In this week’s Parsha, we learn about Noah and about God’s destruction of humanity, outside of Noah and his family. In what can seem like a pretty bleak and sad parsha, it can feel hard to locate points of hope. Especially coming off of a series of holidays which ask us to reflect in order to improve ourselves for the upcoming year, a story of people so stuck in their ways of hurting one another that God decides it can’t be fixed, can feel demoralizing. It can feel like we’re stuck in our boxes, and there is little to be done about it. Not exactly the post Rosh HaShana message we’re looking for.
But when you look at this week’s Torah portion through the lens of some of the Torah commentaries, you begin to see a somewhat hidden message of hope for change. When God asks Noah to take along two of every kind of animal, Ibn Ezra, a Medieval Spanish Torah Scholar, adds:
“…ask, what did birds of prey eat? What did carnivorous animals such as lions who live on meat eat? Their questions are invalid. One who cannot find meat will eat grass or fruit when hungry.”
To me, I don’t see what Ibn Ezra is saying as simple logistics, but a strong message in the light of the text upon which it is commenting. If lions, without the intellect and free will of humans and for whom it is in their nature to eat meat, can adapt, all the more so are we, as humans, not confined to what we feel is our nature.
Within the text itself, there are also hints at the hope and confidence that God has for us to be able to change. While it seems implausible, or even impossible, that this story could demonstrate God’s confidence in humanity to change their ways Rashi, a Medieval French Torah Scholar, points to something anomalous in the text of Bereishit Chapter 7, Verse 12. He notes the superfluous mention of the rain lasting 40 days and 40 nights:
“But later on (v. 17) it says. ‘And the Flood was upon the earth’! But the explanation is this: when He poured down the water at first He made it fall in mercy (gently), in order that if the people would repent, it might prove a rain of blessing; but when they did not repent it became a destructive flood.”
Despite the fact that humans had been acting selfishly for a long period of time before the flood, God still had faith that within the timeframe of the rain starting and when He would begin the true flood, humans would be able to break their long established patterns, what they perceived as their nature, and to make amends.
Although ultimately a tale of sadness, the story of Noach’s generation does not reinforce the idea of stagnancy and inalterability. In our lives too, it can seem that the ways our lives are constructed and structured can leave very little room for change. For us as university students, the onslaught of exams, job hunts, and grad school applications can make it seem like there is no time and/or room for growth for change. The story of Noach can remind us that even though it can seem impossible at times, we are more capable of change than we think.