The Structure of Salvation
Michael Jacobs is a writer whose work has appeared on and off Broadway, television and film, including thirteen television series that have won Emmys and People’s Choice Awards. The shows include “My Two Dads” and “Charles In Charge.” He and his wife, Patti, also a Wexner alum, consider their Wexner experience one of the most rewarding of their lives. He can be reached at MSJ26@aol.com
As a writer, certain use of structure can be very important, or it can be just a note from your editor. This week, it might be the key to a better understanding of the parasha. Structurally, Noah might have begun at the end of Bereshit. You would think that G-d might allow the first chapter of His Book to be dedicated to His glorious creation. A few uplifting words on the birth of man before we were informed of us His decision to destroy us. Perhaps that’s how He would have structured it if the Book was for Him. Chapter One — Look what I’ve given you/Chapter Two — Now look at what you’ve made Me do.
Instead, He decides to let us know at the end of the first parasha that this book is for us. Clearly the intent of Bereshit is creation. It identifies G-d as the Maker of all things, and then –“Hashem saw that the wickedness of Man was great upon the earth, and that every product of the thoughts of his heart was but evil always… And Hashem said, “I will blot out Man whom I created from the face of the ground…” but Noah found grace in the Eyes of The Lord.” (Genesis 6:5-8). This, to me, is testament to the graciousness of G-d.
In Parashat Noah, we begin not with doom, but again, with the glorification of the potential of man. Parashat Noah then, is designed to be about salvation, not destruction. It is the hopeful outline of our second chance and that’s the way I’ve always read it.
Much is made of Noah being a righteous man only in his generation, but when you consider that this particular generation caused G-d to regret making mankind, you begin to understand how great the character of Noah actually must have been. G-d clearly looks with great favor on the Holy Rebel. No coincidence that in the next Parasha, Lech Lecha, this generation will worship idols, and it will be the one man who doesn’t, who was even able to bring around his father who made his living in the business. Of course, from that chapter we get Abraham, the Hebrews and Debbie Friedman’s encore. But from Noah, this week’s focus, we get salvation.
So, what’s the cost? Let’s examine the first thing that happens when Noah steps off of the ark. What does G-d say to him? “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land.” (Genesis 9:9) Ah, structure. Where have we heard that before, structured the same way? Let’s go back to Bereshit 1.28 – To Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply… have dominion over the fish of the sea and the bird of the sky, and every living thing that moves on the earth… And to everything that moves on earth, within which there is a living soul, every green herb is for food.” But how does G-d continue to Noah? (Back to 9.9) “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens… every moving thing that lives shall be food for you;” So, Adam and Eve: peace with the animals, vegetarians. Noah and the kids: Beefsteak Charlies. No good. Couldn’t be good. What’s actually happening here?
Noah took responsibility for every species of animal on the planet for the last forty days. The world’s menagerie were his personal pets. Certainly there was affection between them, they followed him onto the boat. But upon leaving, the world changed drastically. “Please raise your seat-backs, your belongings in the upper bins may have shifted and by the way, we’re going to eat you now.”
Upon stepping off of the boat, the first thing Noah is told is that animals will dread man. They will no longer just walk on the boat anymore. They will instead be slaughtered and consumed because we are their natural enemies. Noah, his children and his children’s children are now recognized as barbarians in the eyes of the rest of the world, and in the eyes of G-d, who, by our behavior, was forced to change His language. Which is really just sad, let alone that writers really don’t like having to change their language. Especially because the characters won’t behave as they were created to behave.
Now, frankly, this kind of information about our children and descendants would send the best of us right to the bottle, so let’s not judge Noah’s next action too harshly. The rest of Noah is the begats and many generations speaking the same language, until, dressed in leather jackets and eating hamburgers, we decide to attack Heaven… interesting species, us. Parashat Noah reignites my strong desire to put on Tallis and Tefillin and thank G-d for every day He decides to give us.
But next week, in the face of all logic, comes Lech Lecha, the third part of the Man Trilogy. Whereas in Chapter One, Man is created by a loving and compassionate G-d, and loses himself, in Chapter Two, G-d finds one of us and offers salvation. And then there’s Chapter Three, my personal favorite, where one of us finds Him and becomes a blessing to us all.