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Parashat HaShabua
(Weekly Torah Portion)


By Rabbi Joshua Ezra Kolet

Genesis: Chapter: 6 verse 9 Chapter: 11 verse 32

1st Heshvan 5768
13th October 2007

Noah is a righteous individual in his
generation. The rest of humanity, however,
is corrupt and lawless and hence God
decides to destroy it. God commands Noah
to build an ark and bring into it seven pairs
(male and female) of all clean animals and
one pair of all unclean animals found on
earth. Noah also takes along his wife, their
three sons Shem, Ham, and Yapheth, and
their wives. A great flood lasting 40 days
and nights covers the earth, destroying all
living creatures except Noah, his family, and
the paired animals on the ark. Once the
flood subsides, Noah and his family inhabit
the earth and multiply. God's promise not to
destroy the earth again becomes a
covenant with people and is symbolised by
the rainbow.
An incident follows in which Noah becomes
drunk and disrobes. His son Ham sees his
nakedness, but Shem and Yapheth cover
their father without looking at him. Because
of Ham's sin, Noah curses Canaan, who
represents the descendants of Ham.

The text then lists the generations of Ham
and Yapheth.
Prior to the description of Shem's line, the
Torah relates the story of the tower of Babel.
When all the inhabitants of the earth spoke
the same language, they decided to build a
city and a tower which would reach to the
sky in order to make a name for themselves.
To stop them in their plans God confounds
their speech and scatters them all over the
The genealogical narrative resumes with
the names of Shem's descendants. From
Shem's line, Abraham descends.
The portion ends with Terach, his son
Abram, daughter-in-law Sarai, and
Abraham's nephew Lot traveling from Ur in
Babylon and settling in Haran.

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Dear Friends,


As children, we have grown up listening to the amazing stories of the Torah. Last week's parasha had two of
those interesting stories; 1. Adam and Havah and 2. Cain and Havel. This week's parasha, Parashat Noah, also
has another pair of famous stories 1. The story of Noah and the flood and 2. The Tower of Babel.
When we look closely we see that the Torah focuses on these four stories to tell us about Human history from the
creation of the world till the selection of Abraham as the first Jew. Then the question is are these stories just a
description of human history or is there any particular underlying message that the Torah wants to give through
According to the Chief Rabbi of England, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, these four stories do contain a tremendous
message about humanity. To see this connection let us look at these four stories.
1. Adam and Havah.
Adam and Havah are placed in Gan Eden and are commanded by God not to eat from the Tree of the
knowledge of good and evil. A serpent tricks Havah and she is convinced to eat the fruit of this tree. She not
only eats it herself but also gives it to Adam.
Bereshit 3: 8-13
They heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of the day; and man and
his wife hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. The Lord God called out to the man and said to
him, “Where are you?” He replied “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was
naked, so I hid.” Then He asked who told you that you were naked? Did you eat of the tree from which I had
forbidden you to eat? The man said, “The woman You put at my side she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
And the Lord God said to the woman, what is this you have done!” The woman replied, “The serpent duped
me, and I ate.”
What is very striking is that when God asks him about his transgression he blames the women and indirectly
accuses God, while the woman blames the serpent. Both deny their own fault. They were not mature enough
to accept their own failing. In effect Adam and Havah denied personal responsibility.
2. Cain and Havel
Cain and Havel, the children of Adam, each brings a gift to God.
Bereshith 4:2-5
Havel became a keeper of sheep and Cain became a tiller of the soil. In the course of time, Cain brought an
offering to the Lord from the fruit of the soil; and Havel, for his part, brought the choicest of the firstlings of his
flock. The Lord paid heed to Havel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering He paid no heed. Cain was
much distressed and his face fell.
Bereshith 4: 8-9
Cain said to his brother Havel…and when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Havel and killed
him. The Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Havel?” And He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother's
In this story after God asks Cain about Havel he doesn't say “it was not me” but he counter-questions God by
saying the infamous words “Am I my brother keeper?” He is willing to overlook the heinousness of his first
murder by saying: How come I am answerable for my brother's safety? Shouldn't he look out for himself?
What he doesn't recognize is one cannot do everything that one feels like doing even when it is in ones power.
Not only is there personal responsibility for our actions but we are bound by Moral responsibility. Cain in
effect is denying moral responsibility.

