Parashat Noach – Erev Shabbat 20 October 2023 (5783)
Week of 15-21 October 2023
Torah portion: Genesis 6:9-11:32 Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-55:5
Theme: “You shall enter the ark, with your sons, your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives”
In typing out the words of Genesis 6:18 as the theme of this commentary I put ‘wife’ before ‘sons’. I corrected the error and while reflecting on it decided I had made the mistake because it seemed obvious that without a wife Noah could not have been the father of sons. Surely she deserved to come first? Moreover, in preparing to write the commentary, I had been reading about the attempts made to give an importance to the wives of Noah and his sons that the Biblical text does not. It does not even name them. The link below to the Wikipedia article, “Wives aboard Noah’s Ark” is a useful source for the names bestowed upon them over the centuries. Their anonymity had been a concern long before modern feminism and so it should have been. After all, these women were believed to be the mothers of all humanity.
In the medieval mystery play Noah, Noah’s wife refuses to go aboard the Ark without her dear friends or “gossips”. She insists to Noah: “I will not go out of this town, but I will have my gossips every one. One foot further I will not go; they shall not drown by St. John! If I may save their lives? They loved me full well by Christ! But thou wilt let them in thy chest [boat], else row forth, Noah, whither thou list, and get thee a new wife.” Despite her protests, she is hustled aboard. We can look at Mrs. Noah as a comic interlude. But might not the creators of the play have put these words into her mouth as a way of alerting us to the horror of what the lord is doing? Is everybody on earth really so terrible they deserve to be wiped out? Is the lord behaving justly? Because the protest is put into the mouth of a comic character, and a woman at that, we can choose not to take it seriously. The two links below are to a performance of the Chester mystery play “Noah” and to an interview with the director of the performance, Sarah Peverley. The following quote is from this interview: “While the actors adopt the role of God’s chosen few, those watching unwittingly become representatives of sinful mankind; they stand outside the ark in the space occupied by the flood, symbolically drowning as they watch God cleanse the world of sin.” It is a good reminder that in reading the story of Noah we should not assume that we would be passengers in the Ark!
For Reflection and Discussion: Works such as the medieval mystery play, Noah’s Flood, and Madeleine L’Engle’s novel Many Waters (1986), are an excellent way to approach the story of the Flood and all its ambiguities. L’Engle’s novels are sometimes considered as books for children but they are worth reading by adults.
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna: 2010