After Simchat Torah, we return to the very beginning of the Torah and once again have the opportunity to study all of our Genesis stories. This week’s Torah portion, Noach, is one of my favorites.
I learned some lessons about Noach and the Flood from a student named Jackie as she studied for her Bat Mitzvah in the fall of 2000. Just 13 years old, this young student opened my eyes to understanding Noach in a way that I had never quite thought of before.
We read in last week’s Torah portion, Bereishit, that God created the world and everything in it, including human beings. It didn’t take long for God to become frustrated with us and our yetzer hara, our inclination to do evil. God regretted having made humans and decided to blot out every living being from the earth, except for Noah.
In this week’s parashah (you know the story), God tells Noah to take a male and female of each species and save them in his ark. God creates a massive flood, covering the earth in water and decimating every living plant, animal and human on earth.
When the flood is over and the water subsides, God realizes the magnitude of God’s actions.
“…God said to Godself: ‘Never again will I doom the earth because of human beings, … nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done.’ ” (Genesis 8:21)
My student, Jackie, said something wonderful: “I think that’s God’s way of saying, ‘I’m sorry. I made a mistake. I have learned something from what I have done, and I don’t want to make that mistake again.’ ” She went on to explain that she loved thinking of God as being flawed, making mistakes, and wanting to make up for them.
How profound. This is the brilliance of a 13-year-old and not the perspective I had been taught in rabbinical school.
As we continued studying, I was eager to hear more of her take on it.
The portion continued, “God said, ‘I now establish My covenant with you and … every living thing on earth. … never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ ” (Genesis 9:9-11)
Jackie responded, “Now that’s a God I can relate to. That’s how my Mom and Dad have taught me to behave when I make a mistake. I realize what I’ve done, apologize and make an agreement never to do it again.”
As we continued reading, we discovered, “God further said, ‘I have set My (rain)bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you … so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all … living creatures … on earth.” (Genesis 9:12-16)
Jackie became very excited and said, “Not only does God acknowledge God’s mistake, God promises not to make the same mistake again. Then God realizes that God might forget the promise, so God creates a reminder for Godself not to do it again. God realizes that we can all forget our promises to do better and knows we need reminders. I’m really beginning to appreciate this kind of God.”
The wisdom of this young woman had a profound impact on me, and I carry it with me to this very day. I often remind adults and children – and myself – that we human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim, we are made in the image of God. Each of us has a piece of the Divine Spark within us. We need to remember that all the time – especially when we make mistakes. What matters most is what we do with our mistakes. Do we learn from them and atone for them? Hopefully we realize that we truly are created in God’s image and if God can make mistakes, so can we.
Andrew Klein is rabbi of Temple Habonim in Barrington and secretary-treasurer of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.