temple emanu-el
top border
Weekly Torah Commentary
Noach (October 25, 2014)
 
Translation:
Genesis 8:20-22
(20) Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking of every clean animal and of every clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar. (21) The LORD smelled the pleasing odor, and the LORD said to Himself: “Never again will I doom the earth because of man, since the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done. (22) So long as the earth endures, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Summer and winter, Day and night Shall not cease.”

Genesis 9:9-11
(9) “I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come, (10) and with every living thing that is with you — birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well — all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth. (11) I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Excerpted from The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Revised Edition, editor W. Gunther Plaut (NY: URJ Press, 2005). Used by permission of URJ Press, www.urjbooksandmusic.com.
Original Text:
Commentary

Robyn Weinstein Cimbol, Senior Director of Development and Philanthropy

B’REISHIT ENDS WITH God’s disillusionment with humanity and the entire world just recently called into existence. Having created the world, and breathed spirit into man and woman, God does not fade gently into the sunset but remains a dominant presence in human affairs. God’s disappointment is expressed in human terms, as heartbreak...a profoundly human emotion. What went wrong to cause the world to slip back into chaos?

There is a wonderful Midrash describing Noah as building the Ark over a period of 120 years. This protracted construction process was intended to provoke the attention and repentance of his contemporaries. In this, he is unsuccessful. Instead of creating a conversation piece that’s effectiveness is measured by its power to move the world to radical transformation, it becomes a literal necessity because Noah does not find words to advocate on behalf of even one soul. Our first patriarch, Abraham, the Father of our Nation, early on in his chronicles argues albeit unsuccessfully for Sodom and Gomorrah. The world is under a death sentence, yet Noah remains silent. Indeed, we never hear Noah speak. His silence is deafening.

Sandwiched between the eponymous Flood and Tower of Babel incidents is a touching moment in the evolution of the post-apocalyptic relationship between God and man. Once the waters recede, Noah builds an altar and offers sacrifices to God. There are many commentaries on the motivation behind Noah’s sacrifice, including compassion for the drowning masses. Noah has been a silent partner in humanity’s destruction and salvation. But he also has been a witness to God’s awesome power. And God, too, has emerged from this experience transformed. And here again, God is said to respond in human terms.

God now is willing to acknowledge and accept human frailty as unavoidable, that humanity cannot fail falling short. This covenant acknowledges God’s responsibility for humanity’s propensity for evil.

This covenant also promises and affirms that the world never again will be destroyed. Unlike subsequent covenants, this covenant is strictly an act of Divine grace (chen), motivated by the return of God’s world. The covenant expresses God’s everlasting, unconditional love for humanity, but it also involves no corresponding obligation or participation on the part of humanity.

Not only mankind has emerged transformed from the Ark. These unconditional declarations of faithfulness testify to God’s unshakeable love for humanity and commitment to share the challenges ahead as this relationship continues to evolve.

Shabbat Shalom V’Mevorach!



WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Join the conversation and post your thoughts. »

Click here to view the Torah Commentary Archive. »

Click here to subscribe to the weekly Torah Commentary. »

For more on the Reform perspective on this Torah portion,
view the URJ’s “10 Minutes of Torah.” »



Back to Torah Study
photo of temple
One East 65th St., New York, New York 10065. Phone  212-744-1400
One East 65th Street, New York, NY 10065    (212) 744-1400 horizontal rule Member Log In | Calendar | Site Map | Contact Us | Text Size [+] [-]