Flooded With Violence

Noah's response to the flood indicates that violence is an ingrained aspect to human nature that must be acknowledged and channeled for good.

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Provided by CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a multi-denominational think tank and resource center.

The story of God's eradication of humanity with the flood is well known. The decision was based on God's deep disappointment with humanity's immersion in chamas, violence. God attempts to rectify the situation by regenerating humanity through a single tzaddik (righteous person)--Noah, and his family.

A midrash relates that God had created and destroyed several worlds before this one because all were flawed. Yet after the flood, God decides never to destroy the world (by flood) again. Why?

Perhaps the answer lies in Noah's response to the flood. When the waters dry up, Noah leaves the ark. We expect some expression of gratitude to God for having been spared. A song, perhaps, or a dance. Instead, Noah builds an altar and, unbidden, sacrifices some animals to God. God smells the pleasant barbecue smell and then decides never to destroy again "...since the devisings of humans are evil from their youth" (Genesis 8:21).

God realizes that even Noah, the finest of his generation, whose intentions are unimpeachably pure, expresses gratitude with a violent act. Violence, apparently, is a built-in part of humanness that cannot be corrected in any new improved model. The hardest part of the realization is that this deep-rooted violence is no less a reflection of God than any other part of being human. God, after all, has tried to solve the problem of violence with violence.

In response to these sobering realizations, the mandate of vegetarianism (Genesis 1:29) is rescinded as unrealistic. We are permitted to kill for food, but only in a restricted and controlled manner, and we must never kill each other. God makes a covenant, a promise, never to destroy again, to live, forever, with the imperfections. God seals the covenant with a rainbow, a wonderful symbol of weaponry turned into a commitment for hope and peace.

Rabbi David Nelson

Rabbi David Nelson's rabbinic experience includes five years in a small congregation, fifteen years at CLAL, a think-tank and center for leadership education, five years in a community center, and three years as the primary writer and teacher for the Reform Movement's Israel organization. He is now the campus rabbi and faculty member in Religion at Bard College in upstate New York.