Office of the UK Chief Rabbi
How responsible was Noah for the flood?

In Isaiah, the flood is called "the waters of Noah." What does that imply?

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis ,

UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Office of the Chief Rabbi

Is it possible that Noah bore some responsibility for the flood?

Such a seemingly preposterous suggestion arises out of the haftarah for Parshat Noach, Isaiah 54. There is a direct link between verse 9 of the haftarah and the parsha.

There, the prophet refers to the flood and reassuringly tells us that in the same way as Hashem has kept His word never again to destroy life on earth, so too He will keep His word not to be angry with us nor to rebuke us.

Now, both Abarbanel and Radak point out that this verse can be read in two different ways. In both ways there’s a reference to the flood, but there’s one significant difference between the two. The prophet says, “Ki mei noach, zot li.”

If you read ‘ki mei’ as one word, it’s “kiymei Noach,” – “Like in the days of Noah.” This is a reference to a particular period in time. Hashem is saying, “As for Me, this is like in the days of Noah.”

Alternatively ‘ki mei’ can be two different words. “Ki mei Noach,” – “Like the waters of Noah.” Hashem is saying, “As for me, this is like the waters of Noah,” as if to suggest that we can call the flood Noah’s flood.

This possibility is preferred by us around the shabbat table, when in ‘Yonah Matza’ (one of the zemirot sung on Shabbat) we sing, “ka’asher nishba al mei Noach,” – “Just as Hashem swore to us concerning the waters of Noah.”

Referring to the flood in this way is an indication that Noah did bear some element of responsibility. And the reason is clear: he was charged by Hashem to build an ark over a long period of 120 years. What Hashem had in mind was the possibility that Noah would reshape the minds and the hearts of people, that he would influence and inspire them to turn in teshuva, but he failed to do this with even a single person.

As a result, he did bear some element of responsibility for what ensued.

Let us therefore learn not to be like Noah in this respect. In the event that we are aware of a situation which is wrong and we are in a position to influence and to inspire others to change direction, let us never fail in our responsibility to change things for the better.

Shabbat shalom.




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