Noach by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

A Report from Noah’s Next-Door Neighbor

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark


These are the generations of Noah. Noah was in his generation a purely righteous man: Noah walked with GOD. …And the earth was depraved before God, and  replete with violence. …And God said unto Noah: I am putting an end to all flesh; it has come to My attention that the earth is full of violence caused by Humanity, and I intend to utterly destroy the earth. Build, therefore, an Ark of cypress wood; make it full of chambers; coat it both inside and out with tar, to make it waterproof. …I establish My Covenant with you, so that you and your sons, and your wife, and your sons’ wives will enter the Ark, and be saved. And bring also two of every unkosher beast, as well as seven of every kosher one….

–Genesis 6:1-19 (My Adaptation)


My name is Yerubaal ben Pehsel, and I live in Ur of the Chaldees—the name means, “The City,” and it is understood by all that, if you mention to an out-of-towner “I live in The City,” they will immediately comprehend (unless they are utterly ignorant country bumpkins) that you are a citizen of the grandest, biggest, and most advanced city the World has ever known. We are very proud of that.

I live in a corner lot, at the intersection of Tabor and Carmel Streets. My house is all paid for, and I make a point of whitewashing the mud bricks at least once a year; more often, if the rainy season turns out heavy. I am friendly with nearly all of my neighbors: Shem-Ashtoret, the tailor-lady—she is quite a fashion plate, that one, and makes her own clothes; it is her business. There are also Ofeh the Baker, Sar-Mashkim the Vintner—I don’t see him much; he is usually out in his vineyards—and Kishuf, the Priest of Baal, whose temple—Baal’s, not Kishuf’s—is in the center of town, where it belongs. Baal is the principal god of our city, and I am careful to pay him proper obeisance, though within reason—not like Ahlmanah, the widow across the street, who runs there every day.

There is but one neighbor who is not particularly friendly—Mr. Noah, who lives just next door. I make it a habit of always saying, “Good Morning,” and “Good Evening,” to one and all, and they usually smile and return it. However, Noah  never returns my greeting; instead, his lips are always moving, as if he were having some sort of internal conversation. Well, he is very old: Ahlmanah, our neighborhood gossip, tells me that he is five hundred rains, which is considerable. Perhaps his mind is slipping, poor fellow.

My feelings about my solitary neighbor, Noah, were not helped when I saw him and his sons—fine young men, those, though they bear absolutely no resemblance to either their father, nor to each other—perhaps he was married before—carting in hundreds, it seemed, of wooden boards. Was he going to build some sort of recreation area in his back yard? (Noah has a yard of some 300 cubits, which is enormous; he was one of the first settlers in our neighborhood, and so was able to acquire this massive tract—perhaps he bribed someone in City Hall; you never know.) Or, perhaps, an outdoor gym?

This interested me: I am a teacher, and have little time to exercise. At Ur University, where I teach Urrian Culture, here are always administrative clay tablets to fill out, and student assignments to grade—more clay tablets, again. How wonderful it would be if my dear wife, Yefaht-Toar, and I had a local place to—do—do—well, something recreational and healthful. I resolved to inquire of Noah if I could pitch in and help build this Project of his.

Hurrying to school the next morning, I left the house specially early so that I could drop by Noah’s, and put my sharing proposition to him.

The boys were not there; gathering more wood, I reckon. I wandered around the house—it was large, and prosperous-looking—calling “Noah! Noo-ah!” several times, with no one answering.

Finally. just as I was getting frustrated and was ready to quit I found him—but in a most pecular way. There was a flash before my eyes (I am very nearsighted, and squint considerably), and an Angel dressed in white samite, bearing a sword of fire, appeared.

“Whom do you seek, Mortal?” It queried, in a Voice made all of sweet accord.

Trembling, I fell to the ground, and did worship.

“My neighbor, Noah,” I replied, in a frightened voice—what had I done, for Baal, or Whomever, to send me this Golden Messenger? Was this some sort of Punishment? That burning Sword did look dangerous.

“Go to the chariot-garage out back,” whispered the Angel, “and there you will find the man you seek.”

It vanished. I rose, shakily; surely Noah must be some sort of Holy Man, to rate such creatures to appear. Strange: I had never thought him so. Finally, I found him, sawing a largish cypress-wood board—some folks call it “gopher”; I don’t know why.

“Good Morning, Friend Noah!” I began, mustering my most cheerful voice.

He did not answer, but looked up, his eyes and face filled with Gloom.

“Why, what’s the matter?” I asked.

“Corruption’s the matter,” he said, in a groaning tone, “That, and all sorts of violence—but I will say no more: it is the will of the Most High!”

I had no idea what he was talking about. “Baal?” I asked, “Decrying violence? Odd: I have heard no such report from Kishuf the Priest, and he is easily the most talkative man on this block.Surely he would have received some sign from Baal, down there at the Temple!”

The old duffer fixed his rheumy eyes on me, and raised a bony, shaking finger, which he pointed at my chest—probably aiming for my heart, I suppose.

“Violence,” Noah said, in a low, menacing tone, “and Co-RUP-tion,” drawing out the syllables, “I will say no more.”

“Well, you surely must supply some details,” I said, trying to be patient—he was an old fellow, after all—“and then, tell me what sort of gymnasium you and your boys are constructing here. I thought to become partners with you: it would be ever so jolly to have a recreational facility here in the neighborhood, and just next door.”

The old man had returned to his board, and was sawing away at in a most vigorous fashion. I looked at the sun: I had only a few minutes left, before I had to catch the 8:04 pre-meridian Municipal Oxcart to take me downtown, to the University.

“Come, my Neighbor,” I said, again patiently, “can I go partners with you?”

He put down the saw, abruptly, and turned to me again.

“I cannot say very much,” he muttered, as if transmitting a Secret, “but the Most High has conjured me to build—”

“A gym?” I asked, hopefully.

“An Ark,” he said, gloomily, “A Shelter against the Corruption and Violence (There he goes again, I thought) which afflict this City, and this Earth.”

I was disappointed: the gym was not to be. But his mentioning Corruption and Violence was intriguing.

“I see a certain degree of those things,” I said, choosing my words carefully, “but I believe that the City Government is dealing with them.”

“Adultery?” asked Noah.

“Well, that sort of thing is wrong, and certainly immoral,” I said, “but I would hardly classify it as widespread violence.”

“Crime? Youth Gangs?” he said, moaning beneath his breath.

“As a matter of fact,” I replied, “My wife, Yefaht-Toarand I, spend a great deal of our limited leisure time in the Ur Community Center. She runs play groups for the children, and I organize the teens into Encounter Sessions, where they can rap about what is bothering them.”

“It is not enough,” moaned the Sage, “it will never be enough.”

I left him, and made my morning class by a hair—luckily, the Ox pulling the Cart was young and swift. Still, the man’s moans and groans resonated in my ears—was Destruction to come upon the earth? I thought and thought about it—no point in going back to visit Noah; he was as unfriendly and non-communicative as ever. So I discussed it with my wife, an extremely wise woman, and highly insightful. She reassured me that the World was not going to Tophet, and I was able to relax my mind.

Yefaht-Toar creased her lovely forehead, as we sat holding hands on the divan, watching the three boys working through the night—the Old Man had apparently said his prayers to his Mysterious God, and gone to sleep. “What do you suppose is up with poor old Noah, Yeru?” she asked, “I do feel sorry for him. His mind might be going.”

“Beats me,” I answered, “I did my best to befriend him, but he would not turn away from his sawing. It seems to be taking the shape of a Boat, a Gigantic Boat. Perhaps he will invite us to take a short voyage with him, when it is complete. I will ask Shem, tomorrow; he seems the friendliest of the bunch.”

“Hear the rain on the roof!” exclaimed Yefaht, and snuggled closer, “it seems very heavy—heavier than usual, perhaps?”

“It may be shaping up to be an exceptional Rainy Season,” I agreed, “I will inspect the roof for leaks, tomorrow. And perhaps whitewash our lovely home this weekend, after Devotions to Baal.”

Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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