This week’s Torah portion, Noah, we know well. Part of the reason for this is it is especially popular with our children and grandchildren with the story of the ark and the two of every kind of animal. There are numerous songs that are wildly popular among the preschool set like ‘Rise and Shine’. Artists have made amazing depictions of the story, and on the surface it appears to be a simple narrative. God looked around and saw that the world was filled with evil. God decided to destroy the world by flood, but wanted to save a sample of all living creatures, and God found a righteous partner in Noah to help bring this endeavor to fruition.
However, when we peel beneath the surface, the story of Noah is a much more complicated morality tale. The premise is that after the Garden of Eden, humanity was left to fend for themselves without guidance, rules or an established society. In this context, humanity reverted to violence, as can be found in the story of the Lord of the Flies.
God decided that in order to start again, there needed to be some basic ground rules. These rules are the 7 Noahide laws. These universal principles include such core concepts as do not murder, do not steal, and establish courts of justice.
However, God’s experimentation in partnership did not end with Noah. One of the reasons for this is that Noah, who was described as the ‘most righteous of his generation,’ did not argue with God. There was no attempt to try to redeem humanity, only obedience.
Next week we will be reading from parashat Lech Lecha, where God finds a different kind of partner in Abraham. When faced with a similar situation regarding Sodom and Gomorroh, Abraham challenges the very concepts of justice and righteousness.
It is from Abraham, not Noah, that our tradition is descended from.
Therefore, if we are to learn a key lesson from our Torah portion it is perhaps that we should never be blindly obedient. We are compelled by our ancestors and our tradition to always question and to always challenge. It is only through this process that we can hope to truly uncover that which is good, right and just.
The story of Noah is a good story. But it is not a children’s story. It was a story, a religious myth to challenge us to become greater people to help create a better society. And lest we think we should leave it to others just remember, the ark was built by an amateur; the Titanic was built by professionals.
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff