Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Noach / Abundance of Water, Scarcity of Animals

In Noah’s time, there was an abundance of water and a scarcity of animals, given how many died in the raging floods. In our time we have seen an abundance of flooding and a frightening decrease in the number of species on earth.

From the beginning, Torah tells us that God is invested in biodiversity:
God said: Let the earth sprout vegetation, seed-bearing plants, fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it. And it was so. (Genesis 1:10)
We are told the same thing concerning sea creatures, birds, and land animals: each is endowed with the capacity for self-replication so that every kind can continue to prosper (see Genesis 1:21-22 and 24-25).

In this week’s parashah, God affirms the divine commitment to biodiversity:
Of all that lives, of all flesh, you shall take two of each into the ark to keep alive with you; they shall be male and female. From birds of every kind, cattle of every kind, every kind of creeping thing on earth, two of each shall come to you to stay alive. For your part, take of everything that is eaten and store it away, to serve as food for you and for them.” (Genesis 6:19-21)
Today, one species goes extinct every 20 minutes. Gone forever. Scientists estimate that is 1000 times the rate throughout history.

Torah tells us that in Noah’s time, God brought a mabul, a flood. Even then, God acknowledged this was a colossal mistake. We have seen floods of epic proportion in our own time caused by the global climate change; specifically, the warming oceans. Global climate change is real and every reputable scientist understands that. Those who claim it’s a hoax are on the payrolls of fossil fuel companies.

The implications of global climate change and the rate of species extinction are drastic. We might prefer not to think what this means for us in terms of rising oceanic levels, expanding deserts, increasingly extreme weather phenomena, but we can no longer afford that irresponsible luxury.

We have come to think that we live above and beyond the other species of this planet, and that since we don’t directly depend upon them to live, we can live without them. But we can’t. Our lives have from the beginning of creation, from the dawn of evolution, been integrally intertwined with other creatures – plant and animal – on Earth.

Our Rabbis provided us this prescient warning in midrash Kohelet Rabbah, written 15 centuries ago:
Upon creating the first human beings, God guided them around the Garden of Eden, saying, “Look at My creations! See how beautiful and praiseworthy they are! I created everything for you. Make sure you don’t ruin or destroy My world. If you do, there will be no one after you to repair it.”
© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman


  1. We had a speaker for Parshat Noach who talked about climate change. G-d's rainbow is supposed to be our guarantee that He won't destroy the earth again. So we can stop worrying so much about climate change, right? Wrong! Because it's not G-d who is destroying the world. It's human beings. --Felicia

  2. I enjoy your work here, making the Torah more accessible to people like me, and showing its relevance to modern life.

    I'm sure that you are aware of the more short-sighted interpretations (usually Christian) of Genesis as a permission slip to dominate the Earth. It is troubling, to say the least.