This week’s parasha is Noach, Genesis 6.9 – 11.32,[i] and within this parasha there are two cataclysmic judgments upon humankind, the flood and then the disruption of unity with the confounding of humankind’s language at Babel. Granted the episode at Babel was not nearly as cataclysmic physically, but unlike the flood, the linguistic separation is still felt to this day.
There are times when we read this week’s account and wonder, how could the Creator of the Universe so judge humankind as to even regret making them (Genesis 6.6-7). Some would even go so far as to suggest that Hashem was unfair. We have no account of Him revealing to His creation what was “right” and what was “wrong,” so how could they possibly be judged? It is possible that it was this rational dilemma that caused Rav Shaul to write these words to the believers in Rome,
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. In unrighteousness they suppress the truth, because what can be known about God is plain to them—for God has shown it to them. His invisible attributes—His eternal power and His divine nature—have been clearly seen ever since the creation of the world, being understood through the things that have been made. So, people are without excuse — for even though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or give Him thanks. Instead, their thinking became futile, and their senseless hearts were made dark. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image in the form of mortal man and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things. (Romans 1.18-23)
“…because what can be known about God is plain to them—for God has shown it to them,” seems to be borne out by Hashem’s words to Cain, “…sin is crouching at the doorway. Its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4.7b). Could it be, that the innate knowledge of what is good and what is evil is in the very essence of humankind, since the Creator Himself “formed the man out of the dust from the ground and He breathed into his nostrils a breath of life—so the man became a living being” (Genesis 2.7). We acknowledge that all humankind was made in the image of Hashem, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness!” (Genesis 1.26). Thus, it is not a far leap to assume that in creation, good and evil are self-evident, “So, people are without excuse…”. Humankind brought judgment upon themselves, just like Cain did when he killed his brother Abel. But Hashem bestowed grace upon His creation, Cain was protected from revenge (Genesis 4.15). Then, by making a covenant with Noach, He bestowed grace upon the earth, promising that He would never again destroy the whole earth with water.
Genesis chapter nine begins, “God blessed Noah and his sons, and He said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land.” Humankind’s response to this command brought about the episode at Babel. Instead of “filling the land,” Noah’s descendants decided they would never be forgotten, but would make a name for themselves and not be “scattered over the face of the whole land” (Genesis 11.4). Instead of obeying the command, humankind decided that they had a better idea. In Mishlei, this truism is recorded, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of Adonai will stand” (Proverbs 19.21). The LORD commanded, the people had what they thought was a better idea, and Hashem arranged the situation so that they carried out His plans anyway, “Adonai confused the languages of the entire world there, and from there Adonai scattered them over the face of the entire world” (Genesis 11.9).
The Haftarah for this week is a special Rosh Chodesh (the month of Cheshvan or Marcheshvan[ii]) Haftarah, Isaiah 66.1-24 (and rereading vs 23). This special reading connects well with the beginning of Genesis. First, there is Hashem’s work of creation, “For My hand has made all these things, so all these things came to be” (66.2a). Then as we see this week, it is His right or prerogative to exercise judgment and discipline, “They have chosen their own ways, so their soul delights in their abominations. So, I will choose their punishments,” (66.3b-4a). Probably the most important aspect of this Haftarah is that which connects it to Rosh Chodesh.
“For just as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, will endure before Me” — it is a declaration of Adonai — “so your descendants and your name will endure. And it will come to pass, that from one New Moon to another, and from one Shabbat to another all flesh will come to bow down before Me,” says Adonai. (66.22-23)
Genesis 8.22 is the LORD’s promise not to destroy the earth again, so long as seasons and day and night continue. In this Haftarah, Hashem guarantees Israel that her name and her descendants will continue – so long as New Moon (Rosh Chodesh) and Shabbat remains. Our God, keeps His covenant with Israel and with all humankind.
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.