The story of Noah's Ark is actually a very troubling story*. It's pretty terrible to think about God wiping out all of humanity, no matter how bad we may have gotten. But, even if you think that people had it coming to them, what about the animals? God slaughtered nearly every animal on earth, all because of something that people did.
* does anyone else find it strange that we take a story about the utter moral corruption of all of humanity, and the subsequent ultimate, horrific divine retribution, and then use it as a theme for decorating our children's bedrooms? I do…
Very often, rabbis and other commentators try to apologize for, or at least explain, the seeming unfairness of God in this story. But, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson has a different approach. He suggests that we're actually supposed to be learning a lesson from God, but in this case, not in the usual “let's all be like God” sense:
Even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness,” destruction bursts beyond manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments originally intended to be measured and reasonable provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship…Once violence is launched, Rashi [the great medieval commentator] suggests, there is no foretelling its sweep or its destruction.
Everyone gets angry, and everyone lashes out from time to time. Very often, when we do, we justify our actions. But, the fact that we had a reason to be angry, the fact that we may have been justified in our outburst, doesn't make it right. When we unleash our anger, more often than not, innocents suffer. Others are caught up in the anger. The fact that that wasn't what we intended doesn't absolve us of our responsibility. On the contrary, we’re even more responsible when we hurt those who didn't deserve it, in the least.
I once heard of a certain type of person described as “a skunk.” That’s a person who, when they feel scared or threatened, lashes out with nastiness. But, it's never only their target who suffers. Very often, someone else gets hit, as well – it’s hard to aim this stuff, after all. And, in any case, there is a nasty, noxious stench left behind, which makes the room unbearably unpleasant to be in, for everyone. Have you ever been an innocent bystander in a meeting, when one person attacks another? You know what I mean.
Look, even God is susceptible to this. None of us are perfect. But, the next time we're about to open our mouths, and attack someone else, let's ask ourselves if it’s really necessary, and if it's worth making others suffer, as well.