This is the second consecutive year that I have chosen to give the דרשה (sermon) for פרשת נח (Parashat Noah) at Northwestern Hillel’s Conservative services. You may recall that last year, I touched on family aspects since it coincided with Family Weekend. I won’t do that again this year, because I don’t want people to be bored with the same thing (and plus, it’s not Family Weekend). Instead, I found the דרשה that I gave 2,183 days ago, when I was still living in Lincoln. I’ll abbreviate and change it a little bit, however.
Of course, drawing on my love of numbers, there were a couple of numbers which stuck out in the Reading for me. Those were seventeen and forty. And, though not directly mentioned in the portion, the numerical value of Noah (58) has a connection—that was from a couple of minutes ago [in the service]!
SEVENTEEN: It was on the seventeenth day of the second month (Gen 7:11) that the Flood began. In the pre-Exodus calendar, that makes it unclear as to which modern month it would correspond to, but it is likely that it corresponds to חשון (Cheshvan), which happens to be the month that we are now entering… ראש חודש שמח (happy new month)! (Of course, please remember to add the appropriate paragraph during the upcoming עמידה (Amidah)). Having the Flood being on the 17th of the month, and then considering later calamities on the 17th of תמוז (Tammuz), it seems that the number 17 is the Jewish equivalent of the number 13 in that superstitious or co-incidental sense.
FORTY: The Flood started and the waters rose for 40 days. However, it was not the end of it after that, with more time on the ark due to the fact that the water stayed for another 150 days. This is the first time of many in the scriptures in which the number 40 has appeared as either the full test number or part of the test number. (It is also in days-and-nights with Mount Sinai, and is in years with the desert, but both of those had additional tribulations immediately following). How interesting that we mention the forty years each שבת (Shabbat) in the sense: “…ארבעים שנה עקוט בדור” (forty years of contending with that generation… Psalm 95). Clearly, the test of survival upon the Ark was passed, as the Reading has nothing dying on the Ark.
FIFTY-EIGHT: Although this is a looser assumption, I mentioned that something in the service from a few minutes ago is related to this portion. If we turn back to page 20 in the סידור (Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals), we had chanted, “השם למבול ישב…” (The Eternal was seated at the Flood) and we read this psalm twice on שבת. The psalm number is 29, and twice that is fifty-eight. In some sense, this means that every שבת is a reminder of this story, just like how the חגים (Festivals) all have זכר ליצאית מצרים (recalling the Exodus from Egypt) mentioned.
CONCLUSION: And how do I relate this to homecoming? After the earth was renewed, Noah’s family inhabits the earth anew, and it is a new place, despite being familiar from before. Your experience on campus as an undergraduate (or a graduate student, in my case) will be much different from how you experience the campus once you have graduated. However, there is always something that feels home about an old place, even when things have drastically changed. It must have been a relief for Noah, his family, and the animals, to finally venture out onto the “renewed” earth post-flood, even though it was actually a new start.
Well, I do have a few other words related to Homecoming weekend and tomorrow’s festivities which are now completely unrelated to the Reading.
- If you’re going to GameDay in the morning, please budget your energy appropriately—either get a good night’s sleep tonight or take a ‘Cat nap tomorrow before the game. As I like to tell my brother, “Don’t get to sleep too late.”
- Go ‘Cats!
Today is the fourth day of O.C.T.O.B.E.R.