The World Must Be Our Ark
Among other things, this week’s Parashat Noah focuses on the story of the Flood and the Covenant of the Rainbow that G!D makes with humanity as a sign that the world will never be destroyed again. My colleague, Jeremy Benstein, the fellowship director of the Abraham Joshua Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership in Tel Aviv, wrote the following extremely relevant and timely commentary:
…[T]he simple "child-friendly" reading of the Flood story is quite rosy and optimistic: virtue triumphs, evil is punished, the menagerie is saved, and a colorful rainbow appears to seal the bargain.
But between the lines lies a much darker tale: Noah and family must have witnessed inconceivable carnage. Everyone they knew died and they drifted aimlessly for over a year, presumably amidst floating corpses and other horrors. The world was a wasteland that they had to rebuild with the nightmarish memories of survivors. It's no wonder that Noah planted a vineyard and drowned his sorrows (Gen. 9:20-21).
This story of global destruction, human sin and righteousness demands re-reading in light of current reality. One theme is clear: the complete interdependence between humans and the natural world. Human behavior pollutes and then dooms the entire world.
God orders Noah to build an ark to save not only himself and his family, but significantly, also exemplars of all the animals. And the covenant itself is with all of creation:
"And God said to Noah and to his sons with him,
'I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come,
and with every living thing that is with you –
birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well –
all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth' " (Gen. 9:8-10).
But the divine promise to refrain from eco-cide is no longer comforting; for we have acquired the god-like powers to influence the continued existence of the human race and the world in which we live, which beforehand were the exclusive province of God.
In Genesis 8, it is promised that the natural order will continue. But now we are the ones altering basic earth systems: from global warming that threatens "cold and heat, summer and winter" as we know them, to chemicals such as endocrine disrupters that blur the distinctions between the sexes in animals, upsetting the procreation of species.
Regarding biodiversity, we are in the midst of an era of mass species extinction the likes of which the world has not seen since the disappearance of the dinosaurs.
A challenge worthy of Noah, but here we cannot apply Noah's solution: there is no ark that we can build in order to save species that are disappearing due to destructive human activities.
The whole world must be our ark and the fate of all its passengers is one fate. Will we be bnei Noah righteous people in our generation, showing compassion and foresight, and preserving God's Creation?
[Benstein, Jeremy. Compact of Conservative Judaism, Cheshvan 5766. The World Must Be Our Ark.]