Lessons Of The Flood

The story of the Flood provides us with numerous insights into human nature and human relationships.

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Provided by the Orthodox Union, the central coordinating agency for North American Orthodox congregations.

Secular scholars speak of the story of the flood as if it were a myth, or a fairy tale. Not surprisingly, several ancient documents report striking parallels to the story of the flood.

Perhaps, the most famous document is the Babylonian "Epic of Gilgamish," which tells the story of a man by the name of Utnapishtim. The gods decide to destroy the earth, there is a great flood, and because Utnapishtim is the favorite of one of the gods, Eau, he is saved.

Gilgamesh and Noah

Despite the parallels between the "Epic of Gilgamish" and the Torah's story of Noah, they are strikingly different. In the Babylonian story, the gods arbitrarily decide to destroy the earth as if it were a plaything. Furthermore, the gods choose to save Utnapishtim only because he is a "favorite" of theirs, not because he is worthy of being saved.

In Parashat Noah, however, there is a moral imperative. The world is flooded not because God arbitrarily decides to destroy the world, but because it had become corrupt and destructive. Noah is not arbitrarily saved. He is deserving. He is a "righteous man, perfect in his generation. With God, Noah walked" (Genesis 6:9).

noah and the floodBut the flood changed Noah. After a year on the ark, Noah is finally commanded by God to leave. A normal person would have been jumping out his skin to get out of the ark. But Noah is hesitant to leave. Why?

The First Survivor

Elie Weisel, the great writer, offers a poignant insight. Weisel calls Noah the first "survivor." The world had experienced a Holocaust, and Noah was reluctant to walk out of the ark because he knew that the entire world was one giant graveyard for all the people he had known--and he just couldn't face it.

Once on dry land, after giving thanks to God and bringing sacrifices, the Torah tells us that Noah's reaction to the flood is to plant. Planting after a great destruction is surely a meaningful and satisfying response. It represents hope and belief in the future.

But what does Noah plant? He plants a vine and drinks the wine of the vineyard. He becomes drunk and wallows in the muck in his tent. Poor Noah. He cannot face the fact that everybody except himself and his immediate family was destroyed in the flood. He is unable to face reality. He needs an escape and resorts to alcohol. He becomes a drunkard.

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Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, is the Director of the National Jewish Outreach Program, New York City.