Last week we rolled the Torah scroll and began at the beginning, with Creation itself. Next week we read of Abraham’s selection by the Creator to start a family that will become a light to the nations. Abraham’s call begins the focus of the rest of the Torah: the emergence of the Jewish people and the laws by which we will live.
So what’s the deal with this week’s Torah portion? What role does the story of Noah and the flood have in conveying the Torah’s overall message? Here are some reasons the compilers of the Torah included the Noah/flood story – recognizing that we will never know the real “reason,” and surely there are many reasons we could consider. Having said that, here are four suggestions:
- Historical – Archeology as well as various flood myths in many cultures support a theory that there was a catastrophic flood in the Ancient Middle East that left its imprint throughout the region for centuries. It was too important an event to omit from the story of humanity’s early days.
- Storyline – This parasha fills the gap between the first two humans and the eventual spread of humanity across the known world. Given the growth of humanity and the choices God had among all the peoples, we see how special Abraham must have been.
- The natural world – After the flood God promises not to intervene in nature ever again. Nature will follow its own course and prayers that God should arrange a sunny day for your picnic are prayers in vain!
- The moral lesson – The Creator realizes that humans are not perfect, and even something as punishing as a flood will not change our basic nature. God’s harsh judgment turns to compassion for us fallible humans, with the rainbow as the sign of God’s covenant with every living being. This is the story of the creation of compassion. The lesson for us is to imitate God and turn our own harsh judgments against other people into compassion for their fallible humanity.