On Simchat Torah we begin reading the Torah again from the beginning. It’s easy to think that we have read it all before. However, although the Torah might be the same, we and our lives are not. From one year to the next, the meaning of the Parsha can change for us. The challenge is to make the Parsha and its moral message live for each of us. This parsha contains the well-known story of Noah’s Ark and the Flood. Many believe this is an echo of the melting of the ice age, and the contemporaneous ‘Gilgamesh’ story is another record of a devastating flood. The metaphor of Noah’s Ark lives on in today’s discourse.
The Torah implies that G-d is experimenting with His creation, and the first draft did not please Him. At the end of Bereshit we hear, “G-d regretted that He had made man” because “the thoughts of his heart were continually only evil”. But “Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.” Noah is the new Adam, and when he, his family and the animals he has saved leave the ark he is given the same command as Adam, “Be fruitful and multiply”. This time G-d realises that mankind needs more moral guidelines. He gives Noah what have become to be known as ”the 7 Laws”. For example, as Noah has saved the animals, he is now given the right to eat meat. However, cruelty to animals will not be tolerated, and man must not eat the blood. G-d has learned that “the instinct of a man’s heart is evil from his youth”. This, however, is not ‘original sin’. It is the kind of realism that requires laws to live by. Murder is not permitted, for, like the first man, Noah and his descendants are made “in the image of G-d”. Every one is precious.
A few generations after Noah, the people build a Tower of mud bricks. Several have been found in Mesopotamia. Babel has several meanings, but it also means “gate of the god”. The people were arrogant, and wanted to reach to heaven. But their languages became confused, a mere ‘babble’. Jonathan Sacks (Covenant and Conversation) writes that ‘When human beings try to become more than human, they quickly become less than human”. We cannot live by technology and science alone. The world of the spirit is as relevant today as ever. Even in a week when a man can parachute from the edge of space, we know that Space is not Heaven.