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The Great Escape?

The cyclic nature of the Torah reading and of our calendar, generates a sense of continuity where past experiences will or perhaps should influence our learnings and suppositions. When reading the Noah story we are of course frustrated if not exasperated. Why does he not protest or actively warn the people of the destruction that is to come? The commentaries with the Midrash in a sense come to his defense but why are his reactions and actions totally absent from the actual text? Moreover, where was the compassion of God? Was Teshuva not created in the Beginning, in Bereishit? 

The account of Jonah read on Yom Kippur still resonates if not cries out. There, Jonah is given very specific instructions to warn the inhabitants of Nineveh that unless they change their ways they will be wiped out. Both Noah and Jonah conspicuously (attempt to) escape in a boat! Why among the meticulous instructions that Noah received were there no directives to engage with the people. With Jonah, already in the second verse God charges him to1:2;

ק֠וּם לֵ֧ךְ אֶל־נִֽינְוֵ֛ה הָעִ֥יר הַגְּדוֹלָ֖ה וּקְרָ֣א עָלֶ֑יהָ כִּֽי־עָלְתָ֥ה רָעָתָ֖ם לְפָנָֽי׃

Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim judgment upon it; for their wickedness has come before Me.

The command “Kum” – get up, is reminiscent of קַמְתִּי בְּאַשְׁמורֶת I have arisen early, featured in the beautiful opening of the Sepharadi selichot, followed by בֶּן אָדָם, מַה לְּךָ נִרְדָּם  Loosely translated, hey you, why are you still sleeping… a call to repent and recite the selichot (early in the morning or late at night)

Nowhere in the account is Noah enjoined to warn the people, rather the instructions are painstakingly focussed on the design of the Ark and the (quantity of) animals to be taken. The enigma grows, the more one focuses on the unfolding course of events. At the close of last week’s portion of Bereishit 6:5,6; God saw how great was human wickedness on earth—how every plan devised by the human mind was nothing but evil all the time. 

וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם יְהֹוָ֔ה כִּֽי־עָשָׂ֥ה אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב אֶל־לִבּֽוֹ׃

And God regretted having made humankind on earth. With a sorrowful heart…

How is it conceivable that The Seer of all could not have foreseen this? God decides to destroy all of  His creation, yet;

וְנֹ֕חַ מָ֥צָא חֵ֖ן בְּעֵינֵ֥י יְהֹוָֽה

…Noah found favor in the eyes of God

The Noach found in the striking term Vaynachem, seemingly enables God to see things differently, to regress from regret. 

Dare we suggest that the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah and all the matriarchs and patriarchs that will follow in the Book of Bereishit and Shemot are essentially also stories about God? Bereishit bara Elokim… at that point when God created the world, this is what happened both to God and to us. Both God and humanity are created through one another.The King or Queen can only be such if they have subjects. Our essence evolves in relationship, there may not be any escape from this interdependence portrayed so strikingly through Noach finding favor, chen, in the eyes of God and God finding “Noach” in His ‘regret’ 

Shabbat shalom

About the Author
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for The iCenter and serves as faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp . Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee, and teaches a course in experiential education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion. He feels privileged to live in Jerusalem and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.
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