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Cantor's Comment - Parshat Noach                                    October 9, 2021 - 3 Cheshvan 5782

10/08/2021 10:31:48 AM


Vegetarianism, veganism, plant-based meat alternatives, free-range eggs, free-range chicken, our options today for embracing a diet that is both kosher and conscientious can be found in every aisle of the grocery store, and humanity is better for it.  Who could deny that if we had to choose between two otherwise identical meals where one was sourced without causing suffering to another living creature… that that is an inherently better choice.  Don’t get me wrong, I like meat.  I eat meat.  But it bothers me when I go to my local Metro and see aisles of beautifully prepared and packaged meats that bare no real resemblance to the living animals that I know that they came from, because it means that I don’t have to think about it when I probably should.   Even my six-year-old niece insists that the chicken she eats for dinner is different from the live chicken she sees on a farm, and I’m not going to be the one who tells her otherwise.  This phenomenon is relatively new in our modern society since the industrialization of farming and produce which has distanced us from our food.  That distance has psychologically sanitized our food for us, so that we can conveniently avoid internalizing the connection between the chicken on the farm and the chicken at grocery store.  According to the Torah, the last time humanity did that, there was a big flood…

The story of Noah and the flood is perhaps the most universally recognized biblical story.  It is often one of the first stories from the Torah that we learn as children in Hebrew school, and why not?  Animals marching two by two, a terrifying storm, the return of the dove with the olive branch, and the meaning of the rainbow all come together in an exciting and entertaining narrative told by Donald Duck in Disney’s Fantasia 2000.  But like most biblical stories we learn at Hebrew school when we were little, there is a tendancy to leave out some of the more uncomfortable bits, such as the part about Noah getting drunk and passing out in the nude, or, when you take a quick second to think about it, the mass murder of all human beings on earth.  And then, there are the parts that we think we know pretty well about the story, like God’s promise never to wipe out all life on earth again, which turns out to be a lot more complicated and nuanced than we might have thought, with some shocking implications.

Bereishit 9:11 contains God’s formal declaration of the covenant, “v’hakimoti et briti itchem, v’lo yikaret kol basar od mimei hamabul, v’lo yihiyeh od mabul l’shachet ha’aretz” – “I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth”.  The statement seems straightforward enough, but it’s hard not to notice that God only rules out a flood as a means to destroy the earth, but says nothing about other means of destruction such as meteors, volcanos or nuclear war.  But it gets even more interesting when we include the other 18 verses that the Torah uses to more fully explain what this covenant involves, including this oddly placed rule for mankind:

כׇּל־רֶ֙מֶשׂ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הוּא־חַ֔י לָכֶ֥ם יִהְיֶ֖ה לְאׇכְלָ֑ה כְּיֶ֣רֶק עֵ֔שֶׂב נָתַ֥תִּי לָכֶ֖ם אֶת־כֹּֽל׃

Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat, as with the green of the fields, I give you all these. (9:3)

It begs the question… was man not permitted to eat meat before this new rule?  In the beginning, God created a perfect world, a literal Garden of Eden, and nowhere in the Torah does it say that a single creature died, let alone been killed, let alone been eaten.  One way to offer a modern spin on the traditional teaching from our sages would be to say that the Garden of Eden was like an all-inclusive 5-star resort, that, by the time of the flood, had devolved into Lord of the Flies, where life was no longer sacred, neither human nor animal life.  The free-for-all had to end, and the reset button had to be pushed, a creation do-over with new rules.  And this time, for the first time, it is spelled out in black and white that in this new world, mankind is officially allowed to kill a non-human creature to eat it, but there’s more.  When blood is spilled, says God, a reckoning is required.  If a human being should take the life of another human being, God will demand the perpetrator’s life in return.   If it is an animal, the blood cannot be eaten, but can only be used as an offering to God.  In this way, the life of the animal is acknowledged, and even honoured.  Life, therefore, is both respected and dignified.  As Jews, we know all too well what humanity is capable of when the world starts believing that life is cheap.  It is therefore all the more reason for us to stand up for the dignity and sanctity of all life, because as God promised, we’ve already had our do-over, and it’s up to humanity this time.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Mon, July 4 2022 5 Tammuz 5782