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Guilty by Dissociation

10/30/2019 12:39:50 PM


“A man is known by the company he keeps.” Which is to say, we tend to associate with people who are like us, and we reinforce each other’s positive and negatives behaviors. And perhaps it is this axiom that has always led me to believe that the Noah of the Bible was a recluse. Afterall, if the whole society is corrupt, then it must be that Noah is righteous because he has disassociated himself from the rest of society. He can transcend societal expectations and norms because he holds himself to a higher standard, separate from everyone else. Which fits well with the rabbinic story of how Noah’s neighbors would ridicule Noah for building such a big boat, doubting that God truly would destroy the world, and how Noah persists despite their resentment and pressure. But what if Noah wasn’t such an outsider. After all, did he have any cousins or family who perished in the flood? Were his neighbors strangers, or people who Noah interacted with?

There is some evidence in the text that might suggest that Noah was bothered by all the destruction. Following the math of Genesis 5, Noah’s father and grandfather will have already died by the time of the flood. Interestingly, Noah’s grandfather, Metushelach, dies the year of the flood(!) when Noah is 600 years old. It is as if God is waiting for Noah’s ancestors to pass on before destroying the world, lest Noah be too perturbed. Some commentators explicitly interpret the seven day waiting period prior to the flood (Genesis 7:4) to correspond to the seven day mourning period (shiva) for Metushelach. Other evidence stems from Noah’s choice to send a raven to scout the receding waters after the rains stopped. Our sages point out that ravens eat carrion, and they imagine that Noah was expecting specific things to be floating on the surface of the waters. Additionally, after the flood, with a new covenant and fresh start to the world, Noah plants a vineyard to drown his sorrows. Admittedly, some might argue he was toasting his success and survival, but I am entertaining the notion that perhaps surviving the flood wasn’t easy on Noah and his family.

As we interact with society around us, there are days when we might feel like separating ourselves from everyone else. Frustrated with corruption, lies, and needless drama, it is tempting to build an ark and save what you can. It could be nice if we could just put up walls, turn off the computer and ignore the evil in the world around us. However, what if retreating into the ark was a mistake? What if God’s covenant to not destroy the world again was a recognition that isolationism and separation aren’t good answers to the problems of society. I can imagine that Noah’s reaction to the flood reinforced the idea that when things are wrong, we don’t wave our hands and start over, but rather we pick ourselves off, and do the hard work of making things right. Did Noah give up on his neighbors’ righteousness? Was society truly beyond saving? It is convenient to think that the world was too far gone, thus justifying God’s actions. However, it just might be that Noah wasn’t fully convinced.

Sat, October 31 2020 13 Cheshvan 5781