Parashat Noah

From Noah to Abraham

The transformation of God and humanity is a dynamic process, with each making the other possible.

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The God of Noah and the God of Abraham

But the distinction between the stories is not solely one of human behavior--in fact, the God with whom Noah and Abraham interact is essentially different. When God sees the corruption of the world in Parashat Noah, God simply decides to "put an end to all flesh" and acts accordingly. Yet before God destroys Sodom, we are told the following:

"Now the LORD had said, 'Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…? For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is just and right, in order that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what He has promised him.' Then the LORD said, 'The outrage of Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave! I will go down to see whether they have acted altogether according to the outcry that has reached Me'…Abraham came forward and said, 'Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? What if there should be 50 innocent within the city; will You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent 50 who are in it?'" (Genesis 18:17-24)

God reaches out to Abraham and involves him in decision-making. Bereshit Rabbah compares this episode to one in which a King refuses to make a judgment without his most beloved counselor. The God of Abraham is not the God of Noah. God has matured and now understands the need to involve humanity in the operation of the world. This, in turn, has allowed for a maturation in humanity, embodied in Abraham who is able to engage critically in such decisions.

Indeed, Rabbi Judah describes the difference between Noah's walking with God and Abraham's walking before God as the difference between a King (God) who invites his lost friend to walk with him (Noah) and a King who himself is lost and whose friend (Abraham) is invited to walk in front of him and light the way, implying God's recognition of the need for human aid.

The God of Noah and the God of Abraham are then radically different. The God of Abraham recognizes the importance of human involvement and perhaps the limits of divine omniscience.

Mutual Maturation

Yet, it is not simply divine maturation which enables this new relationship. Ultimately, these texts suggest that the transformation of God and humanity is a dynamic process, with each making the other possible. It is Abraham's readiness to act, his courage, and his initiative that enable God to enter into a new kind of divine-human relationship.

We, as individuals, inhabit both poles of this relationship. When we are in positions of power, we must learn from the example set by the mature, Abrahamic God. In such cases it is our responsibility to genuinely engage with those most affected by our decisions and those whose perspectives differ from ours, as God consulted Abraham in deciding the fate of Sodom.

At other times we must follow Abraham's example, challenging those in power and reminding them of their values. In either case, whether we are emulating Abraham or the God of Abraham, we must recognize that our own transformation is wrapped up in our interlocutor's, that maturation is mutual and dynamic.

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Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels

Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels teaches Jewish thought and mysticism at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.