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Light from the Sidra

Noach ('Noah'). 25 October 2014. 1 Cheshvan 5775

Torah: Genesis 6:9-11:32. Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-24

Gimme shelter

Around 1980 the excellent but now defunct Omni magazine published an essay about the planet Mars by Patrick (now Sir Patrick) Moore. The piece began with a confession that some years previously he had written an article about the Red Planet in which he stated eight ‘facts’ about Mars that had since proved to be completely wrong. With remarkable humility the famed amateur astronomy confessed that the ’facts’ he was about to state would, in all probability, also prove to be false several years hence. I can’t remember if the presence of water on Mars was on his list of ‘facts’ but since the 1970s, scientists have become increasingly sure that Mars was once covered with water.

I find it odd that scientists who can state confidently that a planet 34 million miles away from us, which is drier than the Gobi Desert and is home to the highest mountain in the solar system was once entirely covered with water while at the same time denying the possibility that the earth, which is abundant in water, could have been deluged in the way recorded in Genesis.

Every culture in the world – from the ancient Babylonians, to the Eskimos, to the Aztecs, to the Chinese, to the Australian aborigines – have memories of a global flood in which only a few people survived. Folklore aside, geology provides abundant evidence of a universal deluge. Think about it. If there had been a catastrophe of the proportion described in Genesis, a disaster in which ‘the fountains of the great deep [the vast subterranean reservoirs that we know still exist] burst forth; and the windows of heaven [the canopy of water vapour described in Genesis 1:7 as ‘the waters that were above the firmament’], what traces would such a catastrophe have left behind? How about billions of dead animals covered by multiple layers of rock? And what do geologists find when they investigate rocks from Yorkshire to the Himalayas and from Mongolia to the Grand Canyon? Billions of dead animals covered by multiple layers of rock, some of them fossilised in the act of eating, fighting or giving birth!

When we read Genesis 6-11, we are reading history, not mythology. Some myths and legends dispense nuggets of common-sense with which few would disagree but I doubt that even the ancient Greeks believed that all the evils in the world came about because Pandora just couldn’t keep her nose out of a box!

The account of the Flood, however, teaches us some vital lessons, not least that God judges. When HASHEM created the world, he judged it to be ‘good’ and at the end of the sixth day he declared the completed heavens and earth to be ‘very good.’ But in Genesis 6:5, at the end of Parasha B’reisheet, ‘HASHEM saw that the world was very bad. ‘The wickedness of Man was great upon the earth, and that every product of the thoughts of his heart was wickedness was evil always.’ So much for the yetzer ha tov, the ‘good inclination’!

The final verse of Parasha B’reisheet says, ‘But Noah found grace in the eyes of HASHEM.’ Parasha Noach begins: ‘Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noah walked with God’ (Genesis 6). Did God show grace and favour to Noah because Noah was righteous, perfect and walked with God? Or did Noah live an upright life because of God’s grace? If God favoured Noah because of his righteousness, can those of us who are less than perfect find grace in the eyes of HASHEM?

A Jewish man once told me that the word ‘perfect’ really means ‘upright’. Actually, the Hebrew word for ‘upright’ is yashar whereas the word used in Genesis 6:1 is tamim ‘complete’ but, not wishing to split hairs, I asked how’ upright’ God requires us to be in order for us to find favour with him. Ninety degrees? Maybe 89 degrees? How about eighty? Might just 46 degrees of uprightness be enough to curry favour with the Almighty? The question is fatuous. With HASHEM There are no degrees of uprightness. God demands that we be perfectly upright.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, HASHEM is never gracious to anyone on the basis of their personal worthiness. That’s why in Exodus 33:19, 34:6 and Psalm 86:15, God’s ‘graciousness’ and his ‘mercy’ are placed side by side. No one ever deserved mercy, otherwise mercy would no longer be mercy. And no one ever merited God’s grace, however righteous they might have been in comparison to those around them.
Before Genesis 6 tells us of Noah’s comparative righteousness, it informs us that God was gracious to him. Indeed, in Genesis 9:21, when the man who was declared to be ‘complete’ in his generations ends up drunk and naked, God continues to bless him and his sons.

So, when God judges us, what is his verdict? Even if we are more righteous than those around us, do we match up to the perfect standard of righteousness God demands? Remember the apprehension you felt when you searched your heart a few weeks ago at Rosh Hashanah? Do you recall how hard you worked to make up for the sins of the previous year? And what about all those donations you made to charity? And then you fasted and repented and prayed for an entire day, pleading with HASHEM to inscribe you in the Book of Life. Did you really think that all those things could truly atone for your sins? If they could, you wouldn’t have needed God to be gracious to you because you would have earned your salvation by your own efforts.

In Genesis, before the day of judgement arrived and God wiped out almost all life on earth, he graciously prepared a place of refuge and safety. Although the ark was constructed by Noah, Noah would never have thought of constructing the ark himself. By following God’s directions he was saved from the Deluge. In the same way, before God sent judgement on Egypt he graciously provided a way of salvation for Israel through the blood of lambs being daubed on the doorposts and lintels of the houses of the Israelites.
A final divine judgement is coming on the world and God has graciously provided an ark that can accommodate the entire world. And just as Noah built the ark that would save him and his family, 2000 years ago those who need to be saved from the wrath to come inadvertently helped provide their own means of salvation. HASHEM sent his Son to be the Messiah of Israel and Saviour of the world, and in return we nailed him to a tree. But by the grace of God, that very act of evil men provided the very means of their own salvation and ours.

The blood that Jesus the Messiah shed on the tree acted like the blood of the lambs that were struck on the doorposts and lintels of the Israelite homes in Egypt. The blood of Jesus the Messiah provides forgiveness not only for the Jewish people but also for the entire world. The tree or, to be more precise, the one we nailed to the tree became the ultimate place of safety for all mankind.

All were welcome in Noah’s ark but there came a cut-off point when HASHEM himself shut the door to the ark (Genesis 7:16). You can imagine the panic. Noah’s neighbours hammering on the door to be let in. Noah could do nothing; God had closed the door and it was too late. On the final day of justice, no amount of prayers, no amount of penitence, no amount of fasting and affliction of soul will save anyone. All that will count is whether we believed the word of God and took refuge in the Messiah!


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