Haftarah Noah 5762
October 20, 2001
The story of Noah and the flood represents God’s second attempt to alter the world order and to eradicate evil. At the story’s end, God makes this promise to Noah: “I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the whole world.” (Genesis 9:11) Isaiah’s prophecy reiterates this promise to the people of Israel as a source of consolation: “For as I have sworn that the waters of Noah will never again flood the earth, so too I swear that I will not be angry with you and rebuke you.” (Isaiah 54:9)
The following story, composed 1600 years ago, uses this verse from Isaiah to capture an imaginary dialogue between Pharaoh and his advisors over how to subjugate God and his world. This story foreshadows contemporary events:
“Rabbi Hama the son of Rabbi Hanina said: [Pharaoh said to his advisors]: ‘Come let us scheme against the Savior of Israel [God] – How should we destroy them [the Israelites]? If we kill them with fire, then we will suffer punishment by fire, as it written: ‘For, behold the Lord will come with fire’ (Isaiah 66:15) and continues ‘For by fire God will plead’ (verse 16). We can, however, kill them with water, since the Holy One Blessed be He has already promised that He will not bring a flood to the world, as it is written: ‘For as I have sworn that the waters of Noah will never again flood the earth, so too I swear that I will not be angry with you and rebuke you’ (Isaiah 54:9). Pharaoh understood this verse as an opportunity to kill the Israelite children by casting them into the water since God would be unable to punish him in kind. Pharaoh and his advisors, were unaware, however, that God would not bring a flood upon the entire world but on a single people he might bring a flood; or alternatively, He might not bring a flood but might bring His adversaries to fall into the water. Thus it says: ‘And the Egyptians fled towards it [the sea]’ (Exodus 14:27), fulfilling what Rabbi Elazar has said: ….Ultimately the wicked will be cooked in the pot they cooked in.\” (adapted from Sotah 11a)
There are times in history when the wicked assume that their will is identical with God’s will or that they can outmaneuver God and impose their will on Him. Ultimately, God’s will and goodness will prevail. “For My [God’s] loyalty shall never move from you, nor My [God’s] covenant of friendship be shaken – said the Lord who loves you” (Isaiah 54:10).
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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