The Torah portion for this week is Noach and is found in Genesis 6:9-11:32. In this portion, God sees how the earth is so filled with lawlessness that God decides to destroy all of civilization with a flood. God calls Noah, who is a blameless, wholehearted person for that generation and commands Noah to build an ark. 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. The rains come and the waters cover the earth until all human and animal life are destroyed. Then the rain stops and the waters begin to subside. Noah first sends a raven, and then a dove. The dove first returns with an olive branch, so Noah waits a little longer and then sends the dove out again. When the dove does not come back, the ark’s passengers finally leave the ark. God then 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). According to Midrash, they become so obsessed with the bricks, that they began to value these over the workers building the tower. Power become important over people. God responds to the vanity of their actions by giving people separate languages so that the people disperse and populate the world.
In both of these stories, the earth is filled with a time of chaos, where people have forgotten what is important. Both stories involve building. Noah builds an ark to save human and animal life even while he is powerless against the flood. In the Tower of Babel, people build to become powerful while devaluing the lives of those who help to build. Noah waits out the chaos until he and his family are safe to rebuild their lives and restore the earth. In the Tower of Babel, the people are strongly united for an unworthy cause and end up in in chaotic babble. In times of uncertainty, let us work to build safe spaces for us and those around us, and may we be willing to “ride out the storm” until we reach better times. May we also remember to value and respect the people around us and work for a better future.