Noah (Genesis 6:9-11:32) The Rainbow of Promise and Hope?

            We come this week to that righteous man “in his generation”: Noah. The portion is much more complex that meets the eye. What does it mean to be righteous in one’s generation? Is that a nod to judging things within their context? The text can be complex. Are the animals two by two or seven by seven? Does God change God’s mind after the flood and what is the nature of that post flood “covenant”? What can we make of the scene, post flood, of Noah’s sons and their reaction to his intoxication? And then, to add a little spice, we end the portion with the Tower of Babel!

            There are many discussions in tradition on Noah and his name. The root of the name seems to indicate a sense of rest or comfort. The portion, as Aviva Zornberg discusses in her commentary on Genesis, includes puns on the name of Noah and Midrash includes a variety of interpretations and questions. Indeed, one of the questions raised is the fact that Noah, when called by God, accepts his role. The flood is coming and thus many innocent people will be killed. Why does Noah not argue for them, as Abraham will do for the people of Sodom? The commentaries also reflect on that famous “In his generation” phrase and what that could possibly mean. What does it mean to be righteous in our generation?

            But we are living through unbelievable times right now. There is such a feeling of anxiety, and yes, even fear. To that end, this portion presents us with a symbol, the Keshet, the rainbow. It is a promise of hope. The rainbow as a symbol has a rich history and appears in many cultures, sometime symbolizing disaster and at others, victory. “Indeed, in as early a source as the Babylonian Epic of Creation, the god Marduk is said to have suspended his bow in heaven after vanquishing the rebellious Tiamat and her cohorts.” (“Myth Legend and Custom in the Old Testament”. Theodore Gaster. P. 131) Remember, that our Creation epic emerged, as many believe, from the Babylonian epic and that the god Tiamet (the deep, the ocean, the waters) finds its way into Genesis as the “chaotic waters” (Genesis 1:2 and the word t’hom)

            In our portion that rainbow symbolizes a promise. It seals a covenant between God and Noah, and thus mankind, that God will no longer destroy us. Simply put, if we are to destroy mankind, we will do it! The rainbow, then, can be seen as a symbol of hope. It is a perfect symbol for right now, as we are hope deprived. Can we take a lesson from Noah? Let us try to focus on the reminder that WE are responsible for our acts, and that we do hold to power to destroy this world in our hands. It is what we choose to do that will determine our collective future. But, that Keshet exists in our story to hold out that eternal possibility of hope, that righteous people will come forward to bring us reason out of chaos. May this be so and may it be so speedily.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address


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