With the benefit of several thousand years of hindsight, I’d like to suggest
that Noah was the luckiest guy on the planet. But not for the reason you might
He’s the luckiest because he had 120 years, five generations, to
warn and save humanity before the flood waters came. We – the most privileged,
powerful, educated, networked and prosperous generation since the dawn of
humanity – are not so fortunate.
We have five years, maximum, before
global warming becomes irreversible.
In the Torah portion that will be
read in Jewish communities this weekend, it is written that God says to Noah, “I
have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with
lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth. Make
yourself an ark...” (Gen 6:13-14).
And we all know what happens next: the
most devastating destruction ever, and by the Creator of the
Whatever Noah thought of God during the watery massacre of all
those creatures created in God’s image, the text does not hint. His silence, his
lack of rebuke, is so startling. Could any of us, even the most apathetic or
obedient, not curse God, amid the cries of a drowning world? Noah was no Jew.
But Abraham, the first Jew, was only a little better; he argued for the welfare
of Sodom and Gemorra but expelled Ishmael and Hagar to the wilderness and came
within inches of stabbing Isaac to death.
(We need better role models
than these two if we are going to save the world!) Yet even without human
rebuke, as the sun began to shine again, God eventually wises up. (Was it the
floating corpses of humanity and all animal life?) “Never again,” says the
Destroyer, “shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood. Never again
shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis – eerily –
Interestingly, there are over 500 ancient Noah-like flood stories
from around the world, from many cultures.
The tragedy is not a Jewish
story, but a universal one. We have so focused on teaching about all those cute
pairs of animals that hop, slither, crawl, stampede, trot and fly into the ark,
that lost is the drowned cry of the unlucky millions of the past – and,
therefore, their corollary echo in our generation.
To stop the melting of
the ice caps, the rising seas, the dramatic increase in extreme weather, the
extinction of thousands of species of animals, and killer droughts our
atmosphere needs to return to having 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide. We
are at 392 parts today, and this number is growing quickly because we burn
increasing amounts of fossil fuels.
According to Bill McKibben, the
climate expert behind the 350.org movement, “We have five times as much oil and
coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to
Meaning, the world as we know it is going to be washed away if
humanity keeps burning oil, coal and gas.
(Yes, gas kills; fracking
THIS BRINGS us to this week’s reading from the Prophets, which
provides a strong counter-balance to Noah’s complacency. Isaiah is the prophet
par excellence: He admonishes people to change their behavior, speaks truth to
power, and lifts the spirit of a nation with visions of redemption and
Specifically, Isaiah says this week that just as God promised
that “the waters of Noah nevermore would flood the earth,” (Isaiah 54:9) so does
the Creator promise never to abandon Israel. Isaiah is the leading light of
“social justice prophets,” and whose “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6)
designation imparts on us, as Elie Wiesel teaches, a special burden: the
responsibility and privilege to rebel.
Noah is the luckiest guy on the
Yet not for other reason you might think.
Noah had a
non-burning source of light.
“Tzohar ta’ase lateyva” (Gen 6:16), which
some of the commentators say was a precious jewel that glowed and provided light
in the ark.
The future of life on the planet is wrapped up in the number
350. To prevent the “end of the world” by adding more than 350 parts per million
carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, there needs to be non-fossil-fueled “rays of
We have today all the renewable technologies necessary to power
and light the world, yet missing is Isaiah’s fiery spirit. Noah’s spirit of
acquiesce dominates; therefore, the waters are rising.
So let’s rise to
the challenge. Are there any prophets or rabbis – indeed, any Jews – out
there willing to decree solar power a mitzvah and burning the fossil fuel
remnants of lost and drowned worlds an abomination? Or perhaps, within five
years, a crime against humanity? The writer, named recently by CNN as one of the
six leading green pioneers worldwide, serves as president of the Arava Power
Company, Israel’s leading solar developer. He can be reached at