Parashat Noach – Erev Shabbat 1 November 2019
Week of 27 October – 2 November 2019
Torah Portion: Genesis 6:9 – 11:32 Haftarah: Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1 – 55:5
Theme: Noah begins to speak!

The story of Noah is well known and loved by Christians from their childhood. This week is an opportunity to extend our knowledge of this familiar Bible story through a Jewish interpretative lens. You are invited to read by yourself or with a friend in havrutah (Torah partner) Genesis 9:1-17 and then join the timeless Jewish sages as they open up a surprising topic of debate.

Gen. 9:1-17 can be divided into three parts: G-d commands (vv 1-7), G-d makes a covenant (vv 8-12) and G-d gives a sign of that covenant in the rainbow (vv 13-17). Note that the words that begin each section are also the same words that end each section, hence a dramatic telling through the use of the biblical tool of repetition. Also having created the world in Gen 1, G-d sets out to re-establish the world in Gen 9. There is similarity between some of the creation language and the language used after the flood. Both Adam and Noah are blessed and commanded to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ The relationship between G-d and Adam is recalled as G-d enters into a covenantal relationship with Noah and his descendants, through the sign of the rainbow, promising that never again will a flood destroy the earth.

Many have sought meaning in the shape and colour of the rainbow reaching across the sky as suggesting the connection between heaven and earth, a fitting sign of G-d’s covenantal reconciliation with humanity. According to Maimonides (Rambam), the medieval Jewish philosopher, the rainbow is a sign of peace in at least three ways: it represents the inverted bow, the weapon turned away so that it does not threaten. It represents all shades and colours joined side by side in a single entity, calling on different races and nations to do the same. And it represents the promise that, no matter how hard it may rain, the rain eventually will stop and the sun will shine again. Therefore, it is a tradition among the sages to recite a blessing whenever they see a rainbow: “Praised are You, Lord our G-d, Sovereign of the universe who remembers the Covenant, is faithful to it and keeps promises” (Bab. Talmud Berakhot 59a).

Another medieval Torah scholar Nachmanides (Ramban), points out that the rainbow, a phenomenon that already exists, is now invested with new symbolic significance as an eternal testimony to G-d’s constancy and mercy. The rainbow is a sign of G-d’s covenant not to destroy the world again. This is ultimately a story about a compassionate G-d who does not give up on a rebellious people.

The story of Noah contains a profound word of divine empathy. This Torah portion invites us to ponder the fact that the flood is not G-d’s last word. Finally, as a result of this experience, Noah, who is a man without a voice, gets his voice back. Noah begins to speak (v 9:25).

For Reflection and Discussion: [1] This year, the Christian Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day) coincides with the reading of Parashat Noach. It is a day of appropriate grieving for those gone before us. Share your heart with a wise, loving friend. [2] In the spirit of the all-compassionate G-d, listen not only to your pain, but to that deeper voice of love and compassion. [3] The rainbow is an eternal symbol of love and reconciliation. Don’t pass by a rainbow without lifting up your eyes and heart to G-d and remembering G-d’s love and fidelity in your life and those of your loved ones. Have eyes to see the subtle, gentle signs of hope.

Bibliography: Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary (New York, 2001); Plaut, The Torah, Modern Commentary (New York, 1981);

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