I know that we are all very familiar with parsha Noach—it’s part of every Bible coloring book, and you may have seen the movie, and once Diane and I had to carve a watermelon to make it into Noah’s ark for a birthday party. In other words, the story of Noah is VERY well known. Perhaps too well known. Because when something is that familiar, we tend to gloss over some things that might be worth a little more digging. There are some lines in Noach that I want to look at just for a few minutes to maybe convince you that there’s more here than the vivid picture of a large ark holding two of every animal.
These lines occur very early on in the parsha; in fact, they are part of the first aliya.
12 And God saw the earth, and behold it had become corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth.
יבוַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְהִנֵּ֣ה
נִשְׁחָ֑תָה כִּֽי־הִשְׁחִ֧ית כָּל־בָּשָׂ֛ר
13 And God said to Noah, "The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth has become full of violence because of them, and behold I am destroying them from the earth."
יגוַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֜ים לְנֹ֗חַ קֵ֤ץ כָּל־בָּשָׂר֙
בָּ֣א לְפָנַ֔י כִּי־מָֽלְאָ֥ה הָאָ֛רֶץ חָמָ֖ס
מִפְּנֵיהֶ֑ם וְהִנְנִ֥י מַשְׁחִיתָ֖ם
Notice that word ‘corruption.’ NEESHCHATA. The word appears twice in the earlier verse, and HAMAS—violence, sound familiar?—appears in the second. Many scholars have asked what exactly was the sin of mankind that was so terrible that God had to destroy the entire earth. And no one is quite sure. ‘Corruption’ is a pretty general term, and even ‘violence’ isn’t exactly clear. Not everyone even agrees that the correct translation is violence. For example, the Jewish Publication Society of 1917 translates the passage as “the earth was filled with violence.” But in 1985, that same society translated it as “the earth was filled with lawlessness.” And some texts interpret ‘lawlessness’ to mean idolatry. Finally, the Chabad site as well as the Judaica Press translate HAMAS as “the earth became full of robbery,” which in my humble opinion, just doesn’t make it. But, even if we agree on the word 'violence' we still don’t know what sort of violence. Violence, for example, can be psychological or physical. You can do violence to people, to animals, to property. Maybe this was a case of ‘all of the above.’
What is also interesting about this passage is that God has His own little play on words. When He states that he is going to destroy humankind, he uses the Hebrew “MASHCHEETAN,” which has the same root as the word translated as ‘corruption.’ Remember: NEESHCHATA? So, in a sense, God is telling us that God is going to do to us what we have been doing to the earth and to each other. Our retribution.
One other interesting passage I want to highlight. And this is from the very first verse of the parsha. We open with “this is the line of Noah.” Wouldn’t you expect that the parsha would then give us Noach’s genealogy? Wouldn’t you expect to read about the sons of Noach? But that is not what happens. The next line is “Noach was a righteous man.” Doesn’t that seem like a strange shift, to go from Noach’s lineage to describe his deeds, including how he walked with God? Rashi has a very interesting and famous explanation for this odd shift. Rashi claims that here the Torah is telling us that our “line” is not our children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Rather, our “line” is our deeds. That is, what we DO is what we leave behind. Our actions, our deeds, represent our legacy.