Noah - Weekly Torah Portion
Destruction using water, the source of life, is the foundation of Noah’s story. The land is now full of sin and the result will be “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.” As we recall Noah builds an ark, loads it with all the members of his family and is ordered, “every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive.” It is also important to make sure that there will be food for the voyage they are going to embark upon and therefore another order is, “take for yourself some of all food which is edible, and gather it to yourself; and it shall be for food for you and for them.” Not before long heavy rains cause the flood to cover the land, such that eventually “the ark floated on the surface of the water”. It is tough to imagine a harsher devastation than this.
I have made the point last week and remind you of that today, that I will be focusing my sermons of this year of the Haftarah associated with each portion of the Torah read on ach particular week. This week we read from the book of Isaiah, chapter 54-55. Only one vague sentence seems to connect it to the story of Noah. It is brought when trying to explain the rift between the Israelites and God. “For a brief moment I forsook you, But with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger hid My face from you for a moment, But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you”. These are shown as an opposite to what happened at Noah’s time, the story of the waters. “For this is like the days of Noah to Me, When I swore that the waters of Noah Would not flood the earth again; So I have sworn that I will not be angry with you Nor will I rebuke you.” This is kind of a signal of relief; We are somewhat remote from the Godly protection but not that far away that the damage will be as great as during Noah’s period.
I would like to suggest that there is another and even deeper connection between the two passages. It does not call Noah by name but rather by deed. Isiah demand, “In righteousness you will be established; You will be far from oppression, for you will not fear; And from terror, for it will not come near you.” When we first meet Noah we read about him that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.” The others do not fare as well and it is told about them that, “the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence.” Hemce we learn that in order to avoid great loss it is necessary to do right. When earth is filled with wickedness there will be more and more disasters. These do not have to be God inflicted catastrophes, just a direct result of our very own doings.
Consider the big debate about Global Warming. Regardless of if we accept this as a scientific fact or not, still it makes good sense that we are careful with how we handle the earth we live on. The better we can maintain it the more fortunate will be the generations living after us. It does not matter what we think about topics of preservation and recycling, still wise use of the limited natural resources simply makes good sense. Keep earth clean, water clear and air pure is important to all of us. The transfer of the discussion about it from a scientific debate into a matter of beliefs is not the right way to go and prevents us from taking the correct measures. Being practical about it, our wish to live in as little as corrupt place as possible, whatever kind of corruption it may be, brings about the conclusion that we have to be very careful to maintain our habitat as undamaged as possible.
Noah’s waters can be water of life, water that bring about them development and prosperity when provided moderately. When overdosed than the result can be devastation. When the prophet demands, “be far from oppression” there is in it an understanding that the more we take from someone else the more that someone has to take from another person, sometimes even more so. He requests, “Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me Listen, that you may live”. There is a warming here against this oppression. We should not be listening to the oppressors but rather stop and listen to some wiser words, balance between the temptation for a quick response when actually there is a need to respond properly.
Destruction of the earth can happen in many ways including by governmental and para-governmental institutions. It is not only in the hands of people but still done by people in the name of such institutions. When they are unwilling to expose to us what they are doing, to conduct themselves with full transparency and honesty, the land is oppressed. When that happens the destruction is more severe than any short-term political gain. Even refreshing water not properly used can become a devastating flood, Noah’s waters that destroy everything. They will drench us so thoroughly until we are completely clean of all the mud that stuck to us. On the other hand, for the others, it is said, “I will set your stones in antimony, And your foundations I will lay in sapphires. Moreover, I will make your battlements of rubies, And your gates of crystal, And your entire wall of precious stones. All your sons will be taught of the Lord; And the well-being of your sons will be great.” May we so be blessed.
Reuven Marko, 1 November 2019, 4 MarHeshvan, 5780