Noach – On climate change, on diversity, and on peace

The Noah story reminds us about the fragility of this earth. The imagery of the flood takes on new significance in light of the urgency of climate change. Jewish environmentalism uses the Noah story as an allegory for the consequences of our choices today, something that can unite us in common purpose. Last month, Jews across the religious and cultural spectrum joined the People’s Climate March. We marched as Jews, as people, concerned about one another, our broader human family, and our planet. This was a moment of communities joining together – which also fits with the theme of the Noah parshah.
The text lays out a genealogy of the descendants of Noah. It is a reminder that, according to our earliest stories, we all spring from the same source. This is a repeated theme in the Torah. The many genealogies provided are a reminder that we are descended from these figures. The repetition in later books that we were those who were saved from Egypt (we say this at our Passover seders; we insert ourselves in the Exodus narrative), is a reminder that we are implicated in the stories we read – even centuries later.
Just as we are all meant to believe we were delivered from Egypt, the text encourages us to see ourselves as descended from those who survived the flood. There are other ways in which the Noah story prefigures the Exodus story. The 40 days of rainfall reminds us of the 40 years of wandering. Both Noah and Moses are “deliverers” of our people to a better land. And in both stories we are meant to believe that God saved us.
From a humanistic perspective, we can’t accept that God will
get us out of predicaments (especially those that we ourselves create). Rather, we must
save ourselves. Whatever is the flood that rises around us, seeking to consume us, it is up
to us to build an ark. It is up to us to care for the animal-life of our planet. It is up to us to
seek safety and security wherever we are, and create it in any land on which we find
Also last month, coinciding with the timing of the march, Ha’aretz reported that scientists discovered Ashkenazi Jews stem from approximately 350 people. Like we find in the Noah story – we are family. This parshah concludes with the story of the Tower of Babel. We
have just been told of the various nations on earth that spring from Noah’s line. The tower
of Babel reminds us of diversity – within and without our Jewish family. As Jews, we speak many languages from Yiddish to Ladino to Hebrew to the many diasporic languages we have acquired. We are a diverse group that still comprises only one of many peoples sharing one earth.
As family and community we need to unite in common purpose. We need to come together to build the ark for our day. The Noah story prefigures peace – it gives us the symbols of the dove and the rainbow. The story of the Tower of Babel encourages us to continue to work towards the perpetuation of that peace – despite difference.

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