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

“Noah was six hundred years old when the flood came, waters upon the earth.”
(Genesis 7:6)

Yehuda Kurzer (President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America) says we read our ancient texts for the light they shed on contemporary life. Parashat Noach is a good example. It is only the second parasha, or portion, of the Torah, and once again, things really aren’t going well: “The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with chamas, lawlessness.” (Gen. 6:11) God decides to destroy the earth and chooses Noah and his family to gather up all the animals and start over (Gen. 6:13, 18). But Parashat Noach doesn’t say what is so terrible it requires the destruction of the earth. This omission triggers a cottage industry of early rabbinic commentary.

The Jerusalem Talmud (Bava Metzia 4:2) says people would cheat one another in business, but only for sums too small to trigger a lawsuit. The result is twofold: people become distrustful of one another and they also become disillusioned with civil society’s ability to guarantee a fair and livable world. The erosion of faith in individuals and in public institutions (like the justice system) splinters society and leads to anarchy. Since God’s original vision of the world is based on order and boundaries (see Parashat B’reishit), God decides to act.

Trust in institutions of all sorts (and at all levels) has been declining in our time since the sixties, at least, and has reached a nadir in the past year. (This, despite eBay’s proof you can trust a total stranger, most of the time.) Unlike Parashat Noach, though, where God alone decides, next week the choice is ours: demonstrate your faith in democracy and vote.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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