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Parashat Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32)

“This is the line of Noach.  Noach was a righteous man;

blameless in his age; Noach walked with God.”  (Genesis 6:9)

Parashat Noach tells the story of the end of one world and the beginning of another; it is the bridge connecting the two.  God destroys the pre-Noah world because it is immoral.  This destruction implies a universal moral standard humanity fails to meet.  The prophet Isaiah provides a prooftext for this assumption:  “For the earth was defiled/Under its inhabitants; because they transgressed teachings/Violated laws/Broke the ancient covenant.”  (Isaiah 24:5) But the Torah doesn’t use the word brit, or covenant, until God tells Noah to build the ark (Gen.  6:18).  So just what is this “ancient covenant” that gets broken?


The rabbis of the Talmud posit seven commandments, binding on all humanity, Jew and non-Jew, symbolic of a universal covenant with God.  This covenant is established first through Adam and continued through Noah.  The commandments include prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, incest and adultery, robbery, eating flesh torn from a live animal, along with the establishment of courts of law (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 56a).  These are the minimal standards of the orderly society God expects us to maintain.


Parashat Noach highlights a duality of Jewish life:  we live simultaneously within both a particular, Jewish world, and a universal non-Jewish world.  Sometimes the obligations of Jewish particularism set us apart.  But the obligations expressed by the universal Noahide Laws bind us together.   They remind us living Jewishly is not an either/or proposition; living Jewishly in the world can be “and/and.”  This is captured neatly in the JCC principle, “Strong Jewish communities benefit, and benefit from, their larger communities.”  We are all Noah’s children; we are all in it together.


Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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