It is easy and appropriate to point out that in this week’s parasha of Noah, God destroys the entire world, except for Noah and his family, because the world is filled with evil, Hamas.
Other ancient civilizations recount a catastrophic flood. Does that cast doubt on Torah’s authenticity? Not at all. The authenticity of Torah is not attributable to its tales, but to its truth. If we compare the truth that emerges from the Torah’s flood story with its Mesopotamian counterpart, the connection of today’s events in Israel to Torah’s perspective about these events will provide even more meaning than a mere reference to Hamas as evil.
We unroll our Torah to read of God’s disgust with a world saturated in evil. As the ultimate corrective, God makes the awesome decision to destroy every living thing and to rebuild the world in the hope of a better outcome through Noah and his family.
Once the flood waters recede and Noah emerges from the ark to a dead world, the very first mandate that he and his family receive from God is an echo of the blessing first heard in the Garden of Eden: Be fruitful and multiply. Replenish the earth with life.
In contrast, the Mesopotamian account of the same event is triggered not by evil, but by the cacophony of life on earth that disturbs the peace of the gods above. To regain some tranquility, the gods decide to wipe out all humankind except for Utnapishtim and his family. But then the gods begin to get hungry. They are no longer nourished by the sacrifices that were offered by the humans they destroyed. As Utnapishtim emerges from his ark to populate the earth, the gods are keen in anticipation of the renewal of sacrifices, but they are equally fretful that the earth will grow too crowded and noisy again. And so, to allow for enough humans to feed them but not so many that they get too rambunctious, the gods introduce infertility and miscarriage to the world.
Even after the willful destruction of its poisonous inhabitants, our God’s blessing upon the new world is life. The pagan gods curse the new world with death.
This will not be the last time that God demonstrates the unequivocal necessity to eradicate evil. Even as we remember the Exodus every day and celebrate our freedom every year, perhaps we should pay equal attention to the lessons learned from the events that led to our liberation. After an epoch of subjugation and genocide epitomized by killing Jewish babies, God brought 10 plagues to weaken our oppressors throughout the land. And then it was God – not an emissary, not an angel – but God who inflicted the final blow upon every single family in the land of Egypt. As death rained down upon the entire country, the Iron Dome of the Paschal lamb shielded us, as we heard the weeping of the Egyptians around us.
Jewish philosophers are more qualified than I am to interpret the meaning of God’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart, which ostensibly prevented him from doing the teshuva that might have saved his country. The way I read it, Pharaoh and the Egyptians who were complicit in their support of evil were beyond the possibility of repentance, they were in a place beyond redemption. The entire nation was doomed to suffer the plagues because their society’s deeply entrenched evil condemned them to annihilation without the prospect of appeal.
Repeatedly, throughout Torah and tradition, God expects us as people and as a People to be Godlike. I hear God saying that if we are to be Godlike, we are not only to be kind and compassionate when called for, we need to be resolute in obliterating evil when we see it, just as God did in the time of Noah, in the time of Pharaoh.
Is it possible that among all the inhabitants of the earth there were some, other than Noah, who were not irredeemably evil? Isn’t it certain that there were innumerable children who never had the opportunity to create a life that followed a path towards good?
As we emerged unscathed on the far shore of the Red Sea to witness the violent, uncompromising annihilation of the Egyptian army, the angels that attempted to praise God’s power were muted – by God – teaching them and us that even when justice is meted out to those who are guilty, when their breathing ceases, our songs should cease as well.
Many interpretations are offered as to why God instructs us in compound language, “Justice Justice you must pursue!” It seems to me that God is sharing God’s own experience that the pursuit of justice is hard. That we will get distracted by other voices redefining what justice is, redirecting us to ideals that we should be pursuing other than justice.
Justice. Justice. That is what is to be pursued. Israel may lose the high moral ground in a world that is warped. Those who stand with Israel will be vilified in a world that is warped. This is when the first blessing bestowed upon the Jewish People will find its true meaning, “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you.” (Genesis 12:3)
The pursuit of justice, the eradication of evil, means that there will be more innocents who will die in that pursuit. I am not glib about this. I know full well that children in Gaza had no more of a say in where and when they were born than I did. Their fate is unfair. It is a tragic and unavoidable consequence of the way human beings, and maybe even God, wage war. This war will be waged precisely because innocents were killed on October 7. On Shabbat. On Simchat Torah. Those innocents who were murdered were not only civilian elderly, women, and children, but also the young women and men who wore an Israeli uniform and carried a weapon. They were also innocent Jews – who donned the role of protectors of life. They represented no threat to anyone – except to those who want to suffocate Israel and the world with evil.