January 28, 2023 |

Parshat Noach: Walkthrough

So here’s the story of Noach: Noach was a great man, especially considering when he lived, and he had 3 sons: Shem, Cham, and Yefet.

The world had gotten pretty bad, and God saw that people had lost their way. So God told Noach, “I have decided to destroy the world, but I want you to build an ark to save yourself & your family from the flood I’m about to bring. And I’d like to save the animals too, so bring two of each kind with you as well. And don’t forget something to eat, this might be awhile.”

Noach was not about to argue. He built the ark.

The time came, and God told Noach to get inside, as the 40-day thunderstorm was about to begin. So the whole family & all the animals got into the ark, God closed the door for him, and at the end of the week the flood started. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights, and the water got so high it covered the mountains. All the creatures that God created in last week’s parsha were destroyed, from the insects to the animals to the birds, and only Noach and the animals he saved were left. This went on for more than 5 months.

Thankfully, at this point God remembers Noach and his crew. The water starts to recede, and about another 5 months later, the mountaintops could be seen again.

Luckily, God had the foresight to tell Noach to make a window for the ark. Noach used that now to send a raven, which flew around but didn’t really help much. He then sent a dove, which had similar luck. A week later he tried sending the dove again, and this time it brought back an olive branch, which seemed to mean there were actually trees somewhere, a good sign. The next time he sent the dove out it did not return the ark, even better.

A short time later, it had actually dried up enough to leave the ark.

So God told Noach he and the animals could all leave, which they did. Noach then sacrificed some of the animals (making them wonder – all that... for this?), which prompted God to decide that He would no longer do this when man misbehaves, because that seems to just be the way he is.

So to Noach, God says, “Go ahead, raise your families and return to life as usual. You can eat meat if you like, but only animal meat – please treat other people well. And as a sign that I’m not going to do this again, I have put a rainbow in the clouds – when you see that rainbow, remember this promise that I will never again destroy the whole world.”

Noach, having been cooped up on a boat for the better part of a year, now decides to plant a vineyard and make wine. Cham, his son, saw his father acting drunk and in a compromising position, so he got his brothers and together they covered Noach up, being careful to be respectful of him. Noach woke up the next morning angry (and perhaps somewhat embarrassed) at what Cham saw the night before, and cursed him, blessing his brothers at the same time, thus continuing a long Biblical precedent of sibling rivalry and paternal favoritism. Just wait.

In any case, Noach lived another few hundred years (he was already 600 when the flood happened), and his children all had children of their own, each of which lived impressively long lifetimes. Many of them we will encounter later on as the various nations named after them. But fast-forwarding a few hundred years, there are now lots of people, all distant cousins and all speaking the same language (but with not much to say).

At some point, they settled in a valley in what we would now call the Fertile Crescent, and they started building a city. And they said to themselves, “Let’s build a tower, as high as the sky, and get famous doing it.” (They did, and they did, but not in the way they had planned).

Now God came to visit, and saw the city, and the tower. And God said, “Hey, they all speak the same language and they are the same people, and that’s what got them started in the first place. But if we mix up their languages so that they can no longer understand each other...”

So that’s what God did, and in short order the construction stopped. And that’s why they named the town “Babel”, which means “to mix up” in Hebrew.

Lastly, we drill down into the children of Shem, as his descendents are most important to the upcoming story. Ten generations later, people are no longer living for hundreds of years, and we get to a man named Terach, who had 3 sons: Avram, Nachor, and Haran. Haran has a son Lot (who we will encounter later); Avram and Nachor each get married – Avram to a woman named Sarai, and Nachor to Milka (who was Haran’s daughter, his niece). But with all this begetting, Sarai cannot conceive.

Terach takes his son Avram, his grandson Lot, and Avram’s wife Sarai to head towards Canaan from their home in Ur Casdim, and on their way they settle in a place called Charan. Terach is not destined to make it all the way to Canaan, however, and dies in Charan.

And so ends Parshat Noach, with a new world just created, then destroyed completely save but one family, the collaboration around the Tower of Babel followed by the development of myriad languages, ending with a spotlight on a new family, one which will take over the storyline in the coming weeks.


Jack Kustanowitz

Joined: July 15, 2007

Jack is an Internet professional living in Silver Spring, MD. He is a proud alum of the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ as well as Boston University, where he was active at BU Hillel.

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Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld

Joined: August 8, 2007

Shmuel is Rabbi of Ohev Sholom -- The National Synagogue, the oldest Orthodox synagogue in Washington, DC. His communal responsibilities include teaching classes, coordinating adult education, creating programs for the elderly,the youth, and the sick, and ministering to the pastoral needs of the...

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