Guest Author - Lisa Pinkus
Noah is a story that most Jewish children and adults can relate to. It is a story we have heard repeatedly throughout our days in Sunday school. Judaism is the unraveling of a spiral. Each time we hear the story of Noah, we are in a different place and can discern different meanings from this ancient tale.
Parsha Noach (Genesis chapter 6, verse 9) begins by telling us “…Noah was a righteous man he was perfect in his generations. Noah walked with G-d.” Noah was approached by G-d and told to build an Ark. One might question why Noah, a righteous man, would not tell his friends about the upcoming flood. The task of building the ark was intended to inspire the people’s interest and engage them in conversation with Noah to motivate change. It does not appear as either one of those things happened. Noah focused on building the ark and saving his family, and the people didn’t seem to care what he was up to.
So, the world is corrupt and G-d is going to create a flood to destroy the world. The rains fall for forty days and forty nights. The ark landed on Mount Ararat, and Noah released a raven to assess the land situation. The raven did not return. It appears the raven was much like Noah, concerned only for itself. When Noah released a dove, the dove returned with an olive branch in its beak signaling that the waters had receded and land wasn’t far.
Once on land, Noah offers sacrifices to G-d, and G-d swears to never destroy mankind again. G-d offers the rainbow as a testimony to this covenant. The Talmud shares an expression to be uttered any time we see a rainbow. One might considering pausing to recall this covenant and realign oneself with purposeful living.
The story of Noah does not end after the flood and the rainbow. Noah becomes drunk from fruit in his vineyard and is discovered by his son, Ham, laying uncovered in his tent. There are some sexual intonations to this story and many thoughts as to how it should be interpreted.
Could it be that Noah is experiencing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) after having lived through something as devastating as the flood? Might his reputation as being the most righteous man of his time not extended very far? Regardless, the scene has been recorded and left for us to ponder from year to year.
Ham was punished for his inability to protect and guard his father. His brothers, Shem and Japeth, were blessed for covering up Noah’s nakedness. In today’s world, the word “covered up” has a dual meaning, and one might further consider what was actually meant. Nonetheless, Ham’s punishment was a curse to his son, Canaan.
The parsha is not over yet. After ten generations of living in unison, the descendants of Noah decide to build a tower to reach to G-d. The tower is known as the Tower of Babel, and the people’s desire was to show that they were as powerful as G-d. But they weren’t. G-d punishes the people by dispersing them across the land and creating many languages so that the people cannot understand each other.
There are many messages from Parsha Noach that are still relevant today. One might contemplate the behaviors that exist throughout the world that are not exactly “G-d like”. One might also think about one’s own behaviors. Are you building an ark merely for your own family or does your compassion and action extend beyond that? What do you think of when you see a rainbow in the sky? It may be an opportune moment to reconnect with G-d, remember the covenant, and assess your life. And, what is it that we can learn from the last two parts of Parsha Noach? What is it about Noah’s actions and – ten generations later – the actions of the people that are important for us to recall?