Noach, the Righteous Man by: Shmuel ben Shlomi
There are two people in the Jewish Bible that came on the scene very early during the time of humanity’s development of civilizations who were called righteous in the eyes of HaShem. The first came very early on and lived many, many millennia ago, likely well over 12,000 years ago. The other person lived approximately 4,000 years ago. Both probably originally lived in roughly the same area, the land the Bible calls Shinar and the rest of the world knows as Sumeria (modern day Iraq/Iran area).
The first man was named Noach (Noah). He lived in the period of what was in his day the pinnacle of, more than likely, the very first human civilization. Perhaps the fabled Atlantis or Lemuria. These two ancient continent civilizations have been as much a part of the human consciousness as those great civilizations that came after them, including that of the other man, Avraham — who will be coming into the picture in the next parsha of study.
Both Noach and Avraham were called righteous - men who lived lives in right standing within the revealed ways and will of HaShem, the One True G-d of Creation. HaShem did add one disclaimer, however, on this righteousness title for Noach. Genesis 6:9 states:
“…Noach was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; (emphasis mine) Noach walked with G-d.”
No such disclaimer was made for Avraham. He would have been righteous in HaShem’s eyes regardless of the era or age he lived in.
A cataclysm was going to embrace planet Earth destroying every living thing on it, man, animal, insects and plant life. The only thing that would survive would be two of every kind of water creatures. Nothing was going to be able to stop what was coming except HaShem and because with the exception of Noach every other person on Earth was evil, and wicked in the sight of G-d He would use this event to cleanse the planet, wipe the slate clean and begin anew with Noach and his family. Imagine the depths the human race must have fallen to when even children and infants were not considered worthy of G-d’s favor and deliverance.
“The Earth had become corrupt before G-d; the Earth was filled with lawlessness.” (Genesis 6:11)
The Hebrew word translated as corrupt literally means damaged beyond repair due to lawlessness which in the original Hebrew means extremely violent. So all humanity had become so damaged and full of violence, with the exception of Noach and his family, that HaShem saw the only hope for His pinnacle of creation - humanity - would be another reset, like what may have happened between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis Chapter 1 [SEE: My comments on Parshat Bereshit].
So, HaShem decides to reset the clock for humanity by allowing a natural destructive force to happen on Earth that would cause total upheaval leaving nothing alive except this special man and his family. Noach is instructed to build an ark that would seal him, his family and certain types of animal, fowl and insect life inside it because a flood of unimaginable proportions was going to overtake the Earth and all who lived upon it.
Do we know what caused the massive Deluge? Genesis tells us that the fountains of the deep were rent open causing not only water beneath the Earth to gush forth, but it would also mean unimaginable lava rose up as well, earthquakes would have been worldwide causing intolerable shaking, gas venting making it near impossible to breathe and it rained in blinding sheets of water, ash, pumice and smoke for a full forty days and nights.
The destruction was so great that in our collective memories that same kind of story has been passed down first orally and then written as far back and across every culture. The names of the hero may differ. In Sumerian cuneiform texts of The Epic of Gilgamesh he is called Utanapishtim. In the Babylonian story of creation, the Enuma Elish the name of the flood hero is Atrahasis and the Akkadians called him Ziusudra. In ancient Egypt the flood happened as a result of a battle of the god Osiris and the serpent Tiamont (Tehom in the Hebrew bible). There are differences in names, places and times but the basic storyline of a great Deluge covering the Earth with one or more survivors on a boat or submarine remains pretty much intact. Be it in the Middle, Near and Far East, the Caucasus, Europe, African Continent, the ancient societies in North, Central or South America or the Aboriginal tribes in Australia and New Zealand — the basics of a destructive Flood remain the same.
