Noah: Integrity in Diversity

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Noah

“They, and every beast after its kind, and every domestic animal after its
kind, and every
creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every fowl after its
kind, every
bird of every wing. And they came to Noah to the ark, two by two of all flesh
in which
there is the spirit of life. . . ”
(Bereshit/ Genesis 7:14-15)

The image from those verses is probably familiar to almost any American who has
ever
heard even a few Bible stories in their childhood: Noah took in every species of
animal that
walked upon the earth, so there could be a new beginning after humankind had
corrupted
God’s plan for a harmonious Creation. The story of Noah is rich with theological
questions
about justice, mercy, fairness and responsibility, but it’s also very much a
story about
God’s relationship with the entirety of Creation, not only its human
inhabitants.

Taking the Biblical story in its own terms, one might reasonably ask why God
commanded
Noah to bring the entire spectrum of animal life- what we today call
biodiversity- into the
Ark, when surely other means would have brought about the Divine purpose of
starting
human society over from scratch. A child would probably ask: well, couldn’t God
have
chosen to have the animals eat all the bad people, or cause a plague, something
like that?
Isn’t that easier than a flood and starting the whole Creation project over with
the
survivors?

To me, a central moral teaching of the Noah story lies in the image of humans
humbling
themselves in relation to other living beings: after a period of human arrogance
and
selfishness, the surviving people had to learn to serve and preserve the wider
world of
Creation in order for humanity to be renewed. Perhaps the reason Noah had to
build an
Ark was to teach him and his family (and, by extension, all of us who are in
mythic terms
his descendants) the value of every single species which constitutes the beauty
and
integrity of an awe-inspiring biosphere. Creation could not be renewed without
its
diversity, and humankind cannot exist apart from our larger ecological context.

More and more, people of faith (from many religions) are turning to stories like
Noah’s Ark
for inspiration as they seek to infuse religious traditions with an ethic of
ecological
awareness- and, conversely, many environmentalists are seeking a spiritual
language of
care for Creation in their work of advocating for sustainable and wise policies.
The Noah
Alliance is an interfaith coalition dedicated to the proposition that care for
Creation is a
central religious concern, and a core imperative is therefore to preserve the
richness and
diversity of our shared world. The Noah Alliance is currently working on
strengthening the
Endangered Species Act, and I encourage you to visit their web site and see for
yourself
how traditional teachings can inform very contemporary concerns.

At the end of the Noah story, God makes a promise never again to bring ruin upon
the
earth and <all> its inhabitants; the rest is up to us.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

For more information about the Noah Alliance, see their web site:

http://www.noahalliance.org/index.htm

For a statement on biodiversity signed by Jewish scientists and prominent
rabbis, see here:

http://www.noahalliance.org/resources/jewish.htm

For many more resources connecting Judaism to biodiversity, see the web site for
the
Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (upon whose Board I serve):

http://www.coejl.org/learn/biodiversity.php

And, of course, for the complete text of the parsha and further commentary:

http://www.jtsa.edu/community/parashah/index.shtml

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