Genesis and the Seven Commandments of Noah
Rabbi Dr Zvi Aviner 2021
The goal of this course it to change the perception of the Noahide Seven Commandments from an ancient, vague set of laws to a personal code of behavior, easily understood and acceptable by anyone. We’ll learn who gave these Commandments to Mankind, where and when was it done, and for what purpose. Our unique approach is to follow the text of the Book of Genesis as it goes from one Commandment to the next.
As we’ll see, the Book of Genesis takes us into a journey from one Commandment to the next. It is as if Moses wrote Genesis with the Seven Commandments on his mind. Thus:
Chapter One introduces (I) IDOLATRY (when G-od spoke in plural, see Rashi)
The story of Eden introduces Marriage and (II) ADULTERY, the story of Cain killing Abel introduces (III) BLOODSHED,
The stories about Abraham evolve about (VI) THEFT, ABDUCTION, SLAVERY and Rightful OWNERSHIP,
The stories about Jacob revolve around (V) CIVIL ORDER and JUSTICE,
The stories about the selling of Joseph evolve around (VI) BLASPHMY.
Moreover, each time humanity stumbles over a Commandment, the Torah introduces its REMEDY.
These ideas will become clear to you as we proceed with out study
I would like to point out that we’ll use as a reference the Talmud, Torah Commentaries, Jewish liturgy and prayer books, even the services in the Holy Temple.
Recommended Reading: The Seven Laws of Noah by Aaron Lichtenstein, 19
Let’s begin by discussing the Seven Commandments of Noah as a group.
Noah’s Seven Commandments as a Group
The most common list of the Commandments goes as follows:
VII: PROHIBITION TO CONSUME BLOOD and LIMBS FROM A LIVING ANIMA
Note that there are several other lists. In our class, though, we’ll use the most common one. Amazingly, as you will see, the Book of Genesis follows this particular list in that order.
Note also that each Commandment is a headline, with many subtitles. For instance, there are many subtitles for INJUSTICE, or THEFTS, etc.
According to tradition, the first six of the seven were given to Adam and Eve in Eden. Only the seventh one was given to Noah after the Flood. And yet we call the group after Noah. The obvious reason is that after the Flood, Noah and his wife Naama have replaced Adam and Eve, as the “Father and Mother” of Mankind. In addition, humanity today still lives on contingency, under Noah’s Rainbow Covenant. We are all bound to recognize him and follow his teaching, lest the Flood returns!
And there is perhaps another reason for calling the Commandments after Noah. For who among us would argue against our father Noah? Who would be offended by him? Mankind is divided nowadays by prophets who claim to be the LAST word of G-d. Noah, in contrast, is the FIRST, original one. His message pertains to everyone, regardless race, nationality and culture.
There is an essential difference between Adam’s Six Commandments and the Seventh given to Noah. Adam’s six are primordial, given in Eden which is the Cradle of Mankind, and are therefore embedded in our psyche. Noah’s Seventh, in contrast, was given after the Flood, on Earth, and therefore is to be learned. The same is true for all the other Commandments that were given to Mankind and Israel after Noah. They also do not look natural and are to be learned.
Hence, Adam’s Six Commandments are like a ‘stalk of a Tree’ out of which all the other Commandments are brunched out.
Adam’s Six are the base for the entire Torah. This too will become clearer to you as we proceed with our study.
Laws or Commandments?
Noah’s Commandments are usually referred to as Laws. For instance, here is the USA Congress declaration of 1991, that says
Whereas Congress recognizes the historical tradition of ethical values and principles which are the basis of civilized society and upon which our great Nation was founded.
Whereas these ethical values and principles have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization, were known as the Seven Noahide laws:
Whereas without the ethical values and principles the edifices of our civilization stands in serious peril of returning to chaos…”
Congressional resolution (HJ resolution 104 Public Law 102-14.
Signed by President George Bush on 3-26-91).
