A Modern Parable of Noah: Has Anything Changed?

This is the line of Noah. Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God.


God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make it an ark with compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.


“For My part, I am about to bring the Flood—waters upon the earth—to destroy all flesh under the sky in which there is breath of life; everything on earth shall perish. But I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark, with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives. And of all that lives, of all flesh, you shall take two of each into the ark to keep alive with you; they shall be male and female. From birds of every kind, cattle of every kind, every kind of creeping thing on earth, two of each shall come to you to stay alive. For your part, take of everything that is eaten and store it away, to serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did so; just as God commanded him, so he did.

Noah was six hundred years old when the Flood came, waters upon the earth. Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the Flood. Of the clean animals, of the animals that are not clean, of the birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two of each, male and female, came to Noah into the ark, as God had commanded Noah. And on the seventh day the waters of the Flood came upon the earth.

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst apart,
and the floodgates of the sky broke open. The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. That same day Noah and Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, went into the ark, with Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons— they and all beasts of every kind, all cattle of every kind, all creatures of every kind that creep on the earth, and all birds of every kind, every bird, every winged thing. And the Lord shut him in.


The Flood continued forty days on the earth, and the waters increased and raised the ark so that it rose above the earth. The waters swelled and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark drifted upon the waters. When the waters had swelled much more upon the earth, all the highest mountains everywhere under the sky were covered. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

At the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent out the raven; it went to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out the dove to see whether the waters had decreased from the surface of the ground. But the dove could not find a resting place for its foot, and returned to him to the ark, for there was water over all the earth. So putting out his hand, he took it into the ark with him. He waited another seven days, and again sent out the dove from the ark. The dove came back to him toward evening, and there in its bill was a plucked-off olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the waters had decreased on the earth. He waited still another seven days and sent the dove forth; and it did not return to him any more.

God spoke to Noah, saying, “Come out of the ark, together with your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives. Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds, animals, and everything that creeps on earth; and let them swarm on the earth and be fertile and increase on earth.” So Noah came out, together with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives.

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking of every clean animal and of every clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar. The Lord smelled the pleasing odor, and the Lord said to Himself: “Never again will I doom the earth because of man, since the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done.


Noah, the tiller of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a cloth, placed it against both their backs and, walking backward, they covered their father’s nakedness; their faces were turned the other way, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.

This is the story of Noah. Noah was a good kid and he was pretty religious compared to a lot of other Jewish kids in his class; his family belonged to a synagogue.

Noah’s parents said to him, “We have decided you need to have a bar mitzvah. You will attend lessons at the temple for one hour a week. Take the haftorah that the cantor gives you and memorize the words and the tune. Learn the portions of the service that are chanted out loud but don’t worry about any silent parts.


“For our part, we’ll plan the entire event. We will schedule your lessons with the cantor, keep track of everything that you are assigned, make sure that you practice according to the wishes of the cantor. We will drive you to and from the temple and call to cancel and reschedule when you are not able to attend your lesson. For your part, memorize the words and melodies that the cantor gives you so that you can sing it later.” Noah did so, just as his parents instructed him.


Noah was 12 ½ years old when his lessons began. Noah, with his parents, went into the cantor’s office to begin learning and memorizing the Hebrew texts.
And in the seventh month, Noah’s bar mitzvah started.




In the 13th year of Noah’s life, all of his relatives, friends, and classmates poured into the synagogue, put a book on their laps, sat quietly, and watched as Noah chanted his haftorah and lead the service. The bar mitzvah service began and by that time, Noah, Noah’s parents, his little brother, his aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends were all in the sanctuary with him. And the temple ushers closed the doors so that people would not congregate in the lobby.


The service lasted 2 ½ hours. The rabbi spoke about the Torah portion and the cantor helped Noah remember where he needed to stand. All of the people sitting in the congregation fidgeted and tried to stay comfortable. Only Noah and his family were able to sit or stand on the bimah.


After about an hour, Noah asked his parents how much longer the service would last. They weren’t sure, so they asked some other congregants who usually attended. After another 30 minutes, they asked again, and this time they were told that it was almost over. Noah and his parents knew that the service was almost over but they still had to wait. The rabbi spoke to Noah on the bimah and presented him with a bar mitzvah certificate! Then Noah and his family knew that the service was over, and they could leave the sanctuary.


Noah’s parents told all of the guests, “Everyone come out of the temple and make your way to the party. We printed direction cards for you, and there’s a bus for the kids.”



They all arrived at the reception where the food smelled delicious. Noah and his parents were thrilled that all the hard work and stress were behind them. They said, “We won’t ever have to sit through services again or make Noah learn a haftorah.”


At the bar mitzvah party, Noah’s parents were extremely relieved that everything had gone so well and that Noah had been able to memorize all the material. They set up a vodka bar and drank with all of their friends. Even Noah snuck a drink when no one was looking. Noah made a grand entrance into the party on the arms of two dancers who were practically naked.


Cantor Matt Axelrod has served Congregation Beth Israel of Scotch Plains, NJ since 1990. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a national officer of the Cantors Assembly. Cantor Axelrod is the author of Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider's Guide, and Your Guide to the Jewish Holidays: From Shofar to Seder.

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