Parashat Noah -- Genesis 6:9-11:32
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Questions for Young Children

  • Have you seen pictures or heard about a flood that happened recently? Was it scary to see the pictures? How were people and animals saved from drowning?
  • Do you like rainbows? Why? What did the rainbow mean in the Noah story?
  • Why do you think there are so many languages spoken across the globe? Would it be better for everyone to speak the same language?

Questions for Older Children

  • Do you think it was fair for God to bring a flood when he discovered the earth was filled with evil? Why or why not?
  • Why does God decide never again to bring a flood to destroy the earth?
  • In the Tower of Babel story, why does God scatter all the people and prevent them from speaking one language? Do you think that was a good idea?

 

Questions for Teens and Adults

  • Noah and his family were saved because Noah was a righteous man in his generation. At the end of the story, we see Noah behaving in an unseemly way. How do you reconcile the various images of Noah?
  • Does it make a difference that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights rather than 38 days and nights? When else does the number 40 pop up in the Torah? What’s its significance?
  • In the Tower of Babel story people seem to want to be near to God. What’s wrong about their desire? Why does God scatter them?
  • Do the flood story and Tower of Babel work for you as etiological stories?
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Centerpiece possibilities for this week probably abound in your household.
1. Create Noah’s ark

       You may have a poster, picture book, or toy Noah's ark around the house to place on the table.

       Using numeric birthday candles, place the number 40 on the table and talk about the signigicance of numbers in the Torah.

       

2.  Create a Tower of Babel centerpiece.

         Arrange foods from around the world on your table to signify that all the world came together to build the tower.

          Collect building materials like Legos, blocks, magnetic building pieces and enlist your guests to become builders.  Together with your builders, examine images of ziqqurats and see               if  you can make your structure follow the same architectural pattern.

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The story of the flood (mabul) is one of the most well known Biblical accounts. While there are many flood stories in many cultures, the account in B'reishit focuses on the decision of God to wipe out mankind because of their immoral behavior. Yet, God saves Noah and his family because Noah was a “righteous man and walked with God.” Noah spends 40 days and nights in his rudderless ark with his family and the animals until God sends a wind and the waters subside. Noah releases a raven and then a dove, but neither finds dry land. Finally, a second dove is released and returns with an olive branch indicating dry land. The flood story concludes with God establishing a brit (covenant) with Noah symbolized by the rainbow. The parasha continues with the puzzling story of the Tower of Babel.

Find the food connection...

ד וַתָּנַח הַתֵּבָה בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי, בְּשִׁבְעָה-עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ, עַל, הָרֵי אֲרָרָט

The ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.

--Genesis 8:4

Mt. Ararat Soup!

Full disclosure -- this Turkish soup is more traditional near the Black Sea than the Ararat Mountains. You'll find wheat fields and not cabbage patches in that area of Anatolia.

The Side Dish
In Hebrew when asking why or what’s your reason, we sometimes use the phrase l’shem ma? In the name of what? Examine the story of the Tower of Babel and notice the narrator's reason for all the people to labor together to build a magnificent structure is to make a name for themselves.


“Come let us build us a city and a tower with its top in the sky to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.” (11:4)

And what’s wrong with building to make a name for oneself? Think of the famous architects and sponsors of great building projects (e.g. Hadrian’s Wall, a Frank Lloyd Wright house, T---- Tower).

God’s response is immediate after surveying the work:
”If. as one people with one language for all, this I how they have begun to act, then nothing that they may propose to do will be out of their reach.” (11:5)

God seems to react to the hutzpadik nature of this endeavor when we might expect God to be celebrating human achievement or human unity. Reading the commentaries on these verses, the readers sees that most justify God’s worry on the grounds that humans are demonstrating arrogance or that in the building process, overseers didn’t take into account the pain of the workers.

