From the Pen of Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer
“Then God said to Noah: leave the Ark…then he took some of the clean animals and some of the clean birds and offered sacrifices on the altar.” (Genesis 8:15, 20)
The Sitrei Torah is a text that is part of the Zohar. It asks how did Noah feel when he emerged from the Ark after the flood? And why does he offer sacrifices after he emerges from the Ark? Is he giving thanks that he has been saved? How did God respond to Noah when he had left the Ark, saw the world destroyed and began to cry? Noah said, “Ruler of the Universe, You are called merciful. Why were You not merciful to Your creatures?”
God responded, “Foolish shepherd! Now you say this! Why didn’t you say this when I said to you, ‘For I have seen that you are righteous before me.’ (Genesis 7:1) Or again, when I said, ‘Look, I am bringing a flood of water.’ (Genesis 6:17) Or when I said, ‘Make yourself an ark of gopher wood.’ (Genesis 6:14) At any point I could have delayed and said to you, ‘I will refrain because you asked for mercy for the whole world.’ And as a result of this decision, the world could have been saved by your repentance, but it never occurred to you to ask for mercy for the entire world. If you did so, I would have saved the world, but now that the world is destroyed, you complain and you weep.”
When Noah perceived this, he brought sacrifices and burnt offerings. “Then he took some of the clean animals and some of the clean birds and offered sacrifices on the altar.” (Genesis 8:20)
In this passage, Noah’s anger is once again directed toward God. I often see anger directed toward God – for example, at God’s alleged indifference to the Holocaust. How could God allow such evil to occur? The answer is clear – why didn’t Noah take responsibility for his world. That might have averted the catastrophe. Why didn’t the nations of the world fight to admit Jews into their countries? Why didn’t we work harder to save our fellow Jews around the world? Noah’s anger and our anger is misplaced. It should have been directed against himself and ourselves. The sacrifices Noah offers are intended to assuage the guilt he bears for his failures. The task of the righteous is not merely to pray or to yell at God, after things go wrong. It is our responsibility to do as Noah should have – to speak out boldly and strongly and to recognize that hundreds of thousands of people being displaced from their homes is highly immoral and cannot continue, with our indifference. We are facing an ecological catastrophe, potentially every bit as dangerous as the flood Noah faces in the Torah. We would do well to bear this in mind.