There’s a well-known fable about a frog and a scorpion. The scorpion wants to cross a river but cannot swim, so it asks a frog to carry it across. The frog hesitates, afraid that the scorpion might sting it, but the scorpion promises not to, pointing out that they would both drown if it killed the frog in the middle of crossing. The frog considers this argument sensible and agrees to transport the scorpion. Midway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog anyway, dooming them both. The dying frog asks the scorpion why it stung, despite knowing the consequence, to which the scorpion replies, “I am sorry, but I couldn’t resist the urge. It’s in my nature.”
This parable is meant to teach that sometimes our instinctual or habitual ways win out, even when they’re not in our own best interest. The scorpion could not resist the urge to do what he always does, even if it meant that he would ultimately die along with the frog. At the same time, the frog, seemingly a natural helper, took a chance on the scorpion, knowing there was risk involved.
Whenever I hear this parable, I imagine what might have transpired on the ark that Noah built. After all, there were lambs and lions, scorpions and frogs, predators and prey, all crammed together. How could they coexist?
This week we read that very story in Parshat Noach. As the second section of text in the entire Torah, this portion takes us through the story of the flood, including Noah building the ark, saving his family and the animals, sending out a dove, and God’s promise to never do this again. We learn of the generations of Noah and how humanity moved on to create the next piece of the narrative, the Tower of Bavel. After the Tower of Bavel, we see that the nations are scattered, and then the Torah quickly moves us through the 10 generations between Noah and Abraham, where the rest of our history as a people takes off.
So how did every type of animal live peacefully during their time on the ark? Our commentary suggests that these animals, unlike the society Noah was from, somehow recognized the dire situation and were able to put aside their natural enmity and cohabitate peacefully in the ark. It was only when the danger was over that they went back to their old habits. What do we make of this temporary change? Perhaps the pessimistic view focuses on the fact that the peacefulness they achieved was only temporary and that old habits and natural proclivities die hard. However, I choose the optimistic view, the one that focuses on the fact that change is possible, peace is attainable, and working together can make a difference, even if just for a short time.