- God decides to cause a flood that will destroy the world, sparing only Noah's family and the animals that Noah gathers together on the ark. (6:9-8:22)
- Life starts over again after the Flood. The Noahide Commandments are listed, and God uses a rainbow to make a symbol of the first covenant. (9:1-17)
- People start to build a city and the Tower of Babel. God scatters the people and gives them different languages to speak. (11:1-9)
- The ten generations from Noah to Abram are listed. (11:10-29:2)
D'var Torah by Ronnie Nathan
The story of Noah and his ark, the 2nd parsha in Bereishis, is among the best known stories in the Bible. Virtually everyone learned it as a very young child and has known it as long as they can remember. It is a universal tale about G-d destroying His Creation and starting anew and a version of it appears in numerous cultures across many lands. Nevertheless, it is a story replete with difficulties and challenges, not the least of which is its believability. In this d’var I want to focus on one of these challenges, a challenge that you may never have even considered.
In the very 1st verse of the parsha Noah is introduced to us as a “righteous man, perfect in his generation.” Yet the rabbis tell us that this caveat is really a red flag indicating that Noah wasn’t so perfect after all. Sure enough, one of the 1st things he does upon leaving the ark & building an altar to Hashem is plant a vineyard and get drunk, so drunk in fact that he exposes his nakedness to his son Ham and grandson Canaan. One may legitimately speculate if this was the most perfect man of his generation just how corrupt his generation must have been. No wonder G-d decided to drown every living thing on earth and start all over again.
Unfortunately things didn’t go much better the 2nd time around. Not only are Ham, Canaan and all their descendents condemned to an eternal slavish condition as a result of their evil inclinations, but all of humanity is punished for man’s sinful character in attempting to build the Tower of Babel. Noah was still alive when this occurred. It was only 1 generation removed from the flood. Apparently, even after a divinely implemented universal genocide and granted a 2nd chance, man didn’t change very much. But G-d did! He promised to never destroy His Creation again. He promised “all the days of the earth, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” In other words, the 2nd Creation would survive as He created it forever.
So it would seem that man didn’t learn much from the 1st extermination, but surprisingly G-d did. That is a very strange concept, G-d learning and changing, and that is the challenging part of the story I want to explore. After all, the essential nature of G-d is that He is omniscient, omnipotent and perfect. If He is omniscient and already knows everything, what is there left to learn? If He is perfect, how can He change? Can He become more perfect than perfect? But if He can’t learn and change, isn’t that a limitation on His omnipotence? This is more than semantics or a word game. This cuts to the very nature of G-d. And this problem doesn’t manifest itself uniquely in Noach. Both Abraham and Moses famously bargain with G-d later in Torah and convince Him to change His mind.
If you are hoping for me to solve this conundrum, I’m sorry. You will be disappointed. This is 1 of those puzzles, like why lobster is not kosher, that only G-d understands. It is beyond human understanding. But perhaps we can glimpse into the wisdom of G-d’s Plan by focusing on the end of the story. The Noah story ends with the birth of the 1st Jew. Instead of destroying the world and its corrupt generation a 2nd time, G-d’s response to evil in the world is the creation of the Jewish people. So instead of a 3rd Creation, G-d chose us and gave us a holy mission, Tikun Olam, repair His Creation. And it isn’t a job that will ever end, because His covenant with Noah, that this 2nd Creation will never end, is eternal. That is why we have survived as a people long after all our Biblical conquerers have disappeared. We aren’t any better than any of them, but we are chosen to serve G-d’s divine mission. Instead of destroying the world yet again, Hashem created us, the Jewish people.