- Shabbat Shalom
- The problem with the stories of Genesis are always that they seem to be stories for children: Adam and Eve with the “Apple”; the creation of the world, the Garden of Eden and the snake; they all point to cute stories with a moral at the end that can be used to help children understand the world. When we grow up, we think we are too mature for these kinds of fairy tales and we no longer pay very much attention to them. These stories of Genesis get filed away along with the stories of George Washington and the cherry tree, Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan.
- I always like to remind my students that the reason these stories are in the Bible is NOT because they have something to tell our children, but because they have a deeper, maybe a darker meaning for adults. There are lots of stories of ancient mythology. Those stories were not included in the Torah. Stories in the Torah are about real human beings and the way we are supposed to live our lives. That is not to say that a Noah really lived and that someday we will find the remains of the Ark. I cannot say if this story is historically true or not. I can only say that there is a truth in this story and it is not kid stuff. We saw last week that the stories of creation can resonate deep within our souls. The story of Noah is no less important.
- Rabbi Arthur Waskow summarizes the story of Noah like this: “The story recounts that violence, corruption, ruin were rampant on the earth. God, seeing that the human imagination was drawn toward evil, determined to destroy all life, except for one human family led by Noah, and one pair of every species. God rained death on every being except those who took refuge with Noah on the Ark. One year later, the waters subsided so that these refugees could emerge. And then God, though explicitly asserting once again that the human imagination is drawn toward evil, took an almost opposite tack: God promised that the cycles of life would never be destroyed again, insisted that new rules of behavior must govern human action in the future, and gave the Rainbow as a sign of this covenant.”
- Who is this Noah? Is he a master ship builder? Is he known for his skill in handling animals? Is he a skilled weather forecaster? He is none of these things. His only skill is that he is a righteous person. What is God’s role in all of this? Is God a punishing, vengeful deity? I don’t think so. God is only reacting to the activities of the human beings God created. Only when violence and immorality run rampant in the world is God forced to act. It is the human beings themselves that call down the disaster upon them and only the one man who is not part of the problem is shown a way to avoid the coming disaster.
- What are we supposed to learn from this kind of a story? If the Torah teaches us one thing, it is that we human beings are responsible for our actions. The Midrash tells us that God said to the first human being, that he should take care of the earth because there is nobody who will come after you to fix it if you are not careful. In our Parsha, human beings have broken the world and God has to figure out what to do. There has to be consequences for human actions that do not build up the world. The build-up of violence can only lead to destruction.
- So our first modern lesson of this story is that if we make a mess of this world, then we will have to suffer the consequences. It is not because God does not love us or that God does not care about is, but we are supposed to be the defenders and protectors of this planet and often we don’t do a very good job. We abuse our environment in many ways. We allow cruelty and violence to increase in our land. What causes this violence? There is plenty of food in this country but somehow we can’t manage to get it to those who are hungry. We spend precious money and fuel to transport our food great distances to get