“Parsha and Purpose” – Noach 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“After the Flood, Who is Responsible for What?”

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Parshat Noach (Genesis 6:9- 11:32) 

“After the Flood, Who is Responsible for What?”

Every parsha has with it a reading from the prophets, a Haftarah. It was instituted at a time in which it was forbidden to read from the Five Books of Moses; and therefore it mirrors the messages of the parsha.

In fact, Rabbi Soloveitchik used to teach us, if you want to understand the central message of the parsha, look at what is stated in the selection from the prophets in the Haftarah.

In this week’s parsha of Noach, there is an argument between the Sephardic community and the Ashkenazic community about how much from the Book of Isaiah should be recited as our Haftarah, as our portion from the prophets.

The Sephardim suggest it should just be the first ten verses from chapter 54 of Isaiah (Isaiah 54:1-10), and the Ashkenazim suggest that one should recite those ten verses, finish chapter 54 and continue through part of Chapter 55 (Isaiah 54:11 – 55:5).

This difference between the Ashkenazic and the Sephardic community is not just semantics, but speaks to the critical message of Parshat Noach and of all of Sefer Bereshiet.

You see, the first ten verses of the haftarah speak about God’s responsibility to humanity after the destruction of the flood, where God promises, through the prophet Isaiah to the Jewish people, that God will never leave humanity again.

God tells through the prophet Isaiah, ‘You should expand your tents because your families will grow; they will never be desolate, like after the flood.’ (Isaiah 54:2)

‘You won’t be embarrassed again that you will be totally destroyed.’ (Isaiah 54:4)

‘I forgot you for a moment, but I will bring you back together for long periods of time.’ (Isaiah 54:7)

The focus for the Sephardim, for the Sephardic community, of the Haftarah is God’s responsibility to humanity.

But the Ashkenazim suggested that you need to recite a larger Haftarah: one that focuses on the covenantal relationship – not just God to the community, not just God to the Jewish people and humanity, but humanity’s responsibility to God and its responsibility as agents of creation in continuing the saga of Bereshiet.

And therefore the Ashkenazim demand that these verses are mentioned: that our ability to live in this world has to be predicated by being righteous, and not being deceptive one from another, that we should engage in learning about having a relationship with God, that we have to learn about what it means to be citizens of humanity and what it means to be part of the Chosen People.

And so the difference between the Ashkenazic and Sephardic tradition of this Haftarah is not random. It’s a response to the flood story: Is it just God’s responsibility to assure there’s no more floods? Or is it our responsibility to celebrate the message of all of Sefer Bereshiet?

And that is to continue creation through our engagement with society.

I believe, as an Ashkenazic Jew, that this is critically important, because a relationship with God cannot just be what He does for us, but what we do for Him and what we do for the world.

The responsibility to continue to engage and to guarantee that Sefer Bereshiet continues to live through our positive contributions in the continued creation of society and of the world.

Shabbat Shalom

Bezalel Safra photographed by Rony Nathan

The Extraordinary Powers Within Us Rabbi Bezalel Safra is the Administrative Director of OTS’s Yachad Program for Jewish Identity. Are you able to bring down rain? Do people have the ability to impact on nature?  Surely that is impossible. However, a moment of reflection will reveal we actually do believe in this notion.  We even …

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Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, so that they shall not understand one another’s speech” (Gen. 11:7). What is the connection between Adam’s existential state of aloneness and the tragic social isolation which results from the Tower of Babel, when one universal language …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Noach 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“How Will the World Remember COVID?”

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“How Will the World Remember COVID?”

How many lines will COVID-19 take up in human history?

Will it be a line or two? A paragraph? A chapter? Or a full book?  

I think it depends on one crucial idea that we find in Parshat Noach.

In Chapter 9 of the Book of Bereshiet, we learn that in the aftermath of the flood, Noach planted a vineyard. Genesis 9:20 

He drank the wine of these grapes, became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. Genesis 9:21

Noach’s son, Cham, saw his father’s nakedness and shared the news with his two brothers, Shem and Yefet. Genesis 9:22 

Out of respect for their father, Shem and Yefet covered their father, walking backwards into his tent with the cloth draped from their backs so as not to shame him. Genesis 9:23

Then, in verse 24, we read that when Noach woke up from his wine-induced sleep, he learned what his youngest son had done to him. Genesis 9:24

This verse is SO critical. 

You see, Noach is unhappy. 

He is depressed because of the loneliness that he experiences all around him. 

The loss of family and friends, the loss of camaraderie and community, all casualties of the flood. 

His depression causes his drunkenness, which is an attempt to escape his sorrow. 

But at this point Noach realizes what his depression has caused. 

He wakes up from his drunkenness, from his depression over the flood – “and learns what has happened”.  

Will we learn from COVID-19?

Will we learn how to have a true relationship with God? 

One that is concerned not only with ritual but also with the larger messages of the Torah, such as the responsibility to make sure that our conduct allows for all of humankind to be safe and secure… 

Religious experiences where ritual does not become an end in itself, but is a means to an end to ensure sacred moments in time with God.

Will we spend our time frivolously searching for religious reasons to explain why COVID-19 is happening, 

Reasons that are predicated on our subjective suppositions on how society should be organized – using the pandemic to reinforce our pre-existing notions?

Or will we allow the pandemic to awaken us from our spiritually drunken stupor to recognize that we cannot take family and friends for granted?

To realize it is not about explaining why tragedy befalls society, 

When such challenges arise, focusing on how we can engage to make a difference in the lives of the people around us?

How we recover from this pandemic will define how transformational this challenge has been.

Noach’s righteousness is predicated not on the fact that he does not sin, but rather on his capacity to learn from his mistakes.

Similarly, the role that COVID-19 will play in human history depends on what we learn from it, and how those teachings inspire us to transform society and enhance our personal lives.

Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom: Noach (Genesis 6:9 – 11:32) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel — “And Haran died before his father, in the land of his birth, in Ur Kasdim.” (Gen. 11:28) When it comes to questions of belief, the agnostic is the loneliest of all. On one side of the fence stands the atheist, confident …

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“Parsha and Purpose”
Insights from Rabbi Kenneth Brander into Torah and Contemporary Life

Parshat Noach 5780

Sources cited

  • Arvei Nachal, Noach 2:4
  • Genesis 6:16
  • Genesis 8:13
  • Exodus 35:11
  • Mishneh Torah, The Chosen Temple 2:2

Shabbat Shalom: Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin    Efrat, Israel – “Noah, the man of the earth, drank of the wine, became drunk, and uncovered himself within his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside.” (Genesis 9:20-22)  The name Canaan appears for the first …

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