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Noach (Noah) Genesis 6:9 – 11:32

The Strength to Withstand Negative Influences

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generation.(Genesis 6:9)

This week’s Torah portion begins with the introduction of Noah.  Interestingly, the portion does not begin with the first verse of chapter 6 which sets forth the story of the sons of the judges taking the daughters of man and the ensuing corruption of society.   Even though verse 8 mentions Noah, it is verse 9 that introduces Noah as a main character and begins this week’s portion: “These are the generations of Noah” (Genesis 6:9).  Noah, and his progeny, are the main focus of this week’s portion.

The portion contains two main stories, that of the flood and that of the Tower of Babel, as well as a list of generations that link Noah with Abraham.  Indeed, if I were to characterize this Torah portion, it would be the story of the transition between the first generations of man, Adam and Eve and their descendants, and Abraham, the man who begins the story of the Jewish people. The first Torah portion of the cycle, Bereishit, discusses a pre-historic period, depicting Adam and Eve, their children and the first generations following, which are mentioned briefly and with little detail.  Most reflect archetypal characters – the first murderer, the first metal worker, the first musician and the first man “who walked with God” (Enoch).  Beginning with next week’s portion, we learn the history of the Jewish people beginning with Abraham, the first man whom God chooses and who will be the father of the Jewish people.

In between is Noah.  Who then is Noah and what does he represent?  Every human being alive today is a son of Noah, as he and his sons were the only human beings to survive the flood, and a new humanity began with him.  In Jewish tradition, universal morality or the laws that should govern all civilizations are referred to as Noachide laws, or the rules that apply to the sons of Noah.  They include the prohibition against murder and theft, the belief in one God and the obligation to establish a judicial system. 

Aside from the technicality of Noah being the father of all humanity, I believe that the character of Noah and the period of time reflected in this week’s portion tell us a great deal of what that universal moral code is all about.  When God decides to destroy the universe with a great flood, He laments the theft that is rampant in society.  People do not respect the property of others, indicating a total breakdown in mankind’s respect for his fellow human beings.  Society cannot function if man does not respect the dignity and rights of his fellow human being.  This, then, is the basis for moral behavior.

After the flood, the new society aims to build a tower of Babel – to reach into the heavens and combat God.  Another basis for any society must be humility before God and the recognition that man is subject to God’s commandments.  Ironically, it was the unity of mankind in furtherance of the objective to rebel against God that provoked God especially – He mixed up their languages so that they could no longer achieve such unity in pursuit of a negative objective.

Beginning with Genesis 12, God speaks specifically to the Jewish people and offers the history of His designation of the Jewish people as His people and the significance of that choice for His people and for humanity.  But before the Bible becomes a Jewish book, it must lay the foundations for all of humanity. 

Noah is the transitional character between early man who learns how to survive as a human being, and Abraham, who learns what it is to be chosen by God.  Noah learns about society, and it is through Noah and through this week’s Torah portion, that every human being can draw the lessons that inform all of humanity — human dignity and respect for every human being and the belief in one God.  And it is only against this backdrop that the story of the Jewish people can gain relevance for all humanity.  For it is only if mankind can respect the different destinies of each nation and individual, and honor and obey God, will mankind understand and respect the role of the Jewish people that God has destined for them.

Shabbat Shalom From Samaria,

 

 

Sondra Baras
Director, Israel Office

Here is a more in-depth teaching on the Torah Portion Noach

8 thoughts on “Noach (Noah) Genesis 6:9 – 11:32”

  1. The implications regarding the righteousness of Noah and the debate that results is quite stark. I personally doubt that Noah was ‘relatively’ righteous. If that was the case, then he would have struggled to build the ark on dry land, amid all the taunts of the unrighteous for as long as it took him to do this. To have this kind of conviction takes a lot of righteousness! If we compare him to the prophets of old such as Elijah, Elisha and Jeremiah as just a few (there were of course many more) they had to be righteous against all the odds within their generation. I rather see Noah as comparable to these guys. He could be regarded as an early ‘prophet’ as Abraham was. Some additional thoughts on the subject.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about Noah. Your attention to the relative righteousness is an interesting comment. We could draw a comparison with the analogy of a light where its brightness will be relative to the intensity of the darkness. However, I believe that it was not so much as his righteousness that he was favoured by God for His purpose but more importantly, “Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9b). According to the Bible, even with all our righteousness, we are described as nothing but filthy rags (Is. 64:6). The significance of walking with God is that the person is one with God to the exclusion of everything else and that is a vital sign of one’s commitment and the relationship with God.

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  3. This is an issue which strikes at the very root of Christianity and the New Testament–Romans 3:10: “There is none righteous, no not one”; Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and come short of the righteousness of God”; Acts 4:12: “Neither is there salvation in any other”. I would like Sondra to expand on whether the Jews believe any of mankind will attain eterna life and if so, what are the qualifications to receive it. Thank you.

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  4. Being an older person who recalls a time in society when the general ethos was higher then now. I recall when an actor on live TV cursed and then made a public apology over the TV. The network did the same! We are far from this now, and it takes godly guts to forge a higher road. Hurry for Noah! Thank you, Sondra.

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  5. Interesting comment on Noah’s righteousness. I have never thought of “righteous for his generation” as a possible viewpoint. He walked with God therefore he was righteous. I think of Noah as always walking with God and the “always” defines his righteousness. Maybe it is my upbringing, but comparing his state with God to someone else’s doesn’t seem right. Thanks for encouraging me to explore this subject.

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