Lessons from Noah

The elements of the story of Noah are well known to nearly all.  Regarding the first iteration of humanity it is written: “God saw that the wickedness of Noah was great upon the earth… and God regretting having made humans on earth.”  (Genesis 6:7).  God decides to destroy all life on earth – humans and animals – except for one man, Noah, and his family.  As we learn in this week’s parasha, Noah will build an ark in which his family and representatives of the animal species will be saved, in order to continue life on this planet.

As children growing up with the story of Noah, it has always seemed so the sweet and light.  There are folksie songs, “the animals they came in by twosy-twosy”, along with the images of those animals on the ark on all kinds of children’s goods – from pyjamas to bed sheets to chanukiyot.   Yet when we read the story, we know it is rather dark and ominous, with not such a happy ending after all.

Is it not possible that innocent humans have been swept away, along with the wicked?  And what have the animals done that they should be decimated as well?  Further, months after the flood and destruction, Noah and his family come off the boat, with “the fear and dread of us” upon all the animals (those very cute ones pictured on the merchandise).  The consolation comes in the promise from God, remembered in the rainbow that “never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Alas, human hubris, has led us to believe that we can rule over this planet and all its creatures without compunction.  We have misread the previous story of Genesis, which confirms our mastery over the earth as a mandate to plunder, ignoring the other passage therein that we are actually called upon to preserve it for future generations, for “the earth and its fullness belongs to God.”  Perhaps the teaching that the fear and dread of us shall be upon the animals is meant to be read as descriptive, not prescriptive.  Indeed, the greatest mass extinctions of life on this planet have been under human hegemony.

We now learn as a matter of urgency that climate change has the potential to destroy life on this planet as we know it, ironically not by a “flood caused by God”, but droughts and disastrous weather caused by us. 

Rabbi Jeffrey B. Kamins OAM

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