Genesis 6:9- 11:32
Rabbi Denise L. Eger
With Sukkot we now add the prayer for rain in the Gevurot Prayer. We praise God saying: You make the wind to blow and the rain to fall, hoping that the rainy season has arrived and the precious waters will replenish and renew the earth.
The Torah portion this week is the story of Noah, one of the most famous in the Bible. This is story of replenishing and renewing the earth. It is a third version of creation if you will. In last week’s portion, Bere shit the opening chapters described to different beginnings of the world. It shared two different ways that humanity came into being. In the first story –both men and women were created at the same time in the image of God. In the second story Eve is created from the rib of the first man, Adam.
But by this second Torah portion the earth and humanity and God’s creation has already gone sour. Murder enters the world with the quarrel between Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve and the torah tells us that in the beginning of this torah portion: “The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with violence” (6:11). God became impatient and speaks with Noah who according to the Torah was “a righteous man, above reproach in his generation” (Gen. 6:9). Noah accepts God decree never challenging God about the decision God has made to purify the earth with water and begin again. Not once does Noah question God or dare to raise a doubt in God’s thoughts about whether this is a just action.
Contrast Noah to the father of Judaism, Abraham who so eloquently speaks up on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham is consulted by God before Sodom is destroyed. Abraham challenges God and even negotiates with God to try and save the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. But Noah is silent in the face of these challenges. Noah follows instructions and builds the ark-a boat to house the animals and his family during the flooding of the earth. God says to Noah in verse 1 of chapter 7: “Go into the ark with all your household, for I see that you alone in this age are righteous before Me.”
The great commentator Nachmanides reminds us:
The correct interpretation according to the plain meaning of Scripture appears to be that he alone was a righteous man in those generations, there being no righteous or whole-hearted men except him in those generations….meaning that there is no other in the generation worthy of being saved. Scripture says, “in his generations- (using the plural form) because many generations passed since the time men had become corrupted, and there was no righteous man besides him.
This agrees with Rashi who compares Noah to Abraham saying that Noah was righteous only compared to those in his generation. But compared to Abraham he was not as righteous.
Although God does save Noah and his family and makes a covenant with Noah with the sign of the rainbow, this is not the beginning of the story of the Jewish people. It is still a story of the “proto-history” or mythical history of humanity and how the rains came to cleanse and heal the planet.
As we pray for rain now let’s hope too that we can find the rainbows in the sky as a reminder of our human covenant with God to be wholehearted and righteous in all of our dealings. As Noah was righteous in his generation may we be righteous in ours.