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The flood of Noah
And the tower of Babel
How does God react?
Several years ago I taught a third-grade Religious school class focused on Bible stories. A question from a 9-year-old helped lead me to a new understanding of God's different behavior in the two stories in this week's portion.
In the flood story, God reacts to the corruption of "all flesh" (Gen 6:12) on earth by planning its destruction. The "righteous" Noah and his family are spared along with enough animals to "keep seed alive" (Gen 7:3).
When we talked about what God was about to do, one student asked if God wasn't being evil by destroying what had been created. Was is appropriate to react to the evil of living creatures with an act of destruction?
I didn't have a ready answer, but thought about the Tower of Babel and told the student to wait and see God's reaction to a different sort of evil, the arrogance of mankind in trying to build a tower to the sky "to make a name for ourselves." (Gen 11:4)
In the second story instead of destroying the people again, God "confound[ed] their speech ... so they shall not understand one another" (Gen 11:7) and "scattered them ... over the face of the whole earth." (Gen 11:8).
Destruction didn't work - a sort of evil remained, expressed in arrogance rather than corruption. Perhaps God learned from what was arguably the "mistake" of large scale destruction and had a more nuanced reaction to the building of the tower. A punishment that stopped the bad behavior but did not require ending the lives of those involved.
The lesson for us in God's different reactions in these stories is to learn from the aftermath of decisions we make. If God can learn from mistakes then we can, too.
That I have this lesson to teach shows the truth of the words of Rabbi Chanina, who said, “I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and the most from my students." Had a 9-year-old not wondered about God's "evil" behavior I might not have found the lesson in Parashat Noach about learning from mistakes.