Noah’s Neighbors: World’s First Climate Change Deniers
(The Story of Noah is read in Jewish Houses of Worship on Saturday October 24,2020)
When Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden they forgot their user’s manual. They vaguely remembered that The Almighty had told them to “be fruitful and multiply”. As to their relationship and responsibility to the earth: on one hand they were directed to dominate the land and all that was therein and on the other hand they were told to work and take care of their environment. They clearly needed more guidance. It appears that they mostly decided to dominate and just ten generations later, the inhabited world was a mess. It is written:
וַתִּשָּׁחֵ֥ת הָאָ֖רֶץ לִפְנֵ֣י הָֽאֱלֹהִ֑ים וַתִּמָּלֵ֥א הָאָ֖רֶץ חָמָֽס:
“The earth became corrupt before God: the earth was filled with hamas."
The word hamas appears only five times in the Torah and has been translated as crime, lawlessness, societal wrong-doing, injustice and oppression. This tenth generation, Noah’s generation, apparently was out of control. Their behavior was abominable. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz commented:
“People’s lives in the environment of the time were apparently quiet and comfortable, with abundant food and water. However, instead of being happy with their lot, the people exploited the abundance that was in easy reach…limits and boundaries did not exist for them.” (Steinsaltz Chumash p.38)
Perhaps, like our generation, they abused their natural environment for profit and convenience. Did they destroy a habitat or two? Were they careless in their sewage management? Did they overcut the forests or pile their food scraps in a landfill instead of composting? Were they so busy extracting whatever they could from the environment that they didn’t notice that things were changing; that the water level was rising, people were getting sick and that there were fewer and fewer animals to dominate.
Noah is described as a righteous man in his generation. God warned him of the impending disaster. Was it a whisper in Noah’s ear- ‘Doomsday is coming- get out your tools”? Did the Almighty speak in a loud Charlton Heston voice that shook the entire neighborhood? Perhaps God communicated through the natural world; darkening the skies and causing unusual migrations of animals. Noah paid attention. He looked and he listened. He noticed the rising water and he was aware that the clouds were getting darker. The hamas had permeated beyond human society and into nature itself.
Noah’s neighbors must have been surprised when they looked over and saw this massive ark being built on Noah’s lawn. They might have whispered behind his back “There’s crazy Noah, building an ark in his backyard, says there is going to be a flood. What a hoax! Fake news!”
I don’t know whether Noah’s neighbors could have done Tshuva (repentance) and changed the course of history, but we can. We can look at the current hamas in our world; our floods, our forest fires, our polluted waters, our rising oceans filled with plastic remnants, our environmental injustice, our greed and we can act. There really is no choice. There is no ark.