FLOODS, NOW AND THEN
Comparisons between global warming and Noah's ark are so overwrought that there has even been a cheesy 2014 Hollywood movie preaching this lesson. Yet, this year, such linkage is inescapable as we read parshat Noach one week after the latest dire UN report on climate change and days after a massive hurricane hit the South Eastern US.
While most draw parallels with an eye towards extreme weather and rising sea levels, an examination of the social and political failures that brought on the flood is even more disturbingly evocative of today's global paralysis.
Rashi asks why God needed to instruct Noah to build an ark. Couldn't God have saved his family in a less labour intensive manner? Rashi answers that the ark was a conversation starter. People would ask Noah what he was building and he would answer them by describing the impending flood. This should have spurred them to repent. It did not!
The Talmud in Sanhedrin 108b describes some of the conversations between Noah and his contemporaries:
Noah the righteous would rebuke the people of his generation, and he said to them statements that are harsh as torches [kelapidim], and they would treat him with contempt. They said to him: Old man, why are you building this ark? Noah said to them: The Holy One, Blessed be He, is bringing a flood upon you. They said to him: A flood of what? If it is a flood of fire, we have another item and it is called alita, and it is fireproof. And if it is a flood of water that He brings, if He brings the water from the earth, we have iron plates with which we can plate the earth to prevent the water from rising. And if He brings the water from the heavens, we have an item and it is called ekev, and some say it is called ikkesh, which will absorb the water.
The Torah describes a selfish thieving disregard for others (chamas) as the reason for the flood. The Talmud depicts how this selfish disregard continued in the people's response to Noah's warnings. Jonah delivered a similar message to the sinful people of Ninveh. They heeded his rebuke at the behest of their king. The people in Noah's generation lacked the political means and the social will to take seriously his rebuke. They responded with a mocking disregard that underlined the very sins that begot the crisis.
In thinking about our future, it is worthwhile to reflect not just on ocean temperatures, but also on the "sinful" inability of humanity to work together to address what ails us. Our social environment and natural environment depend on one another.