Parashat Noah: The world doesn't have to be Jewish

Is Judaism a religion with a message for all humanity?

By
October 10, 2007 10:38
4 minute read.
noah ark 88

noah ark 88. (photo credit: )

Is Judaism a religion with a message for all humanity? Our Bible, unlike the ancient records which predated it, opens with a universal sweep, introducing God as Creator of the universe and insisting that every human being is created in His image: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1); "And God created the human being [adam] in His image, in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them" (Gen 1:27). Adam - the first human - was then placed in the Garden of Eden and given one commandment: not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, to leave the judgment of what is good and what is evil up to God rather than the subjective desire of the individual. Had Adam and Eve obeyed the divine command, this world would have merged with the eternal world, and Eden would have remained the human universe. But alas, Adam failed, and humanity was banished from Eden. Kept from an eternal life in close proximity to God, the 10 generations following Adam descended into deep depravity. God repents of having created humanity, and decides to destroy the world with a Flood. Our biblical portion now opens with the one righteous individual who - together with his family and representative creatures of the earth - was deemed worthy of rescue: Noah, a second Adam. God is giving humanity, through Noah, a chance to redeem itself. He blessed Noah with the same blessing He bestowed on Adam: "Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth…" (Gen. 1:28; 9:1), granting Noah the same dominion over the animal world. The Almighty goes even further, allowing Noah to express his mastery by eating living creatures and not only vegetation, as had been granted to Adam. But then God gives Noah two more commandments, very different from the command given to Adam: He forbids Noah from eating the flesh and/or blood of a living animal, and forbids Noah from taking any human life, "since God created the human being in His divine image" (Gen. 9:4-6). The sages of the Talmud add five more Noahide laws: Prohibitions against stealing, against licentiousness (including sexual transgressions such as rape, incest and bestiality), against idolatry and blaspheming God, as well as the positive directive to establish courts of law to see to it that these six laws are adhered to (B.T. Sanhedrin 56). And it is at this point in our biblical reading that God enters into His first covenant, a two-sided agreement with all of humanity. God pledges that "never again will all flesh be destroyed by a flood," and the sign of this divine covenant is embedded within nature in the form of the rainbow (Gen. 9:11-16). The 12th-century biblical commentator Ramban (Nahmanides) explains the symbolism of the rainbow: when warfare was conducted with bow and arrow, the side which surrendered and wanted peace would express this desire by raising an inverted bow. So does God place an inverted bow in the heavens as a sign that He is no longer warring against humanity. In the 19th century, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests what is perhaps an even deeper meaning. When we look at the glorious colors of the rainbow, we are dazzled. In truth, however, these colors only appear to be different hues; they are all refractions of white. So it is with humanity, whose many peoples of different colors and ethnic backgrounds all emanate from the one God, united by the spark of the divine which gives them life. But whatever the symbolism, the rainbow remains a half-picture. God can pledge not to destroy humanity, but since He has created us with free will, He can't guarantee that humanity will not destroy itself. And especially in our global village, with a mad Ahmadinejad caressing the atomic trigger and much of the world looking on, this fear is immediate. That's why God's bow guarantees human survival only with our acceptance of the Seven Noahide Laws, at least the prohibition against murder. For the world to endure, everyone need not be Jewish, but everyone must be moral. Human life must be seen as sacred! If this interpretation is indeed correct, then the Noahide Laws must be disseminated throughout the world. Tragically Noah failed; at the end of his life, he fell prey to alcoholism, and the 10 generations which followed him were tainted by debauchery and depravity. God is true to His word; He destroys the especially wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but preserves the world intact. And He makes a third attempt to bring about redemption. God will enter into a covenant with Abraham and his descendants. He will charge Abraham's family with 613 commandments in order to forge it into a "holy nation and a kingdom of priests [to the world]." He will see to it that Abraham's progeny will never be destroyed and that - from their land of Israel and Jerusalem, the world will learn to accept a God of love, morality and peace. God's initial charge to Abraham includes this Jewish mission to the world: "I will make you a great nation… I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you I shall curse; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you" (Gen. 12:2, 3). The Jewish mission to the world is thus codified by Maimonides, the greatest Jewish philosopher: "Moses is to bequeath the 613 commandments only to the Israelites, as it is written, 'a heritage for the congregation of Jacob' (Deut. 33:4)... but similarly did the Almighty command Moses to teach (and if necessary to enforce) the Noahide commandments to all of humanity…" (Laws of Kings, 8,10). No, humanity doesn't have to be Jewish, but it does have to be moral in order for a free world to endure. The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.


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