Insight on the Weekly Torah Reading: Noah

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Reflected Holiness

By Michael Chessen

      In the beginning, God created the world with an ideal sense of order. However, primordial man’s disobedience led to a collapse of divinely designed order to such an extent that animals sought mates outside of their own species. In addition, a breakdown of communication between people precluded society’s functioning according to any kind of a moral code, including one motivated by simple self-interest.

    In the confusion that ensued from this disorder, even basic language was turned inside out. Whereas humankind recognized the potential in Noah to serve as the agent to “comfort” them, “yinechem”, from all of post-Eden’s sorrow, God subsequently employs this exact same verb, but with intent to “regret” having made man, and decides to erase him from the face of the earth. As Rashi points out, this verdict was rendered not by “Elokim”, the God who strictly administers justice, as we might have expected, but by the holy name we refer to as “HaShem”, God as the merciful parent figure. Following the havoc of the rains of the Great Flood, however, Noah in turn merits merciful remembrance from God as Elokim when we would have expected the name Hashem.

     It is perhaps only fitting that the Torah reading of Noah reiterates Bereshit’s statement that man was created in God’s image, for the very name, “Noah”, is the reverse reflection of the Hebrew “chen” or “favor”. Noah’s finding favor in the eyes of God spares humanity from total destruction, and he is chosen to usher it into a new era.

     Ultimately, the symbol of the new post-Flood covenant between God and man is also a reflection, namely, that of the rainbow. The Malbim commentary says that in the disordered state of nature before the Flood, the earth’s waters possessed a certain “coarseness” which precluded their being able to reflect the sun’s light and form a rainbow. Its appearance in the clouds now heralds a new dawn not only for man and beast, but for all of nature’s elements as well.

      Fascinatingly, the appearance of the rainbow also foretells the “tikkun”, or corrective solution of our reading’s concluding drama, namely, that of the Tower of Babel, in which the Torah describes the world as initially being made up of a single language (and mindset). For we are to learn that human society is ideally composed not of singularity, but of a mosaic of color and character.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!

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