It is still early in Bereshit and this sedra is action-packed, full of events. For fact lovers, it has the most verses of any parasha, although not the most words, perhaps to keep the fast-paced action moving along. It is named for Noach, and describes the story of the Flood and building of the Ark. It continues with the episode of his drunkenness, then lists the descendents of Noach, tells the story of the tower of Babel, and finishes with the 10th generation, Abram, son of Terah.
There is much to puzzle at in the story of the Ark, how it could possibly fit all the animals and sufficient food and water to sustain them, without even considering the totality of the flood, and the ravens and doves searching for land. Truly, unbelievable or miraculous. Instead, I will discuss instead the character of Noach, as this may be more relatable to us.
He is described as a righteous man, who walked with God. He was righteous in his generation, and thus he and his family were saved. Yet we have only just read of the story of creation. Why did God decide not to wipe out life entirely and start again, but better? Many commentators contrast Noach with Abram, and perhaps this is because Abram is mentioned at the end. Rather than leaving a new character and story to a new parashah, Abram is linked to his ancestor.
Abram is described as walking before God. He would be righteous in any generation. Whereas Noach listened to God and obeyed his orders, preparing for 120 years for the flood, as any modern day survivalist or prepper might, despite scorn from his neighbours. However although he told his community about the coming flood he didn’t try to save them. When Abraham was warned of the demise of Sodom and Gomorrah, he argued with God, to plead their cause.
A Chasidic saying describes Noach as a ‘tzaddik im peltz’ a righteous man in a fur coat. Whereas a fur coat keeps the wearer warm, a leader, a person righteous in any generation, would light a fire to keep others warm.
We cannot all be like Abraham or even Noach. However when considering our character flaws, we can hope that future generations, perhaps our own descendants, can learn from our mistakes and become righteous, or even leaders. But we can also hope that future generations remember us, as part of their collective story.
By Nicola Marks