The Torah portion “Noah” comes immediately following the creation of the world and the creation of man.
Nature and man are in symbiosis. The actions of mankind affect nature, and nature affects mankind. In the previous Torah portion of early Genesis man receives the status of master over nature.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28)
God then entrusts Adam with the Garden of Eden, to cultivate it and protect it. Adam even gives names to the animals. However, Adam and Eve sin and are expelled from the Garden of Eden. Their corrupt behavior affects their place in the natural world and their attitude towards it.
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.“ (Genesis 3:17)
At the end of the first Torah portion God says “For the evil of man is great in the land.” (Genesis 6:5) God decrees that the consequences of man’s evil will be punishment for both man and nature. Noah receives a calling to save mankind and even nature from extinction. God commands him to build an ark and save his family together with representatives from the animals.
Thanks to Noah, nature and humanity are renewed. God promises that human behavior as bad as it may again become, will no longer lead to divine destruction of the earth. After the flood God informs Noah and his sons that there will be no more flood like that one, and God makes a covenant with them, signified by the rainbow.
God promised not to destroy nature again, but does that assure us that a catastrophe will not happen again in our world? We are still masters of nature, and we often end up overly exploiting it. The destruction of nature is still possible. But this time it will not be a decree from heaven. It will not be done by God. If it happens again, it will be the doing of mankind. This time it depends on us human beings. The power of humanity to corrupt nature and ourselves is great, and it has intensified in light of tremendous technological developments.
Concepts like “conservation versus development,” ecology and green environment, have become part of the public dialogue, the social agenda. Noah’s Torah portion soon after the biblical Fall feasts, gives us an opportunity to look around and examine ourselves in light of questions of sustainability and environment.
These days the whole world is defending itself from the corona virus. Global warming is always in the headlines. Huge fires destroy entire forests affecting the entire globe. Animals go extinct. Glaciers melt.
Genesis 6 through 9 is a blinking warning light, telling us we can no longer ignore our influence on the environment. We need to wake up now, before our planet is destroyed a second time. This time it is not a call from above to one man named Noah. This time the call needs to come from all of us. It’s time for each of us to make changes in our own habits of behavior, habits of consumption. Everyone will do her or his part, and our planet will respond accordingly. We can all be like Noah – a blameless, righteous man in our generation, because just as we have damaged nature, we can also cultivate and protect nature.
If we want to experience Eden again, we will need to cultivate it and protect it