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Noah and the Flood: "Apocalypse"

by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein


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Part I

The embattled old men of the Marina Roscha synagogue in the north of Moscow understood the message of Noah and the Flood better than most. At least after the visit of the illustrious Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. The larger synagogue on Archipova Street was a well-known landmark, even to the Muscovite cabbies. The Communist regime allowed it to stand as "proof" of their tolerance of religion. The few Jews who still cared about synagogue use after seven decades of repression did not, for the most part, trust the big place, where government informants were rumored to roam.

In the turmoil after the Revolution, another synagogue, much more modest in size, had been erected in Moscow's north. For reasons no one quite understood, it had never been destroyed by the Soviets, as all the other synagogues of Moscow had. When the group of high school seniors from Los Angeles visited Moscow in 1988, we found the Minyan [prayer quorum] composed of men in their eighties, who had remained faithful to the Judaism they knew as children, despite the best efforts of the Soviets to purge their society of any religious practice. While they had succeeded, they knew that their children and grandchildren, denied the most basic Jewish education in their youth, had succumbed to the prevailing philosophies offered up by their regime.

After services, the men would gather at a rickety table in the rear, to study some Torah under the tutelage of one of their group who had attended a Yeshivah in his youth.
As it turns out, the great Israeli intellectual and scholar Adin Steinsaltz visited the synagogue the same Sabbath we did. The Torah reading was the section of Noah. What message did he bring them?

After services, the men would gather at a rickety table in the rear, to study some Torah under the tutelage of one of their group who had attended a Yeshivah in his youth. When he finished, Rabbi Steinsaltz began.

If you have to reduce the the narrative to a single point, he asked them, what would it be? Without waiting for an answer, he offered one himself. Imagine, he said, waking up and realizing that the entire world had gone mad. That you were surrounded by evil, and that you were the last person left who valued all that is correct and proper.

The men did not have to imagine too much. They had been there and back, in the madness of Stalin's purges and the decades of repression thereafter.

How would you regard life, or its meaning, or your own personal significance? Would you give up? Would you regard your own life as a crumbling monument to futility?

Again, without waiting for the affirmative response he didn't want to hear, Rabbi Steinsaltz continued. Noah was in that situation. His compatriots had benefited from generation after generation of warnings to mend their ways. They had turned a deaf ear to the righteous Methusaleh, who had pleaded with them. Decades before, a merciful G-d had asked Noah to publicly build a large ark, a project that would take him over a hundred years, in order to draw attention to His plans, and afford people another chance to repent.

None of this had done any good. Noah was mocked and derided by all, without exception. A lesser person would have doubted his sanity, or at least given up trying to swim against such a powerful current.


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Torah » Torah's Divine Origins
Shabbat » Reading of the Torah » Torah Reading

Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Tenth generation from Adam. Of all humankind, only he and his family survived the Flood which destroyed all civilization in the year 2106 BCE.
The first book of the Five Books of Moses. It records the story of Creation and its aftermath, and chronicles the lives of the Patriarchs.
A quorum consisting of ten adult male Jews. A minyan is necessary to recite the kaddish or to publicly read from the Torah scroll.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.