The Torah portion for this week is Noach and is found in Genesis 6:9-11:32. In this parashah, people have grown so corrupt that God decrees that He will destroy all of civilization with a flood. Noah – who has demonstrated moral stature for his generation – and his family are saved. Noah builds an ark according to God’s instructions and, together, he and his family, along with a variety of animal life, board the ark. Human and animal life are destroyed by the flood. The rain stops and the waters begin to subside. Noah first sends a raven, and then a dove. When the dove does not come back, the ark’s passengers disembark. God gives Noah a set of moral obligations and rules appropriate for all humanity and in response, Noah offers sacrifices to God. God sends a rainbow, vowing never again to destroy the earth by a flood. The parashah concludes with the story of the Tower of Babel where the people, who all speak the same language, gather to build a tower to heaven to make themselves prominent (like God). God responds to the vanity of their actions by giving people separate languages so that the people disperse and populate the world.
In both stories, there is a divine response to wickedness. In the first, God brings a flood to stop pervasive crime – hurtful acts of people against one another. However, God protects the righteous Noah and his family so that they can repopulate the world after the flood and, hopefully, perpetuate righteous living. In the second, God changes the way people think and what they focus on by changing their languages. Instead of focusing on themselves and trying to elevate themselves to be like God, they are redirected to think about others around them, find commonality in new ways of communicating, and populate the world by being dispersed in it. The dispersion of language is a less severe response than a flood; however, it still has profound consequences. People are no longer able to get caught in a massive “group think” environment which does not allow multiple perspectives and takes the focus off the things that are important. As we encounter different life experiences in the coming weeks, may we be reminded to keep our focus and perspective on what is important in life.