on Tuesday, 16 October 2012. Posted in Torah Talks
It's an old story, and we know it well: God sees that wickedness and corruption have spread throughout the world, and that human beings are acting in ways that should have been predictable to an all-knowing deity—lying, cheating, stealing, committing adultery, outsourcing jobs to Asia, the usual. In response, God decides to destroy the world in a great flood, rain falling for 40 days and nights, the whole of humanity drowned in the deluge.
One man is chosen to survive the flood, because, the Torah text tells us, he was "righteous in his generation". Noah—Noach in Hebrew—is chosen to carry the banner of humanity to the next generation. Gathering his family about him, and two of each animal—plus seven pairs of each kosher animal, so there's something to eat and something to sacrifice to God if they make it out—Noah builds the ark, loads the boat, and goes on not a three-hour cruise, but one long enough to float away every trace of the depravity of humanity in those days. Eventually, he sends out first a raven and finally a dove to see if the world is dry enough to land on. The dove brings back that famous olive branch, they land and exit the ark, and life begins again.
A great covenant is affirmed, the first and most enduring brit in human history. God agrees never again to destroy the earth by flood. We agree to abide by certain minimum standards of morality. It is truly a new beginning. In essence, God acknowledges that this new world will not be the Garden of Eden anymore, but it can be both physically and morally good and rich.
Noah, we are told, was a righteous man in his generation—which doesn't necessary make him a righteous man in every generation, but it does set a reasonable standard that we might live up to. If we can't necessarily succeed in becoming fully righteous for all time, at least we can strive to be righteous in our own turbulent times.
All that's required is that we try to be the best we, personally, can be, and seek to be moral and good even when it seems easier to choose not to be so. If we can do that, choose to be only as good as Noah, we too might end up saving the world...