TEN GENERATIONS – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
Last Saturday in synagogues worldwide we read the story of Creation, including the first human beings, Adam and Eve. This coming Saturday we will read about Noah and the Flood. In the valued volume called Pirkey Avot – “Chapters of the Fathers” – the Mishna points out: “There were ten generations from Adam to Noah, which shows G-d’s patience. Each generation was increasingly infuriating, until He [finally] brought the Flood upon them.”
So it took 10 generations for the human race to make enough mistakes to incur a disaster that figured to wipe out all the life that G-d created. 10 generations. How long was that?
My dictionary defines the length of a generation as averaging 30 years, the age difference from parents to children. This definition is logical today, since the first child in a family generally is born where the parents are somewhere between 15 and 45 years old. So 10 generations = 300 years.
That doesn’t work in the case of Adam and Noah, though. The Torah specifies the age of each of those ancient fathers when their first child is born, and those ages ranged from 65 to 187. (That last age is the famous Methuselah who died at the champion age of 969. Always wondered what else he accomplished…) So those 10 generations totaled to 1,056 years.
This year, Noah and his ark would be welcomed in Boulder, Colorado. Also in Sri Lanka. Did people there do anything to bring on those horrible floods? If they did, when did their mistakes begin? In 1713? Or in 1013?
We hear a great deal about what the human race is doing to accelerate climate change. Dire predictions have it destroying life on earth if we don’t change our ways. Even though experts differ on the extent and speed of ice melts – maybe it happened in the Arctic and not in the Antarctic – or maybe Noah’s flood was really the melting of the Ice Age – but human error somehow magnifies these problems. How long have we been making the mistake of burning fossil fuels? Not 1,000 years for sure. Not even 300. After all, ships in the 18th century sailed by wind power, horses pulled carriages and heat was generated by burning wood.
Maybe our generations are getting shorter. The destruction that took the ancients 1,000 years to bring about, took us from American colonial days to now less than 300, and is predicted to take us maybe one more modern generation.
Let’s hear it for progress.
Or better, let’s do what we can to earn G-d’s patience.
You can contact Rabbi Baruch Cohon for further discussion and/or comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org