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Dan Has A Flood Of Questions: Parshat Noach 

10/28/2022 10:15:12 AM


Dan Leemon

When we left off at the end of the last week's Parshah, God had decided that people were fundamentally evil, and contemplated destroying all of creation and starting over. Then God become aware of someone named Noach (the name of this week's Parshah - in English, Noah). The story of Noach is, as with the story of creation we studied last week, not a scientific story, but an important story with lessons to teach us. 

Noach, the Torah tells us, was "righteous in his time" and "walked with God". That "in his time" qualifier is an interesting one, and we're not sure what it means. What do you think? 

- Was Noah a good person as we might define "good" today - or just better than all the evil people around him?

- How do you like to be judged: in comparison to everyone else, or against some kind of absolute standard (in other words, do you want your deeds and behavior to be assessed for what they are, or "graded on a curve")?

- What do you think "walking with God" means?

God speaks to Noach, and tells him to make an ark -- that's a boat -- with lots of compartments, and to make sure it's waterproof. God says that a flood is coming, to destroy everything on the surface of the earth, and tells Noach to bring his family and a male and female of every living creature into the ark, and food for them all to eat. Noach does as God commands him. The conversation between Noach and God is one-sided: Noach doesn't speak or respond, he just does what he's told to do (unlike later figures in the Torah such as Abraham and Moses).

- What's your reaction to Noach's silence? If you had been Noach, would you have been silent too? If you had spoken to God, what would you have said? 

- Should Noach have objected to God's plan?

So the flood takes place. It rains, and rains, and rains, for forty and forty nights, and every person and animal not in the ark dies in the flood. And then Noach and his family and that big boat full of animals have to wait months until the land dries, until God tells them it's safe to leave the ark. Noach sends various birds out to see if the land is dry: One just circles the ark, one returns with a branch in its mouth, and one finally doesn't return, a signal that the land is inhabitable again. Altogether, it's been about a year since they all boarded the ark.

- Not long ago, we were all stuck someplace because of Covid-19, without being able to go out and do what we'd like. How did the feel to you? Is there anything about it you miss?

- If you had been on the ark, how would you have occupied you time?

- What would have been the worst part of being on the ark for a year? And might there have been something you could have liked or enjoyed?

God makes a promise: That God will never again flood the earth and destroy everything. And while the 10 Commandments and all the mitzvot don't come until much later in the Torah, God does set out a few basic rules, including not to murder. God says that, when it rains, there will be a rainbow in the clouds, and that the rainbow will cause God to remember not to flood the earth again.

- What do you think when you see a rainbow?

- Think about ancient times, before science, before we understood and could forecast the weather: What would be the value of this story about God promising never to kill everything in a flood? Why might this have been comforting?

Noach, having been a master boat captain and zookeeper, now becomes a "master of the soil" and plants a vineyard. He grows grapes, and makes wine, and embarrasses himself when he gets drunk. And over time, after many generations, there are lots of people again. And then we have one more story: The people - who all live in one place and speak one language - decide to build a great city for themselves, with a tower that goes all the way up to heaven. God decides to stop the self-serving activity by creating many languages, all of a sudden, so the people cannot cooperate, and they scatter to different places on the earth.

- Again, thinking about before we had science, and knew about time and evolution, what might have been the point of this story? What was it trying to explain to ancient people? 

- Do you ever have trouble communicating with your family or teachers or friends - even though you speak the same language? Why is it sometimes hard to communicate?

- What can you and the people around you do to understand and hear one another? What can you do, and what can they do?

So we have stories in Parshat Noach that explains things that ancient people did not understand, just as the creation story did. But they also give us things to think about:

- When do we follow orders, like Noach did, and when do we respond and question?

- How do we cope with situations when we feel restricted and can't do what we'd like to do?

- And how do we communicate better - with people who don't speak the same language, or people to whom we have trouble listening or who have trouble listening to us?

The Parshah concludes with all the generations of people who descended from Noach - inlcuding one person named Abram, who had a wife named Sarai, who settled in a land called Charan. There's a lot more to that story...starting next week!

Wed, December 7 2022 13 Kislev 5783