For the week ending 10 October 2020 / 22 Tishri 5781

Parashat Noach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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It is ten generations since the creation of the first human. Adam’s descendants have corrupted the world with immorality, idolatry and robbery, and G-d resolves to bring a flood which will destroy all the earth’s 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, and this time 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 world’s climate is established as we know it today. Noach plants a vineyard and becomes intoxicated from its produce. Cham, one of Noach’s 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 Noach’s 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. This Torah portion concludes with the genealogy of Noach to Avram.


Noach - Human vs. Humanoid

“May G-d extend Yafet, but He will dwell in tents of Shem…” (9:27)

In a recent Hollywood gangster movie charting the life of hitman Frank Sheehan and labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa, rather than employ younger actors to portray the two characters as younger men, Hollywood used the latest 'de-aging' technology, and two well-known Italian-American films stars — one 76 and the other 79 — shed 40 years electronically. To de-age actors, a visual effects team creates a computer-generated, younger version of an actor’s face and then replaces the actor’s real face with the synthetic, animated version. Moshe Mahler, who worked for Disney Research for many years, writes that audiences are much more sensitive to distortions in computer-generated faces than to even larger, seemingly more obvious distortions that are present on the body. His research showed that viewers often experience an uncomfortable feeling when they see computer-generated faces that “aren’t quite right.”

Robotics professor Masahiro Mori hypothesized that as a humanoid becomes more lifelike, an audience’s “familiarity” toward it increases, until a point where the humanoid is almost lifelike, but not perfectly lifelike. At this point, subtle imperfections lead to responses of repulsion or rejection. The effect is stronger if the humanoid is moving.

If today's technology allows actors to shed years, we can probably expect that future technology will allow them to win posthumous Oscars for performances constructed on a computer decades after they have returned to the ground.

“May G-d extend Yafet, but he will dwell in tents of Shem…” Yafet is the father of Yavan, and Yavan translates into English as Greece. The Greeks are the inventors of the drama — the father of the film. Interestingly, there are several stories in Greek literature concerning immortality.

Shem is the ancestor of the Jewish People, who have always proclaimed that immortality is not to be found in works of art or works of computers, but in connecting to the Source of all. Because every mitzvah allows a Jew to turn the present into the future — before it becomes the past.

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