Considering the parasha as a whole from the mabul (flood) to Noah’s geneaology that spans the known world to the Tower of Babel account, it seems that God has learned a bit about his human creation. Humans are imperfect, they can corrupt God’s creation. God started over after the mabul with Noah and his family but, the episode of Noah’s drunkenness demonstrated once again that humans are imperfect. God’s solution is to establish the brit, the covenant. Humans will live under a system of laws and God will never again destroy all the earth by flood.

The Tower of Babel technology is impressive—people are busy making bricks and figuring out how to construct a tower with its top in the sky. This contrasts sharply with the lack of technology of the teivah (the ark). It’s a rudderless wooden box for Noah’s family and the animals. Every step of the construction was dictated by God, not devised by Noah.

In the eyes of modern critical Biblical scholarship, the Tower of Babel is an etiological tale—it explains the origin of multiple languages. For modern readers it can also be a cautionary tale to think about technology and all our endeavors with the questions—l’shem ma? Why are we doing this? What’s our ultimate goal?. If your response is l’shem shamayim—for the sake of Heaven—and not simply to reach new heights for yourself, you are probably embarked on a very worthy endeavor.

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A Dash of Hebrew and English
Babel and babble. They sound alike.  Are they related? The Oxford Universal Dictionary's response is "perhaps." The first use of the word babble in English dates to 1460.  In Hebrew, the root of the word bavel may be from the Akkadian bāb-ilu, gate of god.  Aramaic fans will note that the ancient Akkadian word for gate is the same as the Aramaic.

A Dash of Modern Interpretation

In his recent book, Not in God's Name, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks offers a different take on Migdal Bavel, the tower of Babel story.  He reads it as an authoritarian regime forcing the world's people to slave together to build an impossibly tall monument and to speak one language.  The regime forces individuals into a collective mass without cultural identity and without individuality.  It gives pause when we think about forcing a group to forsake their language whether it be native tribes in Minnesota, non-Castilian speakers in Franco's Spain, or a host of other examples like Singlish, Karen, Romany.  UNESCO lists 250 languages that are in danger of disappearing. Rabbi Sacks reminds us that the Torah doesn't celebrate all of us being of one mind and one language.  We need to respect the stranger, not change her or him.

A Dash of Scholarship
Heard of Edenics? Isaac E, Mozeson? Mozeson claims that all language derives from Hebrew. In essence, he believes the Tower of Babel story reflects etymological history. To read a comprehensive summary of his thought, see http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/150768/examining-edenics. To be sure, Mozeson has legions of critics, but he also has supporters for his single origin of language theory. And, of course, the single language is Hebrew.

A Dash of Alcohol
Noah was the first to plant a vineyard according to Genesis 9:20. What’s the first evidence of wine cultivation? Archaeologists can date wine consumption to 7000 BCE in China. The earliest physical evidence of wine production comes from a cave in Vayots Dzor, Armenia—not too far from Mt. Ararat. Hmmmm. In addition to wine, we have evidence from ancient Mesopotamia (current day Iraq) of receipts, recipes, and poems about beer. Egyptian tombs also include evidence of beer drinking. On the heels of Noah’s episode of drunken nakedness, It’s no surprise that the attitude toward alcohol among the rabbis was moderation—except during Purim.

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Mt. Ararat Soup (Lahana Çorbasi in Turkish)
Pareve—Serves 12-16

IngredientsMt Ararat soup

  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 chopped onions
  • 4-5 cups of shredded cabbage (Don't use the food processor to shred. Cut into thin strips)
  • 1 cup green lentils (uncooked)
  • 1 cup bulgur (uncooked)
  • 1 12oz. jar of roasted peppers, pureed
  • For a spicy version add 2 Tbsp. harissa paste
  • 16 oz. can tomato sauce or diced tomatoes and liquid
  • 5-1/2 cups pareve chicken stock
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme or 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley and mint for garnish

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large soup kettle and sauté the onion until soft.
  2. Add all the remaining ingredients except the bulgur and bring to a boil.
  3. Simmer for 25 min.
  4. Add the bulgur and simmer an additional 10 min.
  5. Garnish with chopped parsley and mint.

Can be made ahead and reheated.

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