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Noah’s 2020 Message (Noach – 10/24/20)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Noah’s 2020 Message
Corruption, Destruction, Renewal: for many of us, the episode of Noah’s Ark is a fantastical and intriguing story that captures our imagination but is not true. Geologists have no evidence of a worldwide flood and mass decimation of animal life around 4000 years ago. Perhaps it was a tsunami or hurricane that destroyed an ancient civilization, and, to their perception, the world was destroyed by God. Nonetheless, the story made it into the Torah to be retold year after year. What’s the relevance of Noah’s Ark for us in 2020?
Noah was the sole righteous person in a corrupt generation. God tells him to build an Ark for himself, his family, and most of the animal kingdom, for God is going to destroy the world. Noah constructs the Ark, the animals come, it rains and floods, and human and beast are destroyed as one. The waters recede, Noah and his family exit the Ark accompanied by myriads of animal life, and a new world begins.
Yet there’s got to be more to the story; it’s way too dry. Where’s the resistance, the drama, the pleas for forgiveness, and the tears of loss? Ancient and new midrashim detail a narrative to which we can relate:
On being informed of the impending end of the world, Noah exhorts his contemporaries to repent, telling them that a flood will destroy the earth on account of their wickedness. To give his generation more time, Noah plants cedar-trees afresh to utilize them for the massive project. The ark’s actual construction takes 52 years; again, Noah purposely worked slowly, hoping that people would take his warnings seriously and change their ways.
His actions have the opposite effect, however. They take umbrage at his madness and holier-than-thou attitude. He’s continuously insulted and threatened for insinuating that they are going to perish.
The 2014 Noah movie starring Russel Crowe imagines Tubal Cain, the person in the Torah who first invented weapons, as the leader of the licentious masses. After birds fly to the ark for refuge, Tubal-Cain, seeing that there might be some truth to Noah’s warnings, arrives with his followers. He confronts Noah and threatens to destroy his Ark. Noah is fearless and remarks that there is no escape for Cain’s line or any of his lawless followers. Tubal-Cain retreats and decides to build weapons to defeat the Watchers (Noah’s angelic guardians) and take the Ark for themselves.
Once the Ark is fully completed, animals of various species gather from afar, enter the ark, and are sedated for the long ride.
The rains start, and Tubal-Cain is furious and envious that he was not chosen to be saved. He incites his followers to make a run for the Ark.
The Watchers fight off Tubal-Cain and his mob, sacrificing themselves and ascending to heaven, their reward for protecting Noah.
Racing time, Noah and his family barely make it on to the Ark as the floodwaters destroy humankind’s first civilization.
An adventurous story, but again, what’s the message for us? Why is this a tale preserved for all generations?
What if we were to replace the spiritual preacher, Noah, with one of our modern-day political pundits: Al Gore, Ralph Nader, or may we dare say, Anthony Fauci? Haven’t they tried to save our generation? Have they not faced continuous fierce opposition? Are there not smear campaigns against them, threats to their lives, and the lives of their families?
Nader advocated for more fuel-efficient gasoline engines in the ‘70s – the technology was there. But the implementation was shelved for thirty years by the oil and gas lobbies.
In 2016, Nader, still on the job, claimed, “Climate change is advancing rapidly. The temperatures are soaring faster than most climate scientists predicted, and the glaciers are melting. The flooding of Miami and parts of New York City and Boston is a very real possibility. So we’ve got to get busy.”[1]
He sounds a lot like Noah.
I think this is why the Torah preserved the Noah story. Corrupt leaders and interests will always arise, as will people of great nobility and foresight. If we choose to ignore and chastise our modern-day, “save the world” prophets, we might end up with a destroyed world like Noah’s. On the other hand, if we listen, we will be blessed with Divine Grace and the joy of seeing thriving generations. This time around, let’s give those messengers some heed!

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