This week’s Torah portion tells the familiar story of Noah and the ark. Many of us learned this tale as children, focusing on the animals and the rainbow with which it concludes. But, as any adult who comes back to it realizes, this is not a story for children. It portrays God as dissatisfied with creation and willing to destroy all but one family and keep only enough animals to perpetuate their species. In just two lines it dismisses the horror and suffering of all other life:
Then all flesh that stirred on earth perished—birds, beasts, and
all the things that swarmed upon the earth, and all humankind.
All in whose nostrils was the merest breath of life, all that was
on dry land, died. (Genesis 7:21-22)
It might be tempting to condemn a deity that could seem so cruel. But, the Torah does not see the flood as an arbitrary act. The cause for this destruction, according to Genesis 6:5, was that, “God saw how great was humanity’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by the human mind was nothing but evil all the time.” While this may be an overly harsh condemnation of human nature, it points to our own capacity for destruction. In our current climate crisis, we must acknowledge humanity’s role in destroying the great gift of creation, upon which we depend for our very survival. If we are dismayed by the Genesis account of the earth’s devastation, we should surely be moved to concern for our own situation and take whatever action we can to prevent another such loss.
— Rabbi Drorah Setel