"And there was evening, and there was morning, day one", day two, day three, day four, day five. Each day of creation, the Torah declares the ending of that day of creation, telling us first that God sees God’s acts of creation and declares them good, making way for the next day’s creative acts. Only on the sixth day, after creating human beings, is the wording different. Gazing upon light and darkness, heaven and earth, water and dry land, plants and trees, stars and constellations, birds and sea life, animals and beasts, and finally the human being, God declares: "Behold it was VERY good." Satisfied with the world as it had been created and with the role assigned to human beings, God rests.
By the end of the parashah, however, God’s musing about the creation of human beings is very different. Listing the genealogy connecting Adam to Noah, the Torah declares: "God saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time. And God reconsidered having made humans on earth; and he felt sad in his heart. The Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human whom I created’…." (Genesis 6:5-7)
Notice we are not told of the specific acts that left God wondering about the evil that permeates the human heart, mind and action. Nor are we told this was about one or two people, but were the categorical assessments of all humans. Was it really so outrageous to think that humans would live up to their part of the covenant of creation?
In a week such as this past one which combined the joy of sukkot and the celebration of re-entering the cycle of Torah reading, these questions are especially poignant as we also bore witness to human acts of destruction and evil towards one another. Ten people, ten human beings, each one created by God shot dead by another human being in yet another mass shooting. An Israeli couple, husband and wife, murdered as their children bore witness. And, in another incident, an off-duty Israeli soldier and a rabbi stabbed as they walked through the Old City in Jerusalem. And, we are left wondering just as we re-open the cycle of Torah reading, is this a new cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians?
If Torah is real and relevant - and I believe it is - then as we read this Parashah this Shabbat, we read these words and weep. We feel God’s heart sadness, and we cannot help but wonder what questions or doubts God must be experiencing about human creation.
So, why didn’t God go through with the destruction of humans at that time? The Midrash of Genesis Rabbah tells us "God did not refrain from creating them, for the sake of the righteous ones who were destined to arise from them." In other words, God specifically chose not to destroy humans because God knew that there would be someone (or some) who would emerge, whose life would be governed by acts of human kindness, who would be willing to fight against the evil, to speak out on behalf of those who cannot, to teach others what it means to bring honor and meaning to having been created in God’s image. Perhaps it is for this reason that the next verse of the Torah (and the final verse of this Torah portion) reads: "But, Noah found favor with God."
Noah, as we know, was not perfect. But, Noah stood out because in his time, he emerged a righteous person whose way of being in the world had the ability to convince God that the entire human endeavor was not for naught. The image of Noah is not as an unattainable saint whose image is for someone else. Rather, Noah was the average person, whose way of being in the world left an indelible mark because he refused to give in to the evil of his time.
Today, we are tired and we are weary; and every day we hear news of people harming each other. While we may not want to join them in the acts of destruction, we can become calloused, resigned or indifferent. Yet, in this week of beginnings, each of us can be Noah as well. This is our task, this is our mission. Each of us has the capacity to act, think, speak, do in ways that we become and/or renew ourselves as beacons of light and love, and justice and compassion. Each one of us has the capacity to be one of God’s righteous who helps transform the tears of God’s sadness into seeds of hope in a world that so desperately needs it.