For many years, since the birth of the Age of Enlightenment and Science (late 17th early 18th Century CE), in its effort to place anything biblical into the category of myth, folklore and wild tales told by primitives sitting around a fire in caves the whole idea of a worldwide Deluge was outright rejected. However, over the past 100 years with the development of finely tuned instrumentation, repeatable results, research, on site investigation and with the gaining of knowledge of the Earth sciences and the astronomical effects on Earth, many professional scientists in the fields of geology, archeology, anthropology, astronomy and more have come to accept that there was a time in Earth’s distant past where it underwent a massive climatic change and sudden upheaval that was likely caused by a huge influx of water, lava and tectonic eruption. While science may differ as to what caused such an event they are more and more coming to an agreement that the story in Genesis and other ancient writings about a worldwide Deluge did likely occur.
Briefly, science now concludes that there are two likely scenarios for the cause of the Flood. One: The Earth was hit by a major comet impact followed by a series of large to medium sized asteroid and ice fragment hits causing heat in the atmosphere to rise significantly enough to melt the polar and antarctica ice caps inundating the planet with a wall of water of tremendous height and growing larger in all directions as it picked up speed drowning out everything. The impacts would have caused earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tectonic shifts not ever seen before in human experience, killing everything in its vicinity. Two: A slow but inevitable rise in climate temperature cause an ice-plate the size of the State of New Hampshire to break off in Antarctica causing a massive tsunami that reached at least 1,000 feet in height by the time it reach the Southern tip of South America and Australia, only getting larger and more spread out as it headed North finally topping even the highest peaks on all continents. We may never know for sure but since, as insurance companies are fond of declaring coverage for “Acts of God” in every policy contract — we too can call whatever occurred just such an act.
It takes Noach 120 years to build the ark to HaShem’s specifications. While it doesn’t say so in the Torah, I have little doubt he spent much of that time going about the planet warning people of the danger to come in hopes they would repent of their corrupt violent and evil ways. Perhaps he didn’t — we may never know. And that leads me to my comparison to that other righteous man we will meet up with in the next parsha — Avraham.
What was the most major difference between Noach and Avraham? Both were righteous in the sight of HaShem. Noach was when compared to his own generation and Avraham was when compared to every generation — of all those that came before him and all those that would follow right up to our own day.
What made that important distinction between these two giants of righteousness?
When HaShem let Noach in on the fact of the upcoming destructive forces that would plague the Earth, as far as we know, he simply listened to HaShem, took the next 120 years building the ark and stocking it with all that would be needed for he and his family and all the animals to survive during the Deluge and after; until they would be able to disembark, reclaim the Earth and begin the process of agriculture and husbandry again to sustain them and all that survived on the ark.
However, when HaShem told Avraham what he planned in store for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and the other towns in the Valley of Siddim (Jordan Valley), what did Avraham do? Did he just say okay my L-RD is there anything I can do? Would you like me to say a prayer for those folks before they meet their demise? No! Avraham took HaShem aside and pleaded for the lives of those living in the valley even though their wickedness was so very great. He even began to bargain with HaShem asking Him to spare the entire area if only 50 righteous could be located within and without the walls of those cities and towns. Realizing just how evil those human beings had become Avraham still had compassion on them and bargained HaShem all the way down to if just 10 righteous could be located; 10 out of hundreds, perhaps thousands. HaShem, seeing the humility, love and compassion in the heart of his truly righteous servant relented and agreed to save the entire area, all its cities, towns, villages and enclaves is just 10 righteous souls could be found. Sadly, apart from Lot and his two daughters none others could be found by the heavenly messengers. 3 were spared and everyone else was eliminated in a fireball of misery and destruction leaving what was once a lush valley of vegetation and an inland freshwater lake into a desolate, uninhabitable area with a Dead Sea that not even fish or the minuteness of life could live in. It is only now, some 4,000 years later that the area around the Valley of Siddim is starting to sprout life again, the Dead Sea is beginning to naturally become more desalinated with signs of life returning to it.
The one difference between these two men is Avraham loved humanity so much that he was willing to plead for them, for G-d to continue being patient with them that they might come to their senses and be spared destruction. As far as we know from the Biblical text in Genesis, Noach was obedient, loved HaShem but may not have held that same regard for his fellows — as wicked as they were, they were still human beings made in the image and likeness of HaShem and worthy of at least a plea for mercy.