One of my favorite musicals is a little-known show called, “Children of Eden”, by Stephen Schwartz. It’s basically a Biblical midrash; the first act is all about the Garden of Eden, and the second act is all about Noah. In the play, Noah talks far more than he does in the Torah, in which he has absolutely no dialogue. One major distinction between the actor’s lines and the Torah text is that, in the play, Noah speaks to God, wishing for a different outcome. “I know you’re weary of my asking….I know you have just cause…..But I wish you’d change your mind” Noah says no such thing in the Torah text; indeed, he is quite aware of what’s about to happen; God indicates three times what the plan is (6:13, 6:17, and 7:23) but Noah still says nothing. And so, the world is wiped out, and humanity must start again.
Later in the story, we read that as soon as the flood is over, and Noah comes onto dry land again, he immediately plants a vineyard, and promptly gets drunk (after, of course, waiting for the vines to grow, yield grapes, and making the grapes into wine). And still Noah doesn’t say anything. We often refer to people who “drown their sorrows” in strong drink – there’s something they want to forget. It seems that Noah’s not just trying to drown (pun intended) out the loss of all of humanity, but rather, the memory of his doing nothing to try and change God’s mind. It is the greatest of Noah’s missteps. After Noah, in fact, when confronted with pending disaster, God’s chosen prophets speak up and give heed. Abraham barters with God about the lives to be lost in Sodom and Gemorrah. The book of Prophets is filled with the pleas from those who got word of God’s anger, and immediately warned the people to change their ways. In fact, Jonah, the one who tried to duck his responsibility, gets tossed into the water and stays there (in the great fish) until he gets back on dry land, realizing he can’t outrun what God wants him to do. It’s interesting to note, that in Jonah’s case, God’s feelings are again expressed through the great, dangerous, and stormy waters; only Jonah’s presence in the water can calm the sea (God’s anger).
It seems Noah’s resistance to speak up to God, or anyone else, is what he most regrets. Maybe his protestations would have come to nothing, but he didn’t even try. And when he did finally speak, as the Women’s Torah commentary points out, (p. 55) it is to curse his son: “So Noah’s first words neither praise God, not expresses gratitude, nor ask for help, nor proclaim justice. Instead, he uses language to curse”. Perhaps Noah had survivor guilt; he was burdened by the memory of all who died, unspoken for. The one gift God had given in creating humanity was the power of speech, and Noah wasted it. His words may have saved a life and he said nothing. No wonder he wanted to get drunk.
We do have the opportunity to do better than Noah. Recently, too many young people have chosen to end their lives rather than live with the pain of other people’s words. Our words and actions have to become salves for their pain. There is a video project on youtube called, “It Gets Better”. I am brought to tears at each of these heartfelt stories that are being shared to let young people who are bullied and terrorized because they are “different” (from what?) know that they’re not alone, and it does, indeed, get better. Take the time to find these short videos on youtube, and for God’s sake, for Noah’s sake, and for the sake of the young lives at risk, speak up and save humanity.