Noach: Exile and Hope

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Noach

This week’s Torah portion is Noach: the flood, the animals, the Ark.  The story is well known, but the moral of the story is less well known. After the Flood, God promises to Noach and his family that
never again will such a thing happen- the Flood was a one-time event,
and going forward, with the world re-created from Noach’s lineage,
humankind does not have to fear total Divine retribution. (Cf.
Bereshit/Genesis 9.)

On a smaller scale, however, the Bible does seem to endorse a theology
of Divine action on the national or communal level (sub-planetary, as
it were.) Thus, this week’s haftarah (Isaiah 54-55) compares Israel’s
exile to the “waters of Noach;” that is, Israel’s exile is a
punishment for the people but only a temporary one, and just as there
won’t be another Flood, there won’t be another episode of Divine
retribution after the people are redeemed from exile. (Cf. Isaiah 54:9)

Besides the “waters of Noach,” other metaphors for exile and
redemption are:

1) Zion as a “barren one” who will bear children and enlarge her
dwelling (54:1-3)

2) Zion as a widow or estranged wife to be espoused by God (54:5-8)

3) A storm-tossed ship which will be as steady as a rebuilt city
(54:11-12)

4) One who is hungry or thirsty who will be satisfied greatly (55:1-2)

What all these metaphors have in common is the theme of a temporary
disruption or problem which can and will be fixed and healed. While
many contemporary readers will question a simple conception of exile
as Divine action in history (after all, that gets the dispossessers
off the hook in terms of moral responsibility), one can also read the
metaphors. . . well, metaphorically.

That is, we can remember that exile and redemption are not only
historical narratives but also symbolic of the necessary struggles
over a long lifetime of spiritual journey. There are times when we are
estranged, alienated- from others, from ourselves, from our Divine
Source- but like a storm, this too may pass. There are times when we
may feel barren, hungry, cut off- but faith means believing that these
states need not be permanent, nor does internal state depend on
external circumstance.

The waters of Noach were terrible, but they were temporary; the
promise that they will not occur again means that we can’t blame God
for destruction that humans have chosen. The haftarah reminds us that
hope is a fundamental religious orientation: hope for healing, for
fixing, for reconciliation. This is what faith means: not dependence
on miracles but seeing past despair. Out of such hope great things
happen!

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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