Reading the Torah Naively


Dear Rabbi,

If I may pick up one of my themes from last week about taking things literally and maybe that is the basis of nonbelievers as it relates to a Supreme Being, the easy question is how you can take the story of Noah and the ark as an actual account of what occurred oh so many years ago.
One man builds a boat that can house every animal, fowl and creature that “creeps” on the earth and tends to this menagerie for exactly one year (the rain only lasted 40 days, the water raged for another 150 days and the dove does not come back exactly 365 days from when the whole thing started, for those that were not paying attention) is something that is somewhat hard to imagine, thus adding to the “proof” that maybe G-d does not exist and that this is all one big made up story.
Again, I am not among those that have doubts about the existence of the All Mighty, maybe the account is a metaphor of the consequences of acting in a totally evil way, but even if such an event occurred, there are many unanswered questions. First and foremost in my mind is what did the animals, fowl and “things that creep” do to deserve their fate? Were they in some way acting in an improper manner in the eyes of the Lord?
If I may go somewhat on a tangent, in the Second Aliyah Genesis 7:2 the following is stated:
“Of all the clean animals you shall take for yourself seven pairs, a male and its mate, and of the animals that are not clean, two, a male and its mate.”
As I understand this paragraph “clean” means “Kosher” and the rest of those saved were “traif”. I realize that there was no Torah and no set of laws to follow, but for what purpose did G-d save those animals that were “not clean”? Why did G-d feel it necessary to have more “clean” animals on the ark than the non clean ones?
In the Fourth Aliyah, at Genesis 9:4, we read the following:
“But, flesh with its soul, its blood, you shall not eat.”
As I understand this, man is allowed to eat meat but with restrictions. I have also read that Adam was not allowed to eat meat only vegetation. Why has G-d now allowed for the consumption of meat and why hasn’t he made his eventual law of kashruth, not yet made known? G-d does declare that murder is not permitted so why not explain the purpose of the “clean animals” at this time?
Reading the Torah always brings up something I never thought about before. Going on to the Fifth Aliyah, the following is stated at Genesis 9:11 and 15:
“And I will establish My covenant with you, and never again will all flesh be cut off by the flood waters, and there will never again be a flood to destroy the earth."
“And I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and between you and between every living creature among all flesh, and the water will no longer become a flood to destroy all flesh.”
My original take away from the reading of Noah is that G-d made a covenant not to destroy mankind or animals ever again but if you read what is written, it plainly says that the All Mighty will not destroy man and or beasts by “flood”. It does not leave out the many other ways we along the rest of the earth might perish. Is G-d so angry again that he is testing us with global warming and what might occur if we do not literally “clean up our act”? The early signs are not encouraging.
I will end my observations with the Seventh Aliyah as is stated in Genesis 11:6, 7:

“And the Lord said, "Lo! [they are] one people, and they all have one language, and this is what they have commenced to do. Now, will it not be withheld from them, all that they have planned to do?”

“Come, let us descend and confuse their language, so that one will not understand the language of his companion."

The above deals with the story of the Tower of Babel. As I read it, Noah's descendents gathered in the Babylonian valley and started building a tower, in an attempt to reach the heavens and battle G‑d. As I have also read, G‑d disrupted their "plan" by causing them each to speak a different language, thus destroying their communications. This caused them to disperse and settle in different lands. With the advent of such things as Google and the ability to get instant translations from other languages, are we going to face G-d’s wrath again by trying to get back to a “one language” concept?



Dear Mordecai,

First, we have to make a distinction between reading texts naively and reading them literally. The Torah is not an act of reportage. The closest the Torah comes to the mode of reportage is Chronicles I and II. I think you are giving the Disbelievers too much credit. Theirs are all arguments after the fact. A person decides she wants to behave a certain way, and then afterward searches for justifications for conduct. The Disbeliever wants to be known as a rational person, invested in the scientific enterprise. For this reason, he chooses to read the Torah naively. Note! Naively, not literally. (What liberalism is has not been properly addressed in our correspondence.)

Allow me now to address the questions you asked: 

1. Why did the animals have to be destroyed in the Flood? After all, the Torah describes the wickedness of the human being but does not describe the wickedness of the animals. The final section of last week's parsha, Bereishit, states, "The Lord saw how great was man's wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time...The Lord said, ' I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created - men together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them'" (6:5-7).

This is not nearly as great a difficulty as you suggest. We are all familiar with the idiom "act like an animal." Let us not be naive about the animal world. The animal may not be able to drop to the depths of evil, as human beings, can, but the animal also can't reach our heights. Or to put the matter in rabbinic terms, the animal is all yetzer hara. 

2. Why has G-d now permitted meat, and why hasn't G-d given forth the mitzvah of kashrut yet? 

I don't know why one would assume that these matters go together. The mitzvot are given to Israel. Israel does not exist yet. This section of Genesis is concerned with the universal dimension of existence, not the particular dimension, which is expressed in the covenant between Abraham and G-d on behalf of Abraham's descendants. To be clearer, the prohibition against murder is a universal law, while kashrut is a particular law. 

As for part a) of your question, G-d had to make a concession to the yetzer hara, which craves meat either because of the taste or because of the act of domination over the animal world that eating meat entails. 

3. How can one not think of global warming when we read about Noah and the Flood? Global warming has been created by human beings. Therefore, the Torah is true in that G-d's promise not to destroy the earth by water again - symbolized by the rainbow - holds. If the earth is destroyed by water because of global warming, the culprit will be human beings, not G-d. In short, global warming does not make G-d "angry" and its consequences are not a punishment. Rather, G-d is deeply worried for His creation, and, as usual, leads with mercy. 

4. Is the creation of Google another example of the Tower of Babel in that it creates one language for all? This is a wonderful question and speaks to the challenges that we face from the big hi-tech companies. I view Google's creation of one language as a unifier, not as a new totalitarianism. The debate about Google centers around the tension between knowledge and profit. Was Google created to expand knowledge or to make a profit? In that G-d desires that we acquire knowledge, Google's creation advances the prospect of messianic time. Realistically, Google is a company and like other companies, its goal is the maximization of profit. Knowledge of profit? Both drive Google. We have no indication, however, that the Tower of Babel was built for profit, though I suppose one could read the story that way. What is most important is that the Tower's construction appears to have no relationship to knowledge whatsoever, and here is where the analogy with Google breaks down. 



Dear Rabbi,

For purposes of my response I am defining naïve as follows: "showing a lack of sophistication and subtlety or of critical judgment and analysis." Those that use the example of Noah and the ark to "prove" their point that G-d does not exist should not be labeled as naïve. They are people that do read it "literally" and conclude that it could not have possibly occurred. I am a person of faith and chose to take the account of Noah and the ark as a metaphor of what will happen if we as a people engage in total evil.  I don't quite understand your reliance on the idiom "act like an animal" to somehow justify most of the animals of the earth having to go along with most of mankind. In my opinion, I do not believe animals have the "evil gene" within them and although they can act in the mind of a human in a cruel manner, it seems to me that they do things to survive such as hunt those of lesser abilities to defend themselves. There is a big difference between animals that hunt (their eyes are looking forward in their heads) as opposed to the hunted (their eyes are faced to the side so they can see those that are attempting to attack them). Guess where the eyes of a human are located. Some of the barbaric ways mankind have devised to hurt each other are beyond the capability of any animal. 
As to kashrut, you did not answer my question as to why more of those animals were taken into the ark, but why deal with the question of murder now and the laws of kashrut later? Was G-d thinking of giving certain laws only to a set of persons for reasons that are not made clear other than to lead a more restricted life than most?
I do not know if your interpretation of what I said as it relates to global warming is what I meant when I gave the reference. What I said was I am always finding something new in the Torah no matter how many times I read a parshah. I said that even though G-d said there would be no termination to mankind by flood, it does not mean that it could not happen in some other form. And if you realize that there are many names of the Supreme Being in the Torah, why can't one translation mean "Mother Nature". Who is to say that G-d is not angry at what is going on and as the saying goes "it's not good to mess with Mother Nature. 
Finally, why do you conclude that G-d desires that we acquire knowledge? I thought G-d destroyed the Tower of Babel because those that were building it wanted to confront G-d and disbursing the people on the earth by destroying it and creating many languages was a way to prevent them from trying it again. Google acquires knowledge to make money and maybe some of the tech companies believe that are above the law or a "Higher Authority" and maybe it will rekindle some sort of reaction. 

 Shalom, Mordecai