Parshat Noah 5777

Summary: Parashat Noah (Genesis 6:8-11:32) contains, after the stories of Creation, probably the second best-known tales in the world; the Flood and the Tower of Babel.

A lengthy description of the Ark’s construction is followed by a narrative of the year-long experience inside the Ark. Eventually, the Ark came to rest on Mt Ararat.

Next is G-d’s ‘Rainbow’ covenant and promise never to destroy Creation again; the mysterious incident of Noah’s drunkenness, cursing Ham and blessing Shem & Yefet, and the list of families, descended from Noah’s three sons, who repopulated the Earth.

The parasha ends with the Tower of Babel Dispersion and a list of the 10 Generations from Noah to Abram.

Comment: By way of descriptive reference, there are 50 chapters in the Book of Genesis. Bereishith & Noah account for 12. Thereafter, the story shifts from mankind in general to the family of Abraham in particular. It’s a kind of narrowing of focus and would seem to imply that up until now the stage has been set explaining G-d’s disappointment with humanity and the search for those who could truly ‘comfort’ the Almighty.

At the end of Bereishith, Noah was named the ‘comforter’ (Lemakh called him Noah, saying: ‘He shall comfort us in our work and in the toil of our hands, coming from the ground the LORD has cursed’ Genesis 5:29). It’s suggested that Noah was the first to introduce the plough to farming.

Even though he was deemed worthy by G-d to build the Ark and rescue the remnants of civilisation from total destruction, somehow life after the Flood proved less meritorious. Many commentators point to his drunkenness as the disqualifier.

Nonetheless, the Talmud derives from the verses in this week’s Parasha a set of universal laws applying to all humanity known as the 7 Noahide laws. They are traditionally enumerated as:

  1. Belief in God
  2. Do not blaspheme God
  3. Do not murder
  4. Do not have illicit sexual relations
  5. Do not steal
  6. Do not eat an animal while it is still alive
  7. Establish a court system to ensure legal protection and obedience

The Talmudic rabbis agreed seven laws were given to the sons of Noah. However, they disagreed on which laws were given to Adam and Eve as well.

Like most of these pivotal early stories, much is shrouded in secrecy. What exactly happened in Noah’s tent when Ham saw his father’s nakedness is part of a Talmudic debate (Sanhedrin 70a). In next week’s parasha we will read another story involving drunkenness linked to sexuality – between Lot and his daughters. This leaves room to investigate whether there’s any correlation between them.