Noah for Adults

The Noah Story for Adults

By Rabbi Pamela Frydman

(This talk may eventually be linked to the website of Congregation P’nai Tikvah.)

It says in the Torah that during the time of Noah, there was corruption in the world. G-o-d regretted creating the world, because life in the world had become corrupt. So G-o-d decided to bring a flood to destroy everything that was standing. In other words, the flood would destroy everything that was not in the ark or swimming in the flood waters. G-o-d also committed to beginning life again after the flood, and to start that beginning with Noah and his family and the animals that Noah gathered into the ark.

When the ark was ready, it began to rain. When the rain started, Noah went into the ark, together with his wife, their three sons and their sons’ wives. Noah also took the animals into the ark.

The flood continued for 40 days. Then the ark floated on the waters for another 150 days and then the ark finally rested on a mountain top. Eventually, the waters receded enough for Noah and his family to leave the ark and let out the animals.

God placed a rainbow in the sky, and with that rainbow, God promised never to destroy the world again.

This is not just a children’s story. This is a story of cataclysmic destruction of trees, plants, animals and people, plus the structures where those people and animals were living and nesting. The flood was a tragedy, and at the end of the tragedy, G-o-d did teshuvah. In other words, G-o-d repented. And part of G-o-d’s repentance was the rainbow, which bore the promise that G-o-d would never destroy the world again.

The story of Noah is the quintessential story of a late bloomer. It says in the Torah that Noah was actually 500 years old when he and his wife began having children, and Noah was 600 years old when he finished the ark and the flood began.[1] Now that’s what I call a late bloomer. According to the sages, Noah was actually 480 years old when G-o-d told him to build the ark. By the time Noah and his wife began having children, Noah had already been working on the ark for 20 years and he continued working on the ark for another 100 years. So it took Noah a total of 120 years to build the ark.

Now, there were no power tools in those days, and it would take a lot of time to build an ark without power tools. The ark needed to be large enough for Noah’s family and the animals, and the food and other provisions. We can understand that building such an ark would take a long time, but it is difficult to imagine that it would take 120 years.

The sages say that it took Noah 120 years to build the ark because G-o-d was giving the people of Noah’s generation an opportunity to get their act together and stop being so mean and nasty. It was because people were so mean and nasty, that that G-o-d had decided to cause the flood in the first place.

According to the sages, people would stop by while Noah was building the ark. They would say, “Hey Noah, what’s up? What are you building?” Noah would say, “there is going to be a flood. And the flood is going to destroy everything. I am building an ark so my family and I can survive the flood, and we are going to take animals in with us.”

Now we can easily guess that when people heard Noah say that, they probably thought that Noah was off his rocker, because if they did not think Noah was off his rocker, they would have gone home and built their own ark to save themselves and their families.

It seems that Noah was not able to save the people of his generation by working on the ark slowly and by telling his neighbors that there was going to a flood. Noah needed to make a bigger intervention if he was going to save his generation. Perhaps Noah should have opened a school, a charm school, to teach people to be charming.

But Noah did not build a school. He just built an ark, and with his ark, he saved his family and all the different species of animals that lived in those days.

It says in the Torah that Noah was a righteous man in his generation. But what does it mean to be a righteous person in a generation of people who are so corrupt that G-o-d would want to destroy the world and start all over?

According to Rabbi Isaac Luria, Noah reincarnated as Moses and when Noah was incarnated as Moses, his soul made repairs for the mistakes that Noah made when he was building the ark and saving the animals, but not saving the people of his generation.[2]

Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichiv lived two centuries after Rabbi Isaac Luria. Levi Yitzhak studied Luria’s teachings and commented on them. According to Rabbi Levi Yitzhak, there are two kinds of righteous people. One type of righteous person serves G-o-d with great fervor, but does not bring others to the practice of serving G-o-d. The second type of righteous person also serves G-o-d with great fervor, but in addition to serving G-o-d himself, such a person also brings others to the practice of serving G-o-d.

According to Rabbi Levi Yitzhak, Noah was a righteous person of the first type. He did what he was told, but he did not do more than that. G-o-d told Noah to build an ark, so he built an ark. G-o-d told Noah to bring his family and the animals into the ark, so Noah did that. But according to Rabbi Levi Yitzhak, Noah was punished for not believing in himself enough to think that he could save the people in his generation and that is why Noah reincarnated as Moses.[3]

Moses was a righteous person of the second type. G-o-d told Moses to go to Egypt and tell Pharoah to release the Israelites from slavery and let them go. Moses did all that, and in addition, whenever G-o-d lost G-o-d’s patience with the Israelites, Moses intervened and begged G-o-d to save the Israelites and not destroy them because of their mistakes. Moses also preached to the Israelites to try to teach them how to behave properly. Moses was the first Jewish teacher to teach us how to live a spiritual and religious life.

Now what does that mean for us today? We learn from Rabbi Isaac Luria that some Jewish people believe in reincarnation, and we also learn that the Jewish view of reincarnation is that we return to the world to make amends for past mistakes and try to get it right the second time around, or the third or fourth time, or however many times it takes.

We learn from Rabbi Levi Yitzhak that it is not enough to do what we are told. We need to excel by reaching beyond what we are told and helping people around us to do better and be better than they already are. That is part of being a good parent, grandparent, teacher, apprentice, and neighbor.

Here at Indigo, our congregation pays rent according to our lease, and in addition, we try to help Indigo in other ways. We keep a printer here that Indigo’s staff can use, and when we first moved to Indigo, Rabbi Mintz attended Indigo’s Sunday morning service and gave the sermon to talk about the mezuzah we had placed on the front door, and to explain some of how Judaism works. On another Sunday, Barb Holland spoke at Indigo about what it is like to read from the Torah in the original, and Barb and Sami gave a demonstration of a Torah reading.

Indigo is our landlord, and they also help our congregation in other ways. Indigo’s leaders invited us to share their booth at the Gay Pride Festival which really helped us during this first year of our participation in Gay Pride. And on a Friday evening in 2017, Indigo’s Pastor Charlotte Morgan will give the sermon during our Shabbat service.

There are many other ways that our congregation engages in the principles of being righteous and helping to make a difference for others. We collect tzedakah on an ongoing basis, and on Yom Kippur, we collected food for the local food bank to help feed the homeless.

Noah is our hero. He built an ark and saved the animals, but we also need to remember Noah’s weakness, which is that he did not believe in himself enough to think he could help others clean up their act and try to save themselves from the flood. Remembering Noah’s weakness is not about putting down Noah. Rather, it is about lifting up our own path to remember that we too are heroes even when we don’t get everything just right. And if we really mess up, there’s always next lifetime to the right the wrongs that we don’t quite finish while we are here now.

Shabbat shalom.

[1] Genesis 5:32 and 7:6.

[2] Kedushat Levi on the Torah and Festivals. A compendium of teachings in the original Hebrew by Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichiv who lives in the 19th century.

[3] Ibid.