After an indescribable week, this week’s Torah portion, Bereshit, is an epic journey from primordial chaos to the last hope of humanity:
And Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (Gen. 6:8)
This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered Noah this week. On Sunday, Hoshana Rabba, we prayed for salvation “In the name of he who was perfect in his generations,” as Noah is described in the next verse.
Nor is that the first time that Noah popped up in our holiday prayers. In the Yom Kippur service (both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic rites), he is identified as the first truly righteous individual, whose descendants are blessed and multiplied as a result of his piety.
And on Rosh Hashana, Noah literally takes center stage: in the second of its third unique blessings, known as Zichronot (Remembrances). In fact, Rosh Hashana’s official name is the Day of Remembrance, and the first instance of God’s remembrance is that of tempest-tossed Noah:
You also remembered Noah with love and You were mindful of him with salvation and mercy when You brought
flood waters to destroy all flesh because of their evil deeds. Therefore, his memory comes before You, God our Lord, to make his descendants like the dust of the earth and his progeny like the sand of the sea. As it states in Your Torah “And God remembered Noah and all of the beasts and the cattle that were with him in the ark, and God caused a wind to blow over the land and the water calmed.”
What is particularly striking is that this theme is unique to the month of Tishrei. As Jews, we usually hearken back to later figures in Genesis: the Patriarchs, the Matriarchs, the Tribes. However, during this month, we invoke our status as descendants of Noah, a bond shared by all humanity.
This dovetails with the universality of Tishrei.
On Rosh Hashana, all human beings pass before him like young sheep, as it is said (Psalms 33:15), “He fashions all their hearts together, Who understands all their deeds.” (Mishna Rosh Hashana 1:2)
Indeed, the Torah reading of the day focuses more on Ishmael and Abimelech the Philistine then on Isaac! Even the scapegoat to Azazel on Yom Kippur is understood by the Midrash (Gen. Rabba 65:10) as a reference to Esau. Similarly, according to Talmud Sukka 55b, the bullocks of Sukkot, which add up to seventy, represent the seventy nations of the world. And on Simchat Torah, we once again read about the creation of man as one being, encompassing all colors, peoples and genders.
Thus, it is only fitting that the last Sabbath of Tishrei has a reading that concludes with Noah, father of us all. And the Prophetic postscript is a familiar but oft-forgotten mission (Isaiah 42:6):
I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant of the people, a light of the nations (or goyim).
Now, after the week we’ve just gone through here, I’m sure many will say that the last thing we need to hear about is the common ancestry of all humanity, the fact that we all trace our lineage back to Noah, the first to forge a covenant with God. But faith doesn’t always give you what you want to hear; sometimes, it just gives you what you need to hear.