On Floods, Fear and the Promise of Hope | Parashat Noach

I write this davar Torah about Noah and the Flood surrounded by a healthy dose of irony. Currently my local community and my state of South Carolina await the forthcoming chaos that Hurricane Florence will bring to our region. This is the third Hurricane in two years in which many like myself have had to endure by evacuating from our homes, waiting for the Flood to end and anticipating the aftermath of the Hurricane’s damage to our property and our community’s spirit.

I have learned how unpredictable the path of a Hurricane is and the danger involved in trying to anticipate its direction. The hope and prayers that we will be spared damage and that no loss of lives will occur are paramount in the minds of all the residents of this region. The prayers transcend all religions.

After the deluge,Noah and his sons finally depart from the Ark. He releases the animals. Noah sets up an altar and offers sacrifices of Thanksgiving. God tells him; “You shall be fruitful and multiply bringing forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply in it” (Genesis 9:7). Then God says to Noah; “And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you” (9:9). God tries to demonstrate compassion to humanity by teaching the next generation that there is hope after such a cataclysmic event.

Imagine the Biblical Flood brought on by an angry and fed up God over humanity’s immorality as a level five-the most dangerous and intense measurement of a Hurricane’s strength. This story shows both God’s wrath and compassion in the aftermath of the storm. The rabbis reacted, in the wake of the Flood, with hope just like God that human kind might be better as a result of the carnage to life on this planet. “The families of the earth should not engage in feuds with each other” (Tosepta Sandhedrin 85). In the same vein the sages taught; “In order to promote peace amongst humankind that one person should not say to the other, ‘My Father was greater than yours” (Sanhedrin 37a).

There is a paradox between contending with the unbridled fear from a hurricane and receiving the compassion that humans show each other in such desperate times. Shelters and friends opening up their homes to those fleeing the storms. In times like these we see the best of humankind as well as the worst. Did Noah ask himself or God; “Will we as a society grow closer from the trauma of a natural disaster?” Will we rethink our actions and reexamine our prejudices and our pettiness after surviving the wrath of a Hurricane’s destructive cycle?

God gives Noah and his family a warning that humankind had to do better by saying, “Whoever sheds the blood of a human being, By a human being shall his blood be shed; For in God’s image Did God make human beings” (Genesis 9:6). Commentators point out that this verse is the first example to permit capital punishment even though the rabbis did everything they could to minimize the effect of capital punishment in Jewish society. Other commentators on the Talmud say this idea of shedding blood is an allusion to the sin of embarrassing someone which is likened to shedding blood.

At the same time God establishes a covenant with humanity reminding us that we have a sacred responsibility to care for the world and to conduct ourselves in accordance with a universal covenant on how we treat animals, nature and each other. We see that in modern times how genocide is comparable to a hurricane of evil. Furthermore there are people who perform miracles in holding on to what is sacred and holy by showing compassion and understanding towards the vulnerable in our society.

A famous Yiddish and Hebrew writer Hillel Zeitlin, killed by the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto, wrote about the rainbow that God created in the aftermath of the Flood. “ The rainbow symbolizes peace, unity and the continued existence of the world. It is because the rainbow is composed of a number of colors, shades and hues, and all of these unite into a single whole. The same is true with the difference between people, groups and nations. A life based on mutual understanding and tolerance harmony and peace, is the basis for the existence of the world-a token of a covenant between Me and the earth.”

As a postscript to the writing of this article, I originally had focused on Hurricane Florence as the impetus for this piece. Now I watch Hurricane Michael roar through Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. My original theme for writing about Noah and the hurricane was concentrated on the fear and the anticipation of the worst in light of the forthcoming Hurricane Florence. Despite two hurricanes following each other, I still harbor the hope that a natural disaster like a Hurricane can ultimately bring humanity closer together towards fulfilling the hope which God had in mind at the dawn of civilization which was that human society could rise to the occasion and be worthy of God’s efforts to create us and to call us holy or kadosh.


About the author:

Rabbi Brad Bloom serves Congregation Beth Yam in South Carolina. He can be reached at: brdbloom@gmail.com