Noah: What does it take to destroy the world?

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Boy, that was quick.  Brand new world, brand new people, and already it’s corrupted.  Reminds me of my kitchen floor just after I finally wash it….but I digress.

“The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with hamas (chaos, lawlessness, violence).  And when God saw how bad it had gotten out there, God said to Noah, that solitary “righteous man in his generation”, that it was time to end the world as both God and humans had known it thus far.

This didn’t happen when Eve and Adam ate the fruit.  They disobeyed God’s instructions, sure.  But they didn’t bring chaos and violence into the world – just curiosity and consequences.  It may have surprised or disappointed God, but it didn’t cause God to toss over the chessboard and start the game again.  Indeed, Eve and Adam’s actions kept the game going, just on a different chessboard.  What they did wasn’t evil.  It wasn’t violence.  It didn’t warrant destroying the world.

What was going on in Noah’s time, however, did. Why?   Rashi , the 12c French wine-maker and brilliant Biblical scholar,  said that hamas meant robbery.  Other commentators said it was idolatry, immorality. Whatever the translation, clearly people were not following the social order that God had in mind.  And for the first, but not the last time, God was regretting the decision to create this pesky species called humans.

In his commentary on this Torah portion, Rashi said “…wherever you find immorality and idolatry, indiscriminate punishment, regardless of guilt or innocence, comes upon the world and it kills good and bad alike.”

Isn’t that the truth.  Society as laid out in the Torah, and of course in other places, allows for destructive behavior to be dealt with through justice, however erratic or sketchy that might be.  The ideal is there.  Those who do no wrong aren’t supposed to suffer.  But in Rashi’s eyes, with the immorality and idolatry rampant during Noah’s time,  innocent people suffered.

Also today.  When those who lose sight of the value of human life, but keep people in their gun-sights, innocent people die, good and bad alike.  When people and corporations (they are NOT the same thing, sorry SCOTUS)  toss away economic morality and are arrogant enough to regulate themselves,  creating fake “investment” vehicles and causing families to lose their homes, the wrong people are suffering. When blind faith brings intolerance and hate into the world, it kills good and bad alike. And when when we allow such blatant ignorance and disregard of our impact on this remarkable, miraculous, fragile, complex world we read about last week, its destruction is all too real.  But this time it would be at our hands, not God’s.

Noah was “righteous in his generation” and the Rabbis debate whether that meant that he was truly righteous or just righteous enough in comparison to others around him.  Noah never questioned God.  He just followed orders, and he did a pretty good job; collected the animals, rode out the storm, etc.  But we need more.  There’s too much at risk.  There’s too much disregard for basic human dignity, too little tolerance, too.   There’s too much adoration of power and too little awareness of the needs of the powerless.   Unlike Noah, we have to question.  We must be more than just righteous compared to others.  We have to name the hamas and then remove it from our midst, lest the world be destroyed again, and we give God more reason to rue our creation.

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