Parashat Noah

A Paradigm for Environmental Consciousness

Noah innovated a lifestyle of environmental awareness and action.

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Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.

While still in the Garden of Eden, humans, animals, and plants lived in harmony, according to God's desire for the world. After the Fall, maintaining this harmony became a great toil: the earth outside the Garden was thorny and tough; man and beast became adversaries.

canfei nesharimAfter a few generations all life on the planet had "corrupted (hishchit) its way on the earth." (Genesis 6:12) In our parashah, God decides to wash the slate clean and begin creation over from scratch: "I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created...for I regret that I made them." (Genesis 6:7) But one man's righteousness compels God to spare a small sector of life: "Noah found favor with the Lord." (Genesis 6:8)

Although environmental issues are not directly expressed in the parashah, when we take a deeper look at Noah, seeing him through the eyes of Midrash and various rabbinic commentaries, we can discover a portrait of a man who spent his life innovating a lifestyle of environmental harmony and Divine awareness.

Environmental awareness is an aspect of the mitzvah known as Bal Tashchit--Do Not Destroy. Noah, the one man who had not corrupted the world, became the pioneer of Bal Tashchit in the world--when he built the ark, the vessel that would preserve the planet's animal life in the face of the total destruction of the environment.

Noah and his family faced incredible hardship and challenge as they fought the tide of destruction. A fresh look at the life of Noah can provide us many lessons as we strive to bring our world back to a state of holy balance. What can we learn from Noah's efforts?

The Patient Educator

Caring about the environment requires patience and forethought. The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 30:7) says that 120 years before the Flood, Noah actually planted the trees from which he would take the wood for the ark (no old-growth logging here)! Aware of the massive resources that his project would demand, Noah tried to be as self-sustaining as possible.

Noah hoped that his example could help inspire others to live more conscious and righteous lives. According to one opinion, Noah spent 52 years building, deliberately working slowly so that the people would take note, repent of their destructive ways, and prevent the coming catastrophe.

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Shimshon Stuart Siegel is studying for rabbinic ordination at the Bat Ayin Yeshiva in the Judean Hills.