Noah’s Sacrifices

Underlying the present parshah of Noah and the ensuing parshiyos, which tell the story of the patriarchs, is the quest for the Holy Mountain of G-d, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Adam’s body had been created from the dust and earth of the Temple Mount. And “to dust you will return!” — mankind must return to this spot and bring sacrifices in order to attain complete atonement for the “sin of Adam”, which is man’s intrinsic selfishness.

Noah set off on his quest having no idea where he was going. He was commanded to take seven each of all the pure species of animals into the ark. However, it was only after the flood waters subsided that Noah understood through his own powers of reasoning what G-d wanted him to do with them.

“And Noah built an altar to G-d, and he took from all the pure animals and from all the pure birds and offered elevation offerings on the altar” (Genesis 8:20). G-d in His bountiful mercy gave man command over all of nature, allowing him to take what he wants for his needs and desires. What G-d wants of man is to learn and understand Who is the source of this bounty — by restraining himself from taking everything, and offering part of the bounty back to G-d, in acknowledgment. “And G-d smelled the sweet savor.” (ibid. v. 21).

The essence of the concept of KORBAN, a “sacrifice”, is that the offered animal — symbol of our earthly, animal side — is “brought near” (KAROV) and elevated by being brought into the service of G-d in the form of the sacrifice. The sacrifice of a representative of the species elevates the entire species and brings it divine blessing. Noah’s offering after the flood established an archetype for the whole of mankind, his descendants. The ultimate fulfillment of what Noah began will be expressed in the sacrifices in the Future Temple in Jerusalem as prophesied by Ezekiel (ch’s 40ff.).

When man carries out the will of G-d, the purpose of creation is fulfilled and G-d maintains and protects the creation in accordance with His Covenant. In response to Noah’s willingness to fulfill his mission, G-d established His Covenant with him (Genesis 9: 11). The establishment of the Covenant was accompanied by a “Giving of the Law” to Noah and his children, restating their mission in the world and the laws according to which they must conduct their lives. Prominent among these laws are the prohibition of murder (as discussed in BEREISHIS) and the prohibition of the consumption of a limb from a living animal. The sign of G-d’s Covenant with Noah and his offspring is the rainbow, symbolic of how all the different powers of creation — the “colors” — are actually refractions of the unitary “white light” of G-d.

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Man’s side of the Covenant

Another of the fundamental laws of G-d’s Covenant with Noah is the prohibition of sexual immorality, which was one of the prime causes of the flood. Allusions to the rectification of sexual immorality are found throughout the Parshah. In order to correct the excesses of the generation of the flood, it was necessary for Noah and his family to practice complete abstinence during the flood itself (Rashi on Genesis 6:18). This is in accordance with Rambam’s teaching (Hilchos De’os, Laws of Attitudes and Personal Conduct 2:2): “If a person was at a far extreme, he has to distance himself from his previous behavior to the opposite extreme and conduct himself this way for a long time until he can return to the good path, which is the middle way.”

“These are the generations of Noah.”The names of Noah’s three sons are repeated several times in the course of the Parshah, indicating that Noah understood that the true purpose of the sexual urge is to create new life and breed children to glorify the name of G-d.

However, Noah himself was unable to rectify the entire world, and after the flood, he himself fell — he planted a vineyard, became drunk from the wine, and was uncovered in his tent. The theme of sexual immorality is uppermost in the story of how Ham “saw his father’s nakedness”. Rashi comments: “Some say he castrated him, some say he had relations with him.” Ham is the archetype of the unbridled sexual heat and passion, which brings man to the depths of degradation. Sexuality has its necessary place in the life of man, but its holiness is preserved only when it is appropriately covered with a cloak of modesty and dignity. This is expressed in Shem and Yafes entering backwards into Noah’s tent, averting their eyes, and covering his nakedness without looking, earning them Noah’s eternal blessing.

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The tyranny of Nimrod

After the fall of Noah, the ensuing generations again degenerated. The subtle allusions contained within the Biblical text are discussed and elaborated in the Midrash, which provides many details of the world in the period between Noah and Abraham. This was dominated by Nimrod, the archetype of the G-d-denying tyrant. With the world again falling deeper and deeper into chaos, the Parshah concludes by tracing the lineage of a new prophet. This was one of Noah’s progeny who WAS able to accomplish the rectification of the world, albeit not by himself, but with the help of his progeny, Isaac, Jacob and Jacob’s children. Abraham did not fall. At the end of Parshas NOAH we see Abraham (or Abram as he then was) setting off on HIS journey of destiny — to the Land of Canaan, and eventually to “the Place”, the Mountain of G-d in Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom!

Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum