Adam and Noah

Why are Noah and the world's impending punishment mentioned at the end of this week's reading?

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer,

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

Although the narrative of Noach (Noah) and the Flood is presented primarily in Parshat Noach, the initial part of this story is featured in Parshat Bereshit: “And God saw that the evil of man was great in the earth, and that the entire inclination of his thoughts was negative on a constant basis. And God regretted that He created man, and He was saddened (by man’s deeds). And God said, ‘I will wipe out man, whom I created, from the face of the earth – from man to beast… And Noach found favor in the eyes of God.” (Bereshit 6:5-8)

Why does the beginning of the story of Noach and the Flood start in Parshat Bereshit?

The actions of man (and of the animal kingdom) that precipitated the Mabul were not merely acts of great sin; rather, they were acts that wholly distorted and reversed the very Creation itself. We read a bit earlier in Parshat Bereshit (ibid. v. 2): ”… and they took to themselves wives from all that they chose”, which Rashi, quoting Midrash Bereshit Rabbah, explains as “even the wives of other people; even males and beasts”. In other words, the basics of Creation, such as marital fidelity, hetero relationships, and adherence to the natural order as decreed and established by God, were being overturned. As Rashi further invokes from Midrash Bereshit Rabbah (on ibid. 6:12), even animal life was violating the natural order. Hence, the world needed to be largely destroyed and restarted, as Creation itself was reversed by the acts of man and animal.

Viewed from this perspective, the Flood was not only a punishment, but it was a perforce response to Creation voluntarily capsizing itself and sabotaging its mandate.

We can now understand why the account of Noach and the Flood commences in Parshat Bereshit rather than in Parshat Noach, for the acts which caused the Flood comprised a mass defiance and subversion of Creation; the Flood was essentially the result of man’s and animal’s undoing of Creation, and not merely a punitive response to sin.

There is yet another connection here to Parshat Bereshit; that connection is Noach himself.

Unlike Avraham (Abraham), who was raised in a home of idolatry and who was from a pagan background, until he discovered God on his own, Noach was actually of esteemed religious pedigree. Noach’s grandfather was pious Metushelach, Noach’s father was Lemech (the second Lemech), who was likewise a believer in God (v. Bereshit 5:29, with Seforno), and Noach’s great-grandfather was Chanoch, who was a righteous man (with a weakness – v. Rashi from Midrash Bereshit Rabbah on Bereshit 5:24). Noach had a serious mesorah (religious tradition) of faith and service of God, even if Noach’s commitment may not have measured up to that of Avraham

Furthermore, Noach’s role, as per Lemech’s aspiration or prayer, was him to restore the inorganic world to the state that existed before the sin of Adam, and Noach actually succeeded in doing that, by inventing the plough and thereby removing the curse upon the earth that resulted from Adam’s sin. (V. Rashi from Midrash Tanchuma on ibid. v. 29; but v. Rashi on Yechezkel 14:14 from Midrash Bereshit Rabbah.) What emerges is that Noach, in terms of his righteousness and restoration of the inorganic world to a pre-sin state, became a reflection of Adam before the sin.

Noach was the new Adam, who was charged with salvaging the world from its own undoing and returning it to its intended role, as per God’s will upon Creation. This is precisely why Noach’s background and early accomplishments must be featured in Parshat Bereshit rather than in Parshat Noach.

As we know, the world under Noach did not totally fulfill its mission, yet Noach’s greatness planted the seeds that would eventually sprout and flourish into the beautiful tree of Avraham and the Jewish People.