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Parshat Noah: Floating on the Seas of Chaos?

10/25/2022 12:19:54 PM


Rabbi Moshe Rudin



In this week's Torah portion, we retell the primordial tale of the Great Flood, followed by the confusion of tongues in the Tower of Babel.

Question: why was the first thing that the next generation after the flood did was build a tower? 

Answer: because they were worried about the next flood!

But of course, there wasn't going to be a flood, was there?  The rainbow covenant was G-d's promise to never again destroy the earth.  Did the tower builders figure better safe than sorry?   Or did they want to confront the G-d that had wiped out humanity and, as the Midrash says, openly rebel and- in their minds- cast G-d from His throne?

Or maybe... and this is a weird one,  but stay with me...

The story of the flood and the story of the tower are... The Same Story!

Both are about ancient catastrophes.  Both focus on human action causing divine reaction.  Both stories are stories of the loss of an ancient harmony and balance and the formation of a fallen, diminished world.  

And most telling, both stories place one thing front and center: Words. 

Words are easy to see in the Tower of Babel:  "Now the whole world was of one speech and the same words."  But what about the Flood?  Where are words in the flood?

Right out in front it turns out.  

The word in Hebrew for Ark, the salvation of the last human family, is תיבה, Teyva.  What does the word Teyva mean in English (besides "Ark"- and what is ark, anyway?)?  It means Word. 

In this reading, maybe the lesson of the Flood is this: the ark, a word, can float upon the raging waters of chaos and destruction.  It is the only thing that can. 

And the Tower: If we do not pay attention to our words, if instead, we are focused on building towers of fear and preoccupation with the works of our hands rather than our ability to connect to each other, then we lose the ability to connect entirely. 

Two stories of destruction.  Two warnings.  Two stories that are one story.   Two stories with a chilling message that has yet to be heard but that needs to be heard.

The message is we need to talk.  All of us.  And not in single syllables.  We need to speak and listen across the divisions and strata and groups and tribes.  Only if we do so can we not stop ourselves from scattering and becoming a toxic mix of disunity.  Only if we do so can we stop the flood of chaos, environmental, social, political: not that G-d is bringing upon the earth-

but that we are. 

Shabbat Shalom

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784