Here, the Congress declares the Seven Noahide Laws as the moral foundation of our great nation. By this, the USA is the first nation, ever, to recognize the Noahide laws, without which no decent civilization endures
But the term Laws, leaves their origin open. These Laws might have been invented by Man. The term Commandments, in contrast, implies that their origin is divine
The difference is important. Violating a man-made law, does not necessarily carry a moral judgment. Transgressing G-d’s Commandment does carry a moral stigma of rebellion against G-d. For instance, stealing is not only just a violation of social order and decency, but also a sin against God. Having an affair with a married person, is not only an act of “cheating” one’s spouse, but a grave sin of ADULTERY , seen in G-d’s eye
Are the Commandments Natural Moral Laws?
The notion that the Six Commandments of Adam were given in Eden implies that they are obliquitous, found everywhere in many, if not all, Man’s civilizations.
Indeed, many scholars see the Six Commandments of Adam as “natural moral code” shared by all Mankind. All humans agree for instance that stealing from one another is a bad deed.
The Torah actually supports that notion of commonality. Since the Commandments of Adam were given in Eden, before living on Earth, they LOOK natural.
The result of that perception is that no person may claim ignorance of them. No killer may claim ignorance of the prohibition of murdering.
Where are the Noahide Commandments presented in the Torah?
The Six Commandments of Adam, though given in Eden, are not listed as a group in the Book of Genesis. They appear in the open only in the Ten Commandments of Sinai, in the Book of Exodus. Let’s see how.
The Ten Commandments of Sinai ar
I I Am ………………………………………… ………….VI Thou shall not murder
II Thou shall have no other gods……………………VII Thou shall not commit adultery
III Thou shall not utter my name in vain…………VIII Thou shall not steal
IV Observe the Sabbath…………………………….IX Thou shall not bear false witness
V Honor your father and mother…………………. X. Thou shall not covet
The left Tablet carries five Commandments “between Man and God,” whereas the right Tablet carries Commandments “between Man and Man.”
The Commandments on the right Tablets are all a version of Adam’s Six.
The Commandments on the left Tablets are mixed.
The top two are lumped together into one Commandment: IDOLATRY. The First presents God, whom we should worship, and the Second presents the idols, whom we should worship mot.
Commandment 3 of Moses is part of BLASPHEMY (Adam’s Sixth)
Commandment 5 of Moses is– according to the RMBM – part of JUSTICE and CIVIL ORDR (Adam’s Fifth) or Honoring God (Moses’ 1, (RMBN).
The only Commandment of Moses that is NOT traceable to Adam’s Six is Observing the Sabbath (Moses’ 4).
Hence Moses incorporated all the Six primordial of Adam into the Ten Commandments of Sinai, apart from the Obligation to Observe the Holy Sabbath in a stringent way.
The Talmud says that, as a rule, all Commandments that were first given to Noah and then repeated by Moses to Israel, apply to both Israel and the Nations.
Thus all the Commandments of Sinai pertain to both Noahides and jIsrael, apart from the Commandment to observe the Sabbath. .
It makes sense. Israel is promoted to serve a s a “holy Nation”. Israel draws her holiness from the Sabbath.
That statement goes deep into the perception of the holly Shchina, on whom we will learn.
Noe that the” holiness of Israel” is neither “inherited“ nor “genetic.” It is, rather, ACQUIRED, by entering a Covenant.
Relation between Noah and Moses
To illustrate that relation, let’s consider the following (putative) story.
When Moses went up to Heavens to accept the Torah, he met Noah. “Hi Junior,” Noah said, “I hear that you are going down to deliver the Torah. You are now the newest prophet. What about me? Are you going to make me obsolete, like all false prophets?”
“Don’t worry, grandpa Noah,” Moses said, “Yes, all nations will listen to me. But I shall tell your Children to listen to your Commandments only. My new Commandment will apply only to the Children of Israel whom I have led out of Egypt”
“In that case,” Noah said, “I agree with you.”
