one should be in the slightest bit interested in John Donne, Cervantes, Sophocles, Pascal, Mozart or Boticelli — except for historians. And yet, we recognize that our generation is hard put to come anywhere close to these artists.

Technology is an apology for our feelings of inferiority when we compare ourselves to our forebears. Our axiom is, “We may have less to say, but we can say it from the middle of nowhere.” Cold comfort is better than none.

At the end of this week’s Torah portion there is a description of the attempt of the Generation of Dispersion (Dor Hapalaga) to build a tower that reached into the sky.

"They said to one another, 'Come, let us make bricks and burn them in fire.' And the brick served them as stone, and the lime served them as mortar."

Rashi comments: "In Babylon there were no stones..."

Because there were no stones in Babylon, they were forced to apply technology and invent the brick. Immediately following this verse they say, “Come, let’s build a city and a tower with its top in the heavens.” They wanted to make a tower to challenge G-d.

This is a seeming non-sequitur. What does the lack of stones in Babylon have to do with building a city and a tower to challenge G-d? Why is making bricks a harbinger of incipient rebellion?

The Dor Hapalaga was intoxicated with technology. Bricks were the Babylonian equivalent of a Saturn V rocket. Take some mud, bake it and voila! Genius. If Man can take mud and turn it into towers and spires and palaces, what can he not do? Is there a limit to his powers?

From this kind of thinking there is a very small step for Mankind to think that they can dispense with G-d completely.

“Let us build and make for us a name."

We have the technology.

  • Sources: Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, Rabbi Yissochar Frand

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