BINA’s Education and Leadership Coordinator, Sasha Gold relates Parashat Noach to the situation in the world today.
Parashat Noach opens by describing the character of Noah and the society in which he lived. God commands Noah to build an ark, and so saves him and his family, together with the animals, from the destruction. When the flood recedes, Noah makes an offering to God who blesses Noah and his family and establishes a covenant. The parasha then covers later stories of Noah, the Tower of Babel and early genealogies.
In the days before the flood, God sees the corruption of the Earth and all its living beings, and decides that it must be destroyed. In almost all the human beings, birds, cattle and creeping things that exist in the world, God feels that the deterioration of his creation has reached the point of no return and contains no possibility of redemption. The solution is extermination, save a few chosen members of each species, in order to allow for reproduction and renewal once the cleanse has achieved its goal.
Reading this parasha reminds me of a famous feminist debate over the correct way to change the patriarchal society which we have inherited. Liberal feminists argued that we should adapt current structures and institutions in order to make them more equal and inclusive, while radical feminists believed that patriarchy is inherent in these structures and institutions, and therefore that in order to create change, they must be destroyed and created anew. Audre Lorde famously wrote that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”, claiming that it is impossible to dismantle unjust systems while still working within their bounds. There is a need for new tools, new language, a new world. Watching the Kavanaugh hearing last week, and feeling enraged at the corruption of a political system which allows a female’s story to be disregarded and disputed in the name of partisan power plays, makes me think that maybe there is a need to purge and destroy contaminated institutions of the past in order to reach a fresh era free of corruption.
At the same time, especially as an educator, the idea of just destroying what isn’t working does not sit comfortably with me. It seems like the easy way out – to just ‘blot out’ what doesn’t work, and start again rather than making efforts to repair and giving people the chance to redeem themselves. I want to believe that each person has within them the potential to be “a righteous person”, not just one in a generation. I want to believe that our world has the potential to be better despite the pervasive corruption which plagues society and its institutions.
In Parashat Noach, God sees the Earth’s corruption, but God also sees the righteousness of Noach. Looking around us, we must always see the injustices in the world, not turning a blind eye to inequality and wrongdoing. However, we must also make sure to see the righteousness in human beings, even those existing within structures we name as corrupted. We must build ways to nurture this righteousness in each person through education, care and love. Only through this dual vision – holding our criticisms and anger at society’s injuries together with our belief in human potential to be good – can we move towards creating a better world without destroying all that came before.