Parshah Noach

      12 Comments on Parshah Noach

This week’s Parshah is Noach, so named after its first character. It covers Genesis 6:9-11:32. There’s a fair amount in here: the flood, the rainbow, the vineyard, drunken Noah, nasty Ham, subservient but triumphant Shem and Japheth, Nimrod the mighty hunter founding Babel, the tower, the introduction of Abram and Sarai, later Abraham and Sarah.

The obvious Decision Moment in the Noah story is when the Lord goes to Noah and tells him to build the ark. What happens if he refuses, like Jonah? Or if he bargains, like Abraham in the Sodom story? Could he have saved more people (oddly enough, although there are saved seven pairs of every kosher animal, and only one pair of trayf, there are four pairs of humans)?

Once I started to look at this, I noticed that Noah doesn’t ever talk to the Lord. He walks with him, but he never addresses him. Noah doesn’t even hearken to the Lord; there is neither a henini moment (‘here I am’) or a sh’ma moment. He just does what he’s told. Asah Noah elohim tsavah asah (6:22). He does as the Lord commanded. We’re all familiar with Bill Cosby’s famous exegesis, but in the Scripture, Noah isn’t so much a character as a tool, like a hammer. He does what he’s told. What if Noah showed a little spunk?

In a way, that’s why the second Noah story, the story of the cursing of Ham, seems so unconnected to the first one. They seem like they are about different people; the Noah of the first story doesn’t have the initiative to get drunk, much less to get in trouble with his middle son and later, sobering up, to curse that son’s son. By the way, when Noah walks with the Lord, the word walk is halach, from which we get the word halachah, or law. When et-haelohim hithalech Noah, you could say that Noah ‘law-ed’ with the Lord. This reinforces, to me, the idea of Noah as a tool, or at least as constrained in his choices. And yet, after the end of the Noah story he is given the Noachite laws. Hmph. Very confusing.

What do y’all think?


12 thoughts on “Parshah Noach

  1. Jacob

    It’s hard to convey without Cosby’s inflection. The key bit is:

    “Noah, I want you to build an ark.”
    “Riiiiight.” (pause) “What’s an ark?”

    and so forth.

  2. Vardibidian

    It’s downloadable on iTunes or your preferred vendor; the album is Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow … Right. And it’s brilliant, well worth the money and time, and besides is one of those cultural touchstones (to the point where I assumed everybody knew it).
    But the whole aspect of Noah arguing with the Lord (the Lord to Noah: “How long can you tread water?”) is just something from the decidedly non-button-down mind of Bill Cosby; the Scriptural Noah isn’t like that at all.


  3. Wayman

    I hadn’t remembered that the dates of the flood were so precisely given (Gen. 7:11, 8:5), or that the duration of the flood was a lot longer than the 40 days of rain. Is the beginning or end of the flood marked by any sort of festival or holiday?

  4. irilyth

    Another obvious cliche, but: What if Noah (on purpose by accident) leaves some animals behind? Unicorns seem to be the popular choice for SF stories along this line.

  5. chaos

    I don’t think the unicorn thing is originally derived from SF — i think it’s fairly old. I’m not actually sure where the story started, and i didn’t have time for enough seconds of research to get anywhere. But it’s definitely a story i heard when i was in hebrew school. If anyone actually wants to look this up and report back, that would be cool. I feel like the standard story is that Noah couldn’t find the unicorns, or could only find one, or something.

  6. Vardibidian

    Well, I’ll try to answer that, because if you were just making the Bill Cosby reference, you would have phrased it as “Ri-ight… what’s a midrash?”
    Midrash refers to a collection of rabbinic sayings, stories, homilies, etc., that were compiled from post-temple times up through the Middle Ages. It also refers to a technique of exegesis that is often used by the Sages in these works, where a text is explained by way of telling a story or parable. If someone says “there is a midrash about …” they mean “there is an old story the rabbis told keying off a particular text …” Many of these stories are 2nd-4th centuries C.E.; a major collection of Genesis-related midrash was redacted in the fourth century.
    I think that the Midrash is not considered Scripture, that is, not Received as part of the Oral Law. I’m not sure about that, though.


  7. Vardibidian

    Thank, Avi. I had never heard Aunt Naomi’s story about Og and the Unicorn; I love how she has Noah plant all the other seeds first before the grapes. I will have to pick up her book.
    I suspect that her folktale is nineteenth-century in origin, but that the idea of the unicorn left off the ark is much older. Anyway, it certainly predates modern SF. I’m not sure where people draw the line between folktales and fantasy/SF; I am happy to include Elijah as specfic, myself, and certainly Baruch’s and Ezra’s revelations.


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