For the week ending 25 October 2014 / 1 Heshvan 5775

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.


So Far So Good

“And Noach came… to the Ark because of the Flood” (7:7)

There once was a man who jumped off the Empire State Building in New York City. As he was plummeting past the 50th floor, someone opened his window and shouted to him, “Are you are okay?” “So far, so good!” he yelled back.

It’s human nature to assume that things will carry on the way they are now indefinitely. We seem to be blind to a fairly frequently recurring phenomenon called “catastrophe”. In the year 79 CE the inhabitants of Roman Pompeii were happily going about their lives when they found themselves smothered with boiling ash and pumice from their neighboring volcano, Vesuvius, which had lain dormant for hundreds of years.

“Noach was also among those of little faith. He believed and didn’t believe that the Flood would happen, and he didn’t actually enter the Ark until the waters forced him in.” (Rashi)

This Rashi appears difficult to understand.

The Torah calls Noach “a perfectly righteous man.” He spent 120 years of self-sacrifice building the Ark, ignoring the taunts and jibes of his generation. How does he qualify to be “among those of little faith?”

Noach believed that G-d was extremely long-suffering and would certainly forgive his generation. He didn’t believe that G-d would actually bring such a terrible punishment to the Earth. This was the flaw in his faith.

On the other hand, Mordechai was on a high level of faith. When he learned of the king’s decree “to eradicate, to kill and to destroy all the Jews” he believed that it would happen despite G-d’s promise to Avraham, Yitzchak, and to Yaakov to safeguard their descendants. So he gathered all the Jews together, and fasted, and cried out to G-d to save them and reverse the evil decree.

It was precisely because Mordechai believed that a catastrophe was possible that it was averted. Noach, however — of “little faith” — didn’t really believe that such a calamity was possible. Therefore he failed to take the necessary steps to avert it. It is for this reason that that the flood is referred to as “the waters of Noach.” (Yishayahu 44:9)

Complacency is still a dangerous thing. We must constantly strengthen ourselves in prayer and good deeds to avert a calamitous change in our situation. One trembles to think what could happen if hundreds of millions of Israel’s “neighbors” decided one day to go into their kitchens and take out a carving knife and march on this little land called Israel.

We never know where G-d’s patience with us might end. We must constantly try to avert through our prayers and our actions that possibility of a calamity.

It’s all too easy to think, “So far, so good!”

  • Based on Rabbi Shimshon Pincus

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