June 21, 2024
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Parshat Noach

The selection of perakim 54-55, in sefer Yeshayahu, for this week’s haftarah seems to be a rather obvious one. These chapters are found in the latter part of the sefer, in the section that includes the Navi’s visions of comfort, which explains why they are also read as part of the haftarot of consolation following Tisha B’Av. The connection to our parsha can be uncovered in the prophet’s words, “ki mei Noach zot li,” that “this oath of God not to pour His wrath out against Israel,” is like the oath He made regarding the waters of Noach, i.e., that He would never again inundate the earth, which—of course—is the oath of which we read in the parsha.

Many point out that the connection of the haftarah to our parsha can also be seen in the beginning of chapter 54 where the Navi calls for the barren woman to rejoice, a hint to the closing of parshat Noach where we read that Avram’s wife, Sarai, was barren—but would soon rejoice. Others suggest that the haftarah’s expression, “beshetzef ketzef—with but a slight (short-termed) anger have I hidden My presence from you,”—reminds us of the quick, relatively short-termed flood that inundated the earth when God, seemingly, hid His presence from mankind.

As is true so often, however, there is yet another, perhaps deeper, connection to this week’s Torah reading. The flood was not simply a punishment for an immoral and corrupt generation, or even a method to erase the sinful society. Rather, the flood was also meant to be the beginning of a new epoch—a new world—for humanity. It was, in effect, a “second chance” for humanity to live up to the moral standards of the Eternal God—something they failed to do before. Note how Hashem placed the first couple in Gan Eden, prohibiting them from eating the fruit of the forbidden trees and blessing them with the charge to increase and “fill the earth.” Similarly, He placed Noach and his family on Mount Ararat, imposing upon them the seven Noahide laws (sheva mitzvot bnei Noach)—a basic moral code for humanity, while also blessing them to “increase and fill the earth.” It was, in effect, a “re-genesis.”

The Navi Yeshayahu uses the flood, and its results, as a lesson to his errant generation. He does not comfort them with the promise that Hashem would retract His judgment and remove His punishments. Rather, he tells the nation that the punishments for their sins should be seen as an opportunity to start over—to repent, to rebuild faith in God and to recreate a moral and just society. Their suffering was meant to bring a “re-creation.”

In many ways, Yeshayahu’s lesson could be learned by our generation as well. No! Not as a “sinful” generation, but as one that has experienced indescribable suffering. We, the “next” generation, the redeemed generation who returned home after the destruction of the Holocaust, face a challenge similar to the post-flood survivors: to rebuild our faith, to re-establish our state, to reinvigorate our land and to create the just and moral society that Hashem demands of us.

We, too, must “recreate.” We are a generation that must “regenerate!” And, by doing so, we will also bring a brand new “Genesis.”


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

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