Parashat Noach, Genesis Chapters 6:9 to 11:32

This entire Torah portion is given over to the adventures of Noah, one of the early humans on the earth. The purpose of these chapters is phenomenology. It seeks to explain some of the natural occurrences commonly seen by all human beings. One of these is the rainbow (keshet, in Hebrew). Early humans didn’t know about light refraction through prisms (raindrops). Hence the famous flood story which is borrowed from older Semitic myths known as the Gilgamesh epic, serving as a springboard to explain the rainbow. This story also helps to explain the presence of three ethnic groups in the then known world. Semites come from Shem, the eldest son of Noah. Hamitic, negroid or African groups, come from his son Ham. Indo-Europeans like the Greek islanders come from Yaphet, probably meaning “beautiful skin.”

After emerging from the Ark, Noah representing the future of humanity, enters into a covenant with God who enjoins upon him to obey seven basic laws. This is known as the Noahide covenant. The Rabbis commenting on these laws explained that any person who observes these laws is assured a place in the world to come. One need not be Jewish to attain salvation!

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