Parshah Commentary for Noach

4 Oct

This week’s parshah seems to be a very low point for humanity because we have two entire generations of humankind that sin gravely enough to warrant Divine punishment. The first of them, the generation of Noah, are wiped out by a supernatural flood, while the second, the generation that built the Tower of Babel, is dispersed all over the Earth and forced to speak different languages. In comparing their sins, the Rabbis make a startling discovery: the generation of the Tower of Babel, who rebelled against God’s Divine authority, were only punished by being dispersed throughout the world, while the generation of Noah, whose major crime was mere theft (granted, in large amounts and sometimes by violent means) was entirely wiped out, save for one family. How is it that the generation who rebelled against God in an open attempt to make war on the heavenly courts (Gen. Rabbah 38:7) was given a less severe punishment than the generation who, when it comes down to it, did nothing more than commit the all-too-common crime of theft in large amounts?

The key difference between the two generations lies in their treatment of other human beings. While the people of the generation of Noah only looked out for themselves would steal from each other without a second thought, the people of the generation of the Tower of Babel were unified, working together to achieve a common goal which was meant to glorify the human race and its accomplishments. In Noah’s generation, people would steal from each other without a second thought. They considered themselves and their own needs, but never cared about how their actions would affect others. They were greedy to an extreme, and they were punished accordingly.

The story of Noah is always read on the Shabbat that immediately precedes the seventh day of the month of Cheshvan. On that day, Jews living in Israel make a change in their weekday Amidah (due to climate difference, we in North America make this change on December 5th). In the brachah “Mevarech Hashanim” (The One who blesses the years) we ask God for sustenance, both physical and financial. Because of the agrarian nature of the society in which this brachah was written, both of those are covered by asking God for an abundance of crops. On Cheshvan 7th, Israelis change the phrase “v’ten brachah al pnei ha’adamah” (and grant a blessing upon the Earth) is changed to “v’ten tal u’matar livrachah al pnei ha’adamah” (and grant dew and rain as blessing upon the Earth). We pray to God to send us the proper amount of rain to bring us physical sustenance and financial success, but as we see in the story of Noah, the same rain that is essential to sustain us can be used for destruction as well. If we are excessively greedy and ask for too much, if we focus too much on our own desires to the detriment of our fellow man, God will teach us that it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

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