Haftarah Parshat Noah (Isaiah 54:1 – 55:5)
November 5, 2016 /4 Heshvan 5777
The association between this week’s Torah reading and the haftarah is based on a single verse found in the haftarah: “For this to Me is like the water of Noah: as I swore that the waters of Noah would never flood the earth, so I swear that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you.” (54:9) The intent of this verse was to offer solace to the generation returning from Babylonia, by noting that God’s lack of malice towards His people was as dependable as His promise to Noah never to bring about another flood like that which plagued the world in his day.
Of course, this promise was incumbent upon as a result of the promise that He made to Noah himself: “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 all of the earth.” (Genesis 9:11) God’s assurance to Noah was made only after he had left the ark along with his family and all of his passengers. The following midrash envisions that Noah was not so keen to leave the ark on account of his great insecurity in what the future might bring: “Noah was reluctant to leave the ark. He (Noah) said: ‘[What,] I should leave the ark and have children only to be cursed [with the potential for another flood]?’ (Remember, procreation was prohibited on the ark.) Only then did the Holy One Blessed be He promise that he would not bring another flood to the world, as it is written: ‘For this to Me is like the water of Noah: as I swore that the waters of Noah would never flood the earth.’” (Bereishit Rabbah 34:6 Theodore Albeck ed. pp. 315-316)
This midrash flips the stories and uses the verse from Isaiah to offer reassurance to Noah. Noah’s behavior, as recorded in this midrash, would not have been so remarkable. So many people who have undergone great catastrophes have found it difficult to recuperate and to again have sufficient optimism and faith to participate in rebuilding the world after what they have experienced. It takes tremendous faith and almost superhuman strength.
The prophet realized this important caveat for his generation which had to rebuild their homeland after seventy years of exile. The author of the midrash, composed a thousand years later projected this same truth onto Noah. Their answer was that faith in God has the potential to provide the strength and positive outlook necessary for the tasks at hand.
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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