Torah Portion Noach
I. We read at the end of last week that Noah "had found favor (grace, or chen) with God." (8)
READ 6:9. Now we see that Noah "was a righteous (tzadik) man; he was without blame in that age; Noah walked with God." (9) (supported, too, in Genesis 7:1 - "for you alone have I found to be truly righteous in this age")
Biblical commentators have examined and discussed these words with great interest. So, should we!
Is being "blameless in that age" good, or is it a slight (as if being (only) blameless in an age when no one was good was somehow unimpressive). Some argue this, and hold that he would not have necessarily been "blameless" in other times. Their criticism is partly based on the lack of explicit efforts on Noah's part (as contrasted with Abraham in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, which we will soon study).
What's your verdict?
( Recall he was righteous, which seems to be a judgment against an objective standard, suggesting specific qualities such as his being neither a man of violence or perverted ways (as with others then). Indeed couldn't one argue that being righteous in that age was especially commendable!
Further, he walked with God. That, too, seems to meet an objective and high standard. Indeed walking in God's ways could have been a courageous and lonely task in that age.
So, he was worthy of being saved, and, thus, it could be argued was responsible for the survival of mankind and the animals. He keeps the covenant with and through Noah (18). He did as God commanded. (22). And see below for supportive stories. I vote "thumbs up!") .
2. Let me ask you a few questions about the building of the ark.
First, is there any evidence that this substantial ark was built in private or in secret? (No!) What is the importance of this?
(Can't we read between the lines that people saw it and must have been curious? Couldn't people have asked? What would Noah have said? And, now, the big one, what would God have done had people shown regret and committed to repent and turn in a different direction? The door to be saved is open throughout our Text.)
What's the significance of the ark being built by Noah's hands? (Maybe that we must participate in some way in making the space for salvation.)
Indeed in the Talmud and other explanatory texts (while there sometimes is criticism of Noah) there are some great stories that fill out the detail of the Bible.
In one, Noah actually spreads the news of the impending Deluge, preaching repentance everywhere, only to be mocked.
In another, Noah took 52 years to build the ark with the principle hope of either encouraging people to turn or to delay God's punishment.
3. Now let's look at God's words after Noah and all on the ark survive, come out, and make an offering: "Never again will I doom the world because of man,..., nor will I ever strike down every living being as I have done."
Wow. Does the Divine Mind have regret, change? If so, why here? And what does this mean? That God will not punish man again? (No.) That the earth will never be doomed this way? Or never "because of man?" 8:22 seems to say never. But....?
(Read 8:21 - God said in His heart that he will not...since the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth (minurav) (NOT from the start!). Explain!
What does youth mean? Before maturity? Or in the early period of mankind's history? Before Torah? Could Christians argue before Jesus?. It seems there is a growing appreciation of how we can "grow up!" There is accountability after Adam and Eve. After Cain, we're aware of sin. And now, after the flood, we have mitzvot, or Divine expectations of how we should live as God expects. This is where this Text is fundamentally headed in guiding us as we grow.
4. Read 9:1-9, 12-17 - Blessing and Covenant - this looks like a new covenant.
Covenant, in Hebrew, is the word b'rit. Recall our discussion last week of choice. Would it surprise you that b'rit stems from the root b'ru', (choose).
Be fruitful and multiply, sanction to eat of the animals (but with limits), a warning and a threat against those who take blood (such as the violence in the previous generations), in return for the promise not to ever destroy in a Flood again, as manifested in the sign of peace, a reminder of the pledge from the covenant, in the rainbow. Humankind continues, though the individual is transient.
Note in 6 the statement of the fundamental principle of retributive justice - a duty to each other. We'll deal with this later in many contexts. But it's a landmark in the annals of Divine and human concerns about just living that should not go unnoticed.
Why do you think there is a permission granted here to eat of an animal (though with restrictions) paired with an explicit prohibition against taking human life?
(To find a mean between barbarity and human instincts, maybe, to allow eating meat under limited conditions? Was there an unmet need in the previous times that led to rampant violence that somehow ought now to be met? But as with Nimrod, does it further encourage "taste for blood?")
Why a rainbow? (Jewish tradition: sign of peace - 1) inverted (non-threatening) bow, 2) all shades and colors joined side by side, calling on all races/ nation to do the same, and 3) promise that no matter how hard it rains, it will stop and the sun will come out again. Jews who have a blessing have one upon seeing a rainbow! ...who remembers the covenant, is faithful to it, and keeps promises.”)
5. Tower of Babel - Read 11:1-9.
A. So, what's wrong here? Wouldn't world unity be good? People speaking "the same language?" Building together?
(Perhaps it's foolish or presumptuous to try to make one tower suffice for all people of the world. Or that this meant they would confine themselves to a place and violate the command to be fruitful and multiply. Or perhaps the reference to the bricks and the towers were related to Mesopotamia and its ways that were to be rejected.
BUT the real clue of the problem comes in verse 4. We are making this city and tower..."with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves."). The word for name in Hebrew is shem. Does anyone know the Hebrew word Jews use sometimes in place of Adonai in lieu of saying the tetragrammaton? HaShem!
B.Living as if we can build to the heavens and take "the name for ourselves" - what does this remind you of?
(These people, like Adam and Eve, had the intention to be God, to act as if they were God, to build up humanity as a counter force to God, able to sustain itself by ways of being contrary to those spelled out by God. And thus they were punished by being scattered across the world, the exact fate they sought to avoid - another demonstration of a balance in the operation of Divine justice.
C. Ask: Is this being scattered akin to being thrown out of the Garden? Or to being exiled to a city of refuge? Or to exile in the era of the prophets? Or is meant to be a sort of favor for rural versus massive urban, or a permanent sort of decentralization or distribution to avoid aggregating human power?
D. Our Jewish sages are always creating ethics-based stories to fill in the gaps in the Bible. One fascinating tale is that Abram came by and viewed the Tower and cursed the builders in God's name. The Tower had risen 70 miles high, with 7 stairways on its eastern side, by which the workers climbed to the top, and 7 on the west, by which they descended. The problem to him? if a worker dropped a brick and it broke, all bewailed its loss. But if a man fell and died, the people never so much as turned their heads.
In sum, the unity that we should seek is not in glorifying our name, but rather in living in service of God's Name - HaShem. As we saw in prophets, this unity comes when God will be One, and God's Name will be One.
E. Conclusion to main flow of the portion:
Early conceptions didn't work:
1) Mere instruction to Adam and Eve about not eating the fruit.
2) Mere plea to Cain.
3) Mere guidance to Noah through fragmentary guidance.
This additional failure after the flood points the way to God's deeper plan through Abraham. HaShem cannot abide a world, nor ultimately can man, without God-man relationship. Mitzvot, I-Thou, leading to true unity when God will be One and His name, One.
6. Finally, let's look at the genealogy of Shem to Abram (later Abraham), for this whole story is a big-time connector from the beginning to the main narrative that begins with Abraham.
A. But look at 11:31. Do you see something here that surprises you from earlier study of the Bible?
(Recall the old Biblical story of Abram's busting up the idols in his father's shop. There was quite an ending to that tale as it plays out in the Talmud, which we won't discuss today. Suffice to say that the tradition is robust and, at least until the end, almost entirely negative: Abram was the son of a man who was wicked, an idolater, an owner of an idol shop, a loyal supporter of the king, Nimrod, and even one who sought punishment for his son, Abram, for having sought to disrupt the mores of the pagan society of which he was a part.)
B. Abram was directed by God to leave the culture and place of his father and for certain reasons we'll study more carefully next week. He did leave and journey, yes. But...the text of Torah opens up some interesting, if unconventional, possibilities. Let's consider them.
It's possible that Ur and Haran were similar in pagan qualities. BUT 31 makes it clear that Terah is the one who took his family (including Abram) from Ur to "move to the land of Canaan." They don't make it and settle in Haran.)
What's this all about?
(It certainly is also possible that the father was leaving someplace in search of something else? If this is so, perhaps the process of moving from Ur did NOT begin with Abraham: rather it was started by his father Terah! Does this suggest that the Abrahamic rebellion in favor of the One God might have had some sort of start in the mind and soul of the father? The tradition does not hold this view, make no mistake about it; much of it derides Terah to the end as an idolater. But the Text raises many questions and possibilities.
Some say Terah repented. Others say he wanted to save Abram from another grab by Nimrod. Others say Terah was convinced by Abram. Or is it possible, though perhaps under the influence of his son, that Terah was seeking to leave and find the new way (with God!) but couldn't quite make it the distance?
Note that in 15:15 Abraham is told he'll return to his father upon death. The idolater in the World to Come? ? Did he repent? Or by virtue of his son? Or did he begin to turn himself?