Noah By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Noach (נח)
Torah Portion: Genesis 6:9 – 11:32
Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1 – 66:24 (special for Rosh Chodesh)


“Noah—oh, for the love of Ishtar—Noah! Wake up!”

But I, Noah, remained in my dream: I was walking in a sunny vale, chasing after yellow-golden butterflies. My feet felt as light as when I was a little boy: the breeze ruffled my hair (I, poor doddering graybeard that I am, have little or no hair),, I heard birds singing sweetly. And there, not too far-off, was a little mountain stream—perhaps I could take off my broken sandals, and bathe my poor, aching feet in it. Ah, what bliss! I—




I woke, banging my head (as usual) on that low-hanging oil lamp that my dear wife insists on keeping over the bed, and, dizzy from the blow, rubbing my lumpy skull, I saw Xantippe, my wife of—of—a full fifty-nine years. Her hair was all curled-and-covered in her old nightcap; she looked like a startled meerkat. The breezes and birds of my dream flew away, and I squinted at her in the half-darkness; she didn’t look happy. God’s truth, she rarely looks happy, anymore. I tried to smile through my foggy-headedness, a big, broad smile to show her that I love her, and replied,


“Yes, my dear?”


“It’s those horrid neighbors. Making a racket. You may snore away, old fool that you are: I cannot. Go hush them up; quiet them down.”




“Yes, across the way. They’re so loud! Always drinking and dancing—and that horrid loud music of theirs! Now GO, Noah. Tell them you can’t sleep. Go, and tell them. Now.”


Xantippe, Love of My Life, Anchor of My Existence, flounced back down, under the eiderdown, there in the black Nippurian night, leaving me in my stocking feet, hunting for my robe, scratching, half-awake, and thinking: O no, my treasured girl (She is a grandmother, not a sylph), my lovely everlasting love, it’s not you who can’t sleep; it’s me now—if you can’t sleep because of the neighbors’ racket, why must you wake me? Hmm?


I yawned; my Xaniax—Battleax slapped my shoulder, and none too playfully.


“Well, what are you waiting for?”


“Waiting, my dear?”


My shoulder stung from her slap; I rubbed it.


“Yes, yes; go and tell them! Noise! Orgies! I’ll be up all night!”


And so, I sighed, got up, wrapped my shawl around me, took my stout, knotty gopher-wooden walking-stick—who can tell what manner of Man or Beast one might encounter at night here in Nippur, with coyotes and jackals wandering the streets, and the King’s Guards all abed?


That’s where I should be, asleep, like any honest man, thought I, as I shuffled along, knees and elbows cracking, when I heard Him talking to me—as my God often does; in particular, late at night, when most of the world is still:


Noah,” He called to me: that is, in my mind.


And I replied, “Yes, Lord?”


For that’s how He likes to be addressed, He does. No one can hear Him but me, and He told me that’s how He prefers it; He says I’m the only one who deserves to be spoken to, anyway—I find this both awesome and flattering….


Noah,” He said again, as I entered the front room of the house, trying not to step on any family members—the Boys—my Sons, that is—and their wives all live with us, now, on the ground floor—they couldn’t find decent jobs in the Big World, they claimed, and have all come home, with all their wives and kiddies, and moved in with us—


Noah, you must build an Ark; for such is My command!


God again. An Ark? This was something big; He had never asked me to build anything before. Build what? How? Before, all He’d done was complain to me: bellyache about the neighbors, the government, stuff such as I could agree with. Yes, the neighborhood has gotten worse; that’s true. But it wasn’t always that way. When Xannie and I moved in, years ago, people were friendlier; they said hello. But now, people don’t even care where their dog makes dirt. It’s just too bad.


Ham snored, loudly. Fine boy, that one; my baby. One day, he will get his brothers to appreciate him more, and perhaps treat him equally—I reached the door, and opened it slowly, trying not to make it creak—


–and crept across Nimrod Street to—what’s my Neighbor’s name?


Amibaal, I believe; we met last month at the big autumnal orgy, the one where Xannie warned me, on pain of death, to not even think of joining in; I could watch, but mostly make sure that everyone there had a taste of her Great-Grandmother’s Famous Recipe Potato Salad—they did seem to like it—and I knocked on Amibaal’s door.


It was noisy; no error. There were musicians there; I could hear them, and some young girl’s voice, singing on and on, starting off low, and then louder and louder—perhaps a song, or a magic spell; or, perhaps, she was just very happy about something: I couldn’t make the words out. Screaming, yelling. It’s all the same to me; I’m just an old man needs his rest is all.


The door opened. Face with a thick, dark beard. Smell of barley beer. The music was louder; drums in the corner—all I could see was a tangle of bodies, and a peculiarly sharp smell in the air. Incense, I suppose….


“Hm?” asked Darkbeard.


“Hello there,” I began, in my most neighborly tones, “I’m Noah, live across the way. I believe we met, last month, at Persephone Fest. Are you Amibaal?”


“His son. Help you?”


Man of few words, this one. From the dark, behind Amibaal Junior, hands reach out and caress his neck: too dark to see who it is, whether man or woman.. Candles in back, there, with the music. Incense-smell. Meat roasting, barbecue. Makes my mouth water. Music booming away: drums, timbrels. That girl singing—shrieking, really. Something about Love and Modern Romance, I suppose. I’m a simple man, and no judge of music quality—


“Yes, well,” I said, “Think you can keep it down a bit, folks can sleep? I work early in the morning, you see….”


Junior was already closing the door, crushing the foot I had wedged against it. So much for Civility. So much for Manners and Good Breeding. So much for—Ah, Well. Time to go home (yawn).


As I turned to cross over to my side, I almost tripped over a cat. Poor thing: I bent over and picked it up. Scrawny little beastie. I tried to stroke its fur, calm it down; I could feel its tiny heart beating, beating. And then, I heard God’s Voice again:


You see, Noah? That is not how neighbors should behave. The reek of their misdeeds and abominations has reached Me, yea, to My nostrils is the stench therefrom; I think, therefore, that I should destroy it, end it all, start over.”


I was petting the poor little thing, didn’t quite hear Him. Hard to pay attention all the time; I believe the years are leaving me, deaf. And then, there was that music. Shrieky girl. Love? Romance? Abominations? Yawn….


“Say again, Lord?”


A flood.  Big rain. No invading armies, no host of Babylon, no enemy sweeping down like a beast on the fold. Leave no mess to pick up. Your thoughts?


“Kind of drastic, no?” I was opening my door. There was Shem—fine boy, that one—and his wife—what was her name?—snoring away in the corner. I covered them up; too much of them was showing, especially her. Fine, healthy girl, he married. I wish they could afford their own place, but this Nippurian Administration is oppressing the young working poor—


That’s it. That’s what I’ll do.”


“What, Lord?”


End them all. And start over with you.”


“Shouldn’t we talk about this some more?”


I held the kitty under one arm, went to the pantry—didn’t Xantippe store the goat’s-milk there? Poor beastie was meowing so loudly, and trying to scratch at my shawl—and then, Himself kept talking, talking there in my ear:


No help for it; no help at all. You must save—two—no, seven. Seven is My Command. Of the unclean beasts. No, the clean; yes, that way you can make offerings to Me afterward—two? Seven? Let me get back to you, or perhaps send an angel….


“Will there be an Afterward, Lord? What with this flood-thing, and all—“


He was off again, silent; thinking, I suppose.


Back to the bedroom—it suddenly hit me, how bone-tired I was, and had to get up early the next morning; off to that construction site: Prince Nimrod wanted that tower built—big ‘un, too. Wouldn’t tell us workers what for. Ne’er mind; he paid on time, and that was the important thing. Imp(yawn)tant thing. Stretch out—arms crackling, again—so tired!—im—por—tant—thing. Ah, z-z-z….




“Yes, Lord?”


“Lord? Who’s that?” Xantippe was up again, waiting for me, no doubt, and angry as usual— “Lord? Is that your pet name for that young divorced hussy in the Nimrod, Inc. main office? I swear by the Beard of Baal, Noah, if you ever—“


“Oh, Xannie—no, I was just thinking—of course—not of her, my dear—what, my love?”


“Did you talk to Amibaal?”


“He wasn’t home—his son was.”




“I asked him to keep it down.”


“Hmph,” she said, and turned over, and moved away from me. I shrugged—it was late—we could certainly settle this in the morning which, judging from the early-light-rays coming in under the windowshade, wasn’t that far off….




Blessed Marduk! Will this night never end?—“Yes, Lord?”


That will be—I’ve decided—seven clean beasts, and two unclean. Oh, and coat the outside of the Ark with pitch. And build it of oak—no, Gopher-wood.”


“I’ll write it down. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, Lord. Good night.”


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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