3. Noah and the flood
God decides to annihilate Mankind in a flood and commands Noah to save him and his family along with
every species of animals in an ark. In a very wicked generation, he is selected to continue humanity after the
Bereshith 6: 9-13,18-22
…..Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God….. The earth
became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness. When God saw how corrupt the earth was,
for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth, God said 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………….
But I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark, with your sons, your wife, and your sons'
wives. And of all that lives, of all flesh, you shall take two of each into the ark to keep alive with you; they shall
be male and female……….. Noah did so; just as God commanded him, so he did.
To say that Noah was righteous and walked with God is saying a lot about him. But the qualification Tsaddik
beDorothav - a righteous person in his own generation poses a question, is it a positive qualification or
something which is negative? Was he a Tsaddik because it was impossible to be a righteous person in the
times he lived and in spite of those challenges he became a Tsaddik or was it that compared to the evil
generation that was around him he was better and hence a Tsaddik. To answer this formidable question we
need to study Noah's story after the flood.
Bereshith 8: 6-12, 15-16
At the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent out the raven; it went
to and fro until the waters had dried up form the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see whether the waters had
decreased from the surface of the ground. But the dove could not find a resting place for its foot, and
returned to him to the ark for there was water over all the earth….. He waited still another seven days and
sent the dove forth; and it did not return to him any more…. God spoke to Noah, saying “come out of the ark,
together with your wife, your sons and your son's wives.
After the flood Noah sends a raven and a dove to find out about the outside condition. Interestingly even
when he realises that it is okay to come out we see Noah hesitating to leave the ark. Only after Hashem
instructs him to leave the Ark, Noah comes out of the ark.
Bereshith 9: 20-22
Noah, the tiller of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and he
uncovered himself within his tent, Ham, the father of Canaan saw his father's nakedness and told his two
brothers outside.
This other disturbing incident is a little episode about his planting a vineyard and drinking from the wine to
such an extent that he in his unconscious drunken state is found naked by his children.Both these incidents
point to Noah who has difficulty coping up with the aftermath of the devastation of the world. Walking out of
the Ark into the open world was a painful realisation of what total annihilation meant. The realisation that he
alone was saved from amongst his own friends and family was very devastating. Could it be that we see
Noah reacting to this depression with wine? This giant of a personality is reduced to a drunk only because
the reality is too agonizing for him.
Recognising these facets of Noah's personality the rabbis compared him to Abraham. In Abraham's time too
God decides to annihilate the cities of Sodom and Amora. Abraham questions God by saying “will the Judge
of the whole world not act justly?” He further goes on to find some excuse to save them. In the Zohar a similar
comparison is made between Noah and Moshe. What did Moshe do when God decided to eliminate the
Jewish people? Moshe defended them, repented for them and argued with God against destroying his

Unfortunately we don't see any of these responses with Noah. The Torah repeats that Noah did exactly what
God commanded him. He acts without asking any questions. But his situation demanded that he question the
fact that the whole of humanity along with the animal kingdom was going to be destroyed. We don't hear from
Noah that he wanted to save humanity. Each one for himself is not a dictum that the Torah approves of.
Noah's description of a 'righteous person in his generation' is negative according to the rabbis. More than
mere meticulous observance God expects us to act to save others. Rabbi's assessment of Noah is that he
failed to have communal responsibility.
4. The Tower of Babel
Bereshith 11: 1 - 9
Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they
came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make
bricks and burn them hard.” Brick served them as stone, and bitumen served them as mortar. And they said,
“Come let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be
scattered all over the world. The Lord came down to look at the city and tower that man had built, and the Lord
said, “If, as one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing that they
may propose to do will be out of their reach. Let us, then, go down and confound their speech there, so that
they shall not understand one another's speech.” Thus the Lord scattered them from there over the face of the
whole earth; and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel, because there the Lord
confounded the speech of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole
This story is quite complex. People in Shinar discover an amazing technology of building bricks. With its
application they build a City and a Tower. What is so problematic with this project that God Himself interrupts it?
In the story of creation we see one important theme Separation. Darkness is separated from Light, Waters
from land, Heaven from Earth and so on and so forth till Shabbath is separated from the other six days. This
idea of separation is the idea of Divine limits, of Celestial boundaries.
When the story says that a tower was build to reach the heavens, which in symbolic language is the realm of
God, it is saying that humans were trying to use their unity and skills to invade and replace the cosmic inbuilt
order of creation. It was not the height of the tower that caused it to reach heaven; it was the attitude of the
builders. We know today that these towers are the famous archeological findings - Ziggurat, which were the
cultic temples of the Babylonians that housed idols or proclaimed their king to be god. Man made gods started
replacing the relation of man to the Divine Unity. Man made ideas were replacing the Divine idea of what
human role was to be on the earth.
How is this related to the systematic underlying theme of responsibility of the previous stories? Once we
recognize that the Babylonians fault was that they failed to recognise the Divine order of things, we are saying
that there is an inbuilt system and this cosmic code has set the boundaries of our reality. It is binding on us to
cooperation with it. Hence every area of responsibility be it personal, moral or communal is obligatory
because it is God's Will and not because humans can arbitrarily decide that it is so.
This then is the message of the stories of Bereshith that humans, since they are created in the image of God
have personal, moral and communal responsibility and this framework of human boundaries is defined
by God himself. This is a fitting prelude to the giving of the Torah - the Divine code to help Humanity realign
itself with the Divine Will.


Shabbath Sha