Why did the Creator decide to wipe out the world? The story of Noah is one part of Torah where we want to ignore its reality – the portrayal of the Creator of the universe as murderous and vengeful.
Many atheists use the flood as an example to testify against religion as
a concept. Comedian Tim Minchin even uses it as a satirical source text for drowning kittens in his song, The Good Book. Is this the best example set by the source of the world?
Reading this story literally, the tale of the flood is abhorrent. If we compare Noah to other times where our biblical characters face similar situations,
a deeper truth emerges.
Noah is told that everyone will be killed and to start preparations to save himself. What is his response? Silence – Noah just gets on with saving himself.
Abraham faces a similar situation. With Sodom and Gomorrah about to be destroyed, what is his response? He bargains with God, trying to find something to make God relent. The search for 10 good people is his bargaining chip, but there were not even 10 good people. The cities are wiped out.
Finally, there is Moses. After the Golden Calf, Moses is told that God will destroy the people and start again from him. Moses doesn’t allow it.
He doesn’t bargain, he says no. Moses even says his name should be erased if God won’t relent. God has a change of heart and the Children of Israel are saved.
Our Torah is teaching us vital lessons about violence and genocide. If we think we can leave it in the hands of God to prevent horrific events, we are abdicating our responsibility as partners in continuing the work of creation.
These terrible instances are not caused by God’s actions, but our inactions. We have to be willing to stand up to even the greatest authority of all, or we will allow tragedies to occur.
- Laura Janner-Klausner is the senior rabbi of Reform Judaism