November 5, 2005 - 3 Heshvan 5766
Annual: Genesis 6:9-11:32 (Etz Hayim, p. 41; Hertz p. 26)
Triennial Cycle: Genesis 8:15 - 10:32 (Etz Hayim, p. 48; Hertz p. 31)
Haftarah: Isaiah: 54:1 - 55:5 (Etz Hayim, p. 65; Hertz p. 41)
Prepared by Rabbi Michael Gold
Congregation Beth Torah, Tamarac, FL
Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director
God finds that humanity has corrupted the earth, so God decides to bring a great flood to destroy humanity. God picks one man who was righteous in his generation, Noah, to build an ark. Noah builds the ark and enters it with his wife, his three sons and their wives. Noah also brings two of each species of animal on the ark so they will stay alive through the flood. (Later Noah will bring seven pairs of the clean animals to be used for sacrifices and food after the flood.)
God causes a heavy rain to fall for forty days and nights, destroying all people and all animals not on the ark. The water rests on the earth for 150 days. As the water recedes, the ark comes to rest on Mount Ararat. Noah sends first a raven and then a dove to search for dry ground. When the dove returns with an olive branch in its beak, Noah knows that the flood finally is over.
Noah and his family leave the ark and Noah offers a sacrifice to God. God promises never again to bring a flood on the earth, because God realizes that humans are born with an evil inclination. God makes a covenant with Noah, symbolizing the covenant with all humanity -- the rainbow is the symbol of the covenant. Noah plants a vineyard and becomes drunk, leading to a bizarre sexual encounter with his son Ham and the curse of his grandson Canaan.
People continue in their corrupt ways, building a tower to make a name for themselves and to challenge God. God confuses their languages and scatters them over the earth. Ten more generations pass before the birth of Abram, who will become God's partner in a new covenant.
Issue #1 - Who Was Noah?
"This is the line of Noah - Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God." (Genesis 6:9)
- Rashi comments - "'In his age' - Some of our rabbis explain this to his credit, he was righteous even in his generation, had he lived in a generation of righteous people he would have been even better. Some explain it to his discredit. If he lived in the generation of Abraham, he would have been of no importance." (Based on Sanhedrin 108a) Is being righteous among evildoers to someone's credit? Or was Noah the best person God could find; but would he have been a nobody in another generation?
- The passage compares Noah to Abraham. Compare how Abraham reacted to the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah, arguing with God, with how Noah reacted to the destruction of the entire world, passively accepting God's will. Is it better to argue with God or to accept God's will passively?
- We can compare the Jewish and Muslim faiths on this issue. The word Islam means "surrenders to God." The word Israel means "wrestles with God." What does it mean to be a people who wrestle with God? How is that different from surrendering to God?
- What are some other ways in which Noah was not worthy? Becoming drunk and cursing his son? (Another hint -- God tells Noah to leave the ark with his wife and his sons to leave with their wives. Noah leaves with his son, leaving the women behind. What can we learn from this?)
Issue #2 - The Rainbow
"I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth." (Genesis 9:13)
- When seeing a rainbow, it is traditional to say a blessing, Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who remembers His covenant, is faithful to it, and keeps His promise. Has God kept God's promise to humanity? What did we promise to God and have we kept our part of the covenant?
- Why a rainbow? The rainbow has become the symbol of many interracial and ecology groups. (Think Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition.) What is the power of a rainbow? Why did the song called Over the Rainbow become the most popular song ever in the movies, according to a recent survey? Why do we speak of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? The rainbow obviously has become a powerful human symbol. Why?
- Kabbalah - A rainbow is made up of many colors, each one separated from the other. We know, however, that this separation of colors is an illusion created by raindrops in the sky. Underneath the separation is white light. Beneath the separations we see in the world is an underlying unity. How can we move past the separations that mark our lives to see the fundamental unity? How can we move beyond the things that divide them -- race, religion, nationality, gender, age, and so on -- to see their unity? Could this be the symbolic meaning of the rainbow?