Thus, as a rule, a Commandment is applicable to the nations only if it carries two signatures: one of Moses, and one of Noah.
Since Observing the Sabbath in a stringent way was said only to Israel, it applies only to Israel.
Why not written in Eden?
The Six Commandments of Adam were given in Eden, yet they were not written as a set of Laws,
Because in fact they were not applicable to life in Eden.
You could not kill in Eden, while living under the Tree of Life.
You could not steal in Eden, where there was OWNERSHIP.
You could not commit Civil Disorder and Injustice in Eden, where there was society
You could not commit Blasphemy in Eden, living so close to G-od.
But Adam and Eve you could violate IDOLATRY in Eden – by disobeying G-d Command
And they could violate ADULTERY in Eden, if Eve – a married woman – cohabited privately with the Serpent.
Those two Commandments could be violated even in Eden, and they were. This is why Adam and Eve lost their right to live in Eden.
We too, once we’ve violated the Commandments that are relevant to us, we too would then loose our right to live here on Earth
This indeed is the base of Noah’s Rainbow Covenant, as we will see
Thus the Six Commandment of Adam could not be written for Adam in Eden, where they were not totally applicable,
Once Mankind has lived on Earth, as described in the rest of the Book of Genesis, the Six Commandment assumed “reality.” Mankind has stumbled over them one by one, as described in the Book of Genesis. It was then that G-d gave the Six to Moses, as part of the Ten Commandments.
The Seven Commandments’ Order
Let’s discuss the Commandment’s ORDER. Which one should be first, and which one second?
The scholars present several such lists, with different orders. In our class we shall follow the most commonly accepted one, as presented above. This list also fits the order seen through the Book of Genesis, as we shall learn.
Our list is based on hallachic (legal) as well as logical points as follows:
The three Commandments listed at the top: IDOLATRY, ADULTERY and BLOODSHED, are often bound together in the Talmud, for they incur the death penalty by human court. The rest four incur only monetary retributions.
The Three can be enforced
In principle, Noah’s Commandments , especially the three at the top, may be enforced by the nations on each other (RMBM)
If a nation practices human sacrifice, or theft or injustice , other nations may intervene. A society that violates Noah’s Commandments should not be a member of the Nations.
For that reason it would be very appropriate to inscribe Noah’s Commandments on the walls of the UN. Let all decent nations in the world recognize them and abode by them.
Take for example Joshua. Tradition says (in the Talmud) that before crossing the Jordan River, Joshua sent “seven scrolls to the seven nations of Canaan” telling them that Israel is about to enter our forefathers’ land. If you pledge to keep Noah’s Seven Commandments, wrote, Israel would not touch your heirs. Stop sacrificing your children to the Molech, he said, stop sacred prostitution, stop Injustice, and we will welcome you to live side by side with us. Only one nation, the Givonites, accepted his offer. The others preferred war
Judaism Can’t be enforced
Note that Joshua did not attempt to enforce “Judaism” – the entire 613 Commandments – on the Canaanites. As a rule, Judaism cannot be spread by the sword, only by the Spirt of G-d (the prophet Zechariah 4.) That is why Israel has never built a Jewish Empire, even when we had mighty armies.
Apart from one time in Jewish history. It was a Hasmonean king Horkenos (around 200 BC) who converted the Edomites by the sword, despite the fierce objection of the Torah sages. The result was King Herod, a descendant of the enforced Judaism. You know how bad person he was.
Another good reason for placing those three at the top is that one should sacrifice his life, rather than transgressing them.
For Israel, that self sacrifice is a specific Commandment, part of the 613.
For the Nations, self sacrifice for G-d sake is not specifically mentioned in the Torah. However, the Talmud says that Noahides are certainly rewarded for it no less than Israel.
The Talmud brings the following story as a support:
Self Sacrifice of a Gentile
The Talmud says that around 200 AC a sage named Ben Tradion, was condemned by Rome to death for the grave sin of teaching Torah.
His sentence was to be burnt by fire, in addition of being crucified
To prolong his death, the Romans wrapped his body by a Torah scroll and filled the space between his body and the scroll with wet wool sponges, so that the fire would not readily burn him. A fat, big centurion solider stood by the fire and his job was to overturn the burning wood so that the sage would not die fast.
Suddenly, the Roman centurion asked the Rabbi – “Do you want me to fasten your death?”
The Rabbi answered: “If I ask you that, I would be guilty of suicide!”
The centurion asked the rabbi – “Do you promise me that I’ll sit by your side in the world to come?”
And with these words, the centurion jumped into the fire by the rabbi. They say, that so fat he was, that the big fire that arose consumed then both, readily.
They said that a Heavenly Voice was heard saying: “The Centurion and the Rabbi share the same site by the Heavenly Throne.”
This story, and other similar stories, is told by the Talmud to show that the Children of Noah are rewarded for self sacrificing their lives for God, no less than Israel
Logical reasons for the Commandments order
The re is a logic behind the Commandments’ list.
IDOLATRY should come first , for if you don’t believe in God there is no meaning for commandments!
ADULTERY follows – for if a person does not believe and fear G-d, what would hold him from having an affair with his best friend’s spouse?
Indeed, about 70 percent of married couples in the USA confess of having an out of marriage affair.
BLOODSHED follows, for once you’ve committed ADULTERY, wouldn’t you expect the offended spouse to chase you with a knife or a pistol?
THEFT follows, for once you’ve stolen someone’s spouse, why not his assets?
A common story. I knew a married woman who supported her lover by money stolen from her bank account she had with her husband.
INJUSTICE follows, for having done all the above, wouldn’t you aspire to cover up your deeds?
BLASPHEMY follows, for living such life would make you curse your mother and father for bringing you to this world, and curse the CREATOR for creating you.
Thus, a person may slide along the Commandments, in a predicted way. It is as if we are ‘programed’ to stumble over the Commandments one after the next.
As a rule: Once you’ve violated a Commandment, expects the next Commandment on line to pop up and challenge you, so that you would be tested by it.
This makes sense. Since the Six Commandments of Adam were given to us in Eden, they are deeply engraved in our psyche. No wonder we would stumble over them one after the other.
The rabbis said that if you see a public leader committing an extra marital affair, you should know that “This person is very arrogant, worshipping himself, and Heavens made him stumble over ADULTERY to show everyone how empty-headed this person is!”
Since this leader is an idolater, worshipping himself, the Heavens made him stumble over the next Commandment – ADULTERY. And be sure that if he continues that patch, he would end up with violence and BLOODSHED.
Take King David as an example
King David, at the peak of his kingship, stumbled over Bat Sheva. From being arrogant, “worshipping himself”, he stumbled over ADULTERY (even though technically she was divorced.) David then organized the death of her husband Uriah – BLOODSHED. The prophet Nathan then charged David with STEALING the wife and committing INJUSTICE. “You are the King of Israel,” the prophet charged, “and by giving a bad example you’ve desecrated the name of G-d!”- BLASPHEMY . Here you see the entire cascade of Commandments, as David fails and slides down.
King David repented and asked forgiveness, and he received it, but his story can engrave the cascade of Commandments in our mind.
Because if David fell along that slippery road, how much we, normal human beings, might do the same!
Each individual, as well as Mankind
This cascade of downfall from one commandment to the next, can happen not only to every person, but also to Humanity.
As we will soon see, the Book of Genesis describes that downfall along the Commandments’ cascade. The Book also prescribes the proper REMEDIES.
We should therefore be conscientious of them, and be prepared to face them one by one during our lifetime. .
A sad case as a demonstration
A ardent religious member of our orthodox Jewish congregation, was married to a woman who secretly rebelled against tradition and the Torah. You can say that she violated IDOLATRY.
One day her husband return home earlier than usual, only to see his wife with her lover in the bedroom. From IDOLATRY she sledded into ADULTERY
He later confessed to his friends that had he had his gun on him at that moment, he would have certainly shot them two and then kill himself – committing BLOODSHED
He then discovered that his wife had supported her beloved financially for years by money taken from their family banks account- THEFT
When the husband turned to the civil court, the wife hired the best lawyer in the area who convinced the court to opt for the wife. So much, that the court ordered the children to be placed only under the mother’s care. For those of us who knew the couple well, this decision was a blunt INJUSTICE.
Another example: The Great Gatsby
One of the best-known literature figures in the USA, is The Great Gatsby. The book and the movie have enjoyed a tremendous success, since the plot speaks to everyone.
The story starts when a godless Gatsby, a successful t business man, who has made a fortune in godless ways (IDOLATRY) , throws parties and orgies in his palace by the lake ( IDOLATRY)
It turns out that by throwing these parties, the Great Gatsby wanted to attract his discovered former sweetheart, who is now married. The Great Gatsby I successful, committing ADULTERY.
Her hurting husband planes to have him killed (BLOODSHED) and even steal his money (THEFT.)
When the adulterous wife attempts to escape, her car hits a woman fatally. The Great Gatsby now attempts to cover up her deeds (INJUSTICE)
Finally the Great Gutsby is shot dead by the injured woman’s husband (JUSUCE)
The story is compelling since it follows the cascade of the events and sins predicted by the Primordial Six Commandments of Adam
Hence, it seems as if Man is “programmed” from Eden to encounter Adam’s Six Commandment in Man’s lifetime, and be tested by them
Another example: The Rashneesh Cult
Those of us who lived in the eightieth, do remember well the Rashneesh cult, that settled in Oregon and created their own controversial community that captured the national news.
The Rashneesh cult worshipped their Guru leader, B. Rajneesh as a god. They prostrated before him on the ground, prayed to him and abided by his words with full submission. Hence they transgressed IDOLATRY big time.
The cult promised to create a new society, based on compassion, peace and brotherhood. Rajneesh abolished the family, and preached Free Sex. This became a major attractive point for the thousands youngsters that flocked to him from Europe and America. Wild , very wild sexual orgies were conducted nightly. You can see that in the Wild, Wild shown in Netflix. Hence the group violated ADULTERY big time.
The so called peaceful society turned suddenly evil with accusations of bombing their opponents, mass poisoning and attempts of murdering. The peaceful members learned to shoot pistols and automatic guns with daily practice. The Guru himself contemplated suicide, that was stopped only by drugging his physician. Hence : BLOODSHED.
As the result of the inner conflicts, the Guru former faithful secretary, Sheela, escaped the camp taking with her – according to many reports – a treasure of expensive watches, jewelry, and cash worth of millions dollars – THEFT.
The story ended un in the court – JUSTICE.
The whole story is sheer BLASPHEMY.
This cascade of events, so predictable by the Six Commandments, makes the story co compelling.
The Historical impact of Noah’s Commandments
The impact of Noah’s Seven Commandments on history is immense. Thus –
Christianity was born when St. Paul was ‘dispatched’ by the elders of the nascent Christian Jewish sect in Jerusalem, to teach the gentiles the Seven Laws plus the “good news of the coming of the Messiah” (see Acts.)
Islam too, centuries later, was born when two Jewish tribes of the city of Yathrib (now Medinah, north of Mecca) opened their schools to the local pagan Arabs, teaching them the Seven Laws of Noah and other stories of Genesis, and some prophets. The rest is history.
The common problem was that in each case, the gentiles were not contempt to play the “second violin.” Each group therefore proclaimed to have REPLACED Israel.
This unfortunate misconception should be avoided in the future.
Noahides play a central role in the Torah, as the Congregation of Noah’s Nations, where Israel SERVES serves “the Priest”.
A priest here is a teacher.
Who then aspire to replace his teacher?
END OF INTRODUCTION TO THE SEVEN LAWS