Student Devar Torah
The following Devar Torah was written by Mikayla Sacks and delivered at our High School Tefillot.
This week’s parashah is Noach. In this Torah reading, God instructs Noach – the only righteous man in a world consumed by violence and corruption – to build a large wooden ark. God says that a great deluge will wipe out all life on Earth; but the ark will float upon the water, sheltering Noach and his family, and two members (male and female) of each animal species (according to one version of the story).
Rain falls for 40 days and nights (there are versions of this), and the waters churn for 150 days more before calming and beginning to recede. The ark settles on Mount Ararat, and from its window Noach releases a raven, and then a series of doves, to see if the flood is over. When the ground dries completely – exactly one year after the onset of the Flood – God commands Noach to exit the ark and repopulate the Earth.
Noach builds an altar and offers sacrifices to God. God swears never again to destroy all of humankind because of its deeds, and sets the rainbow as a testimony of His new covenant with humanity. God also tells Noach that murder is deemed a capital offence, and while people are permitted to eat the meat of animals, they are forbidden to eat flesh or blood taken from a living animal.
Noach plants a vineyard and becomes drunk on its produce. Two of Noach’s sons, Shem and Yaphet, are blessed for covering up their father’s nakedness, while his third son, Cham, is punished for taking advantage of his humiliation.
The descendants of Noach remain a single people, with a single language and culture for ten generations. Then, they defy God by building a great tower to symbolise their own invincibility; God confuses their language so that they can’t communicate with each other, causing them to abandon their project and disperse across the face of the earth, splitting into seventy nations.
The Parashah of Noach concludes with a chronology of the ten generations from Noach to Avram (later Avraham), and the latter’s journey from his birthplace of Ur Casdim to Charan, on the way to the land of Canaan.
Now that I’ve finished relating the summary of Noach from Chabad.org, I ask you, what does this actually teach us? Well, we all know the story of Noach and the ark, as well as the story of God confusing the people’s language. The story of Noach’s ark teaches us about the importance of being righteous people. It also teaches us about the importance of trust – how we must trust each other in order to receive the greatest benefit. The parashah also teaches us the importance of humility, and not taking our lives for granted.
Another way to understand this Torah reading is to consider Noach as the father, so to speak, of modern technological advances and progress, due to his building of the ark. This then demonstrates the benefits of technology and how it can assist humans and our lives on this planet. Judaism has no basic argument against the rise of technology, and Jewish society is willing to strive towards physically improving the human condition of life on Earth. However, Judaism recognises that true psychological and spiritual comfort can’t be found in the iPhone 7, for example.
On the other hand, God promised there to be no more floods on Earth of this scale, however, considering it as a metaphor, we now have the flood of technology, which one could argue, is out of control. Technology could have the potential to destroy humanity.
So hopefully you’ve all been following up until now. So now I’ll ask again, what can this parashah actually teach us? Well, Noach, I believe, brings up the issue of technology and that while it can be extremely beneficial to the growth and progress of humankind, it can’t be relied upon and has the potential to destroy humanity. If you’re lucky enough to have parents who bought you the new iPhone 7 for your birthday, while you can enjoy the new…well whatever IS new about it, remember to give your mind a break, put the phone away, and appreciate the world around you and the people within it, because after all, they want to speak to your face, not your phone. And plus, you never know if it’s just going to explode anyway.