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Torah Sparks

October 13, 2007 – 1 Heshvan 5768

Annual: Genesis 6:9-11:32 (Etz Hayim, p. 41; Hertz p. 26)
Triennial Cycle: Genesis 6:9 -- 8:14 (Etz Hayim, p. 41; Hertz p. 26)
Maftir: Numbers 28:9 – 15 (Etz Hayim, p. 930; Hertz p. 695)
Haftarah: Isaiah: 66:1 – 24, 66:23 (Etz Hayim, p. 1220; Hertz p. 944)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

Pervasive human wickedness causes God to despair of His creation and to decide to destroy humanity. But first, God tells Noah to build an ark in which he and his family and some animals and birds will survive the flood. Forty days of rain and a flood lasting for a year wipe out all life on earth, save only those in the ark, who leave the ark to begin again. Noah’s first act upon leaving the ark is to offer sacrifices of gratitude to God. God blesses Noah and his family and places the rainbow in the sky as a sign of the covenant between God and man; God will not again bring a flood to destroy all living creatures. Noah then plants a vineyard, makes wine, and becomes drunk, leading to the cursing of Noah’s grandson Canaan. The descendents of Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Yaphet are listed. The portion concludes with the story of the Tower of Babel and the dispersion of humanity and the ten generations from Noah to Abraham.

1. And God Repented That He Had Made Man

The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with hamas. (Bereisheit 6:11)

  1. Hamas is variously translated as “lawlessness” (Etz Hayim), “violence” (Hertz Humash), “wrongdoing” (Everett Fox), and “robbery”. (Artscroll Stone Humash)
  2. Rabbi Levi said: Hamas connotes idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder. (Beresheit Rabbah 31:6)
  3. Said Rabbi Yohanan: Come and see how dreadful is the power of hamas. For behold the generation of the flood committed every conceivable transgression yet their fate was only sealed when they put forth their hands to robbery, as it says “for the earth was filled with hamas because of them; I am about to destroy them with the earth.” (Sanhedrin 108a)
  4. When a person brought a basket of peas to the marketplace, he would be surrounded by a group of people. Each would steal an amount worth less than a peruta (the smallest coin) so that he had no redress at law. (Beresheit Rabbah 31:5)

Sparks for Discussion

Idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder are Judaism’s greatest sins, the only three of the 613 commandments that may not be broken even to save a life. However, the consensus of the commentators is that robbery was the sin that brought about the destruction of the generation of the flood. What was it about this type of petty theft (elsewhere also attributed to the residents of Sodom) that caused God to despair of His creation?

2. Silence is the Equivalent of Agreement

For My part, I am about to bring the Flood – waters upon the earth – to destroy all flesh under the sky in which there is breath of life; everything on earth shall perish. (Beresheit 6:17)

  1. The entire flood episode was a direct result of Noah’s behavior. According to the midrash, he was the one who caused the flood by not protesting against the corrupt actions of the members of his generation. This we see in the verse (Isaiah 54:9, from the haftarah for parashat Noah) “For this to Me is like the waters of Noah” – where the flood is attributed to Noah. (Imrei Shefer [Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, 1785-1869, Croatia])
  2. Rav Huna said in the name of Rabbi Yosi: For 120 years, the Holy One kept warning the generation of the flood in the hope that they would resolve to repent. When they did not repent, He said to Noah, “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood” (6:14). Noah proceeded to plant cedars. When asked, “Why these cedars?” He would reply, “the Holy One is about to bring a flood upon the world, and He told me to make an ark, that I and my family might escape.” They mocked and ridiculed him. In the meantime, he watered the trees, which kept growing. When asked again, “What are you doing?” He gave them the same reply, and the generation of the flood continued to ridicule him. Finally, he cut the trees down and, as he sawed them into planks, he was again asked, “What are you doing?” He replied, “What I said I would do,” even as he continued to warn the generation of the flood. When they did not repent even then, the Holy One brought the flood upon them. (Tanhuma Noah, siman 5)
  3. When Noah left the ark and saw the world destroyed, he began crying and said to God: “Lord of the Universe! You are known as the Merciful One. You should have been merciful to Your creatures!” God answered him: “Now you say that! But not when I said ‘For My part, I am about to bring the Flood’ – When you heard that you would be saved in the ark, you never thought about the fate that would befall the world.” (Midrash HaNe’elam [Rabbi Moses ben Shem Tov deLeon, 1240-1305, Spain])
  4. First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me. (Pastor Martin Niemoller [1892-1984, Germany])

Sparks for Discussion

Throughout the entire flood story, Noah never speaks – not to his family, not to his neighbors, not to God. Midrash HaNe’elam attributes Noah’s silence to selfishness, but there are other possibilities. Perhaps Noah was afraid to challenge God. Perhaps he feared that his neighbors would respond to his criticism with violence. Perhaps he believed that nothing he could say – to God or to his neighbors – would have any effect. Why was Noah silent?

Today we are often asked to attend rallies or to write to newspapers and elected officials to protest the genocide in Darfur and other human rights violations around the globe. Should we continue to speak out even when our protests appear to have no impact, or should we save our efforts for problems closer to home? How do we choose when and how to speak out?

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