Noach: Lessons for all mankind

 INTEREST IN Torah study is growing among non-observant Jews. (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
INTEREST IN Torah study is growing among non-observant Jews.
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

This week's parsha, Noach, tells the famous story of God punishing mankind and inflicting it with a Flood that destroys everyone and everything. There is skepticism to the validity of the story in the context of a more global phenomenon, but true or not, its lessons have a profound impact on the world today.

Following the Flood narrative, God instructs Noah about the laws for all humankind, 7 in total. The laws, known as the “Noahide Laws”, outline the responsibilities upon all humans, not just Jews. There are:

1. Not to profane God’s name 2. Not to curse God3. Not to murder4. Not to eat the limb of a still-live animal5. Not to steal6. Against sexual impurities such as incest and adultery 7. To establish courts of law and justice in the world

These commandments are in essence what we should view as the baseline morality for human beings. Why is this and what does it mean for today?

The first one, not to profane God’s name, is a humbling idea. Man, especially today, can feel as though they have so much power, and why not? Today all the world’s knowledge and information are so readily available, you can travel anywhere on earth, and you can enjoy food and drink without breaking a sweat.

Torah scroll is raised and displayed at Western Wall (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)Torah scroll is raised and displayed at Western Wall (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

Staying connected

We have become so disconnected from the Source. Yet still, the idea of not profaning God’s name humbles us to the fact that there is something greater out there, and that all our blessings and fortunes can disappear in an instant. One need not look far back in history to recognize this truth.

The second, not to curse God, follows the same suit. More so, recognizing that there is a great power at work, allows us to find solace in the good and the bad. If all comes from God, good or bad, then surely it should all be a blessing and seen as good. In this can we see that praise is more worthwhile.

The third, not to murder, may seem like an obvious prohibition. It should be understood though that this concept was not always clear to most. Especially at the time when we understand the Torah to have been given, 3,000 years ago, murder was seen as an everyday occurrence, death just a short distance away for most.

More so, the human inclination is naturally geared towards the worst of our beings. The classic novel The Lord of the Flies demonstrates this well. So having a commandment, not just as the law of the land, but as a Divine edict, gives precedent to the inclination towards it and the importance of preserving human life at all costs. Indeed, the classic Jewish saying that, “saving a life is like saving the world” shines forth in that taking a life is like destroying the world.

The fourth, not to eat the limb of a still-live animal, may seem trivial at first glance. For starters, what does it even mean? The idea is that an animal suffering should not have to bear any unnecessary extra pain. This is a revolutionary idea today as it was even 3,000 years ago. Man has dominion over the beast of the field, that is no question, and to attempt to equate ourselves to animals, I believe, is a sin to ourselves and to the idea of Creation.

Either way, this commandment is teaching us that all life is God’s Creation, even the animal that is on our dinner plate. As such, it is incumbent on us to respect all life even if we have complete control over its outcome.

The fifth, not to steal, is still a concept that plagues humankind the world over. Every day people engage in theft of all kinds, be it in homes, stores, or the streets. Stealing has a two-fold negative impact. For the robber, though they are gaining a new possession, the damage they are doing to their own morale is far greater than any increase in temporary possession.

Worse for the person being stolen from, a possession that was theirs is now gone, and in many cases, this could be a priceless item passed down for generations. Some things can never be replaced, and prohibiting stealing at the highest level brings forth the value to respect others and their possessions.

The sixth, against sexual impurity and acts such as incest and adultery, is also one that is prevalent today all across the world. The family is a sacred part of culture and society, and one that should be protected bar none. Calls today from people to cancel marriage and stop having children should be aptly shut down and silenced.

At the core, as mentioned above, human beings are drawn towards these forbidden acts, often not thinking about the repercussions of their actions. More often than not, engaging in these actions can destroy lives, families, and generations. It is deeply important for this to be a commandment that people across the world hold to and cherish.

The seventh and last is to establish courts of law and justice in the world. Once again, this is a concept that seems obvious today but was not so obvious 3,000 years ago. Even still, countries and societies around the world lack basic courts of law and honest justice. As a result, people are oppressed and lack basic human rights and the ability to create a better life for themselves and their offspring.

It is imperative that all societies have systems of law and justice that both speak to the people of those respective societies and that work to ensure everyone is protected. This is not a call for one system or one ideology, as I do not believe and history shows that there does not exist any “cookie cutter” approach to this concept. Though giving cultures the space to establish these courts of law and justice is critical to the freedoms of people across the world.

Practically, there is no international court or police force that can or should have the ability to enforce the 7 Noahide Laws. Ultimately, as it is for Jews with the 613 Commandments, it is up to the individual to uphold the commandments and do their part in elevating the world.

Organizations like Chabad have worked hard across the globe to educate non-Jews on the importance and relevancy of the 7 Noahide Laws. In fact, former US presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush signed declarations enshrining the 7 Noahide Laws into practice.

Today we can all do our part in sharing and learning these 7 ideas in hopes of driving the world forward to a better, more just society for us all.

Shabbat shalom.