It take just two parashot, or eleven chapters, for God to create the universe, equip the earth with the means to support life, populate this earth with living creatures, bring forth humanity, test its first representatives, establish the principle of mortality, judge the world and flood it, repopulate it and, finally, to ensure that diversity rules over monoculture by humbling the hubris of the builders of Babel. It then takes ten parashot, eighty chapters, to weave the story of a small family, beginning with Abraham setting forth from his father’s home and culminating with Jacob, his twelve sons and daughter and their children settled in Egypt. It takes a further forty-two parashot (a very large number of chapters indeed!) to lead a small people through the desert and, by way of its righteous, devoted and selfless leader, prepare the people for statehood and a holy mission. It just shows that, if you want to do a job well, you need to spend your time over it – in this case not cosmic or historic, but ‘personal’ time.
Of course, you’ll be relieved to hear me say, before condemning me for sacrilege, that God does not do anything badly and certainly does not make a mistake. Adam and Eve are not failures. Cain may be evil, but he did not live, or even kill, for nothing. The Flood was not a frenzied rubbing out of a blackboard full of errors of calculation, and the Tower of Babel was not a worthless episode of overweening ambition. Bereshit and Noach serve to prepare the ground for a wonderful human experiment: the making of a covenant between the supreme power and a small family grown into a small nation, so that a model of civilisation, human relations and reverence for life and for the divine could take form.
To hear more about Noach and Babel, come along this Saturday at 10:30 when Harvey Kurtfield will endeavour to ensure that we are neither drowned nor thrown off a tower, but rather guided to a future based on wisdom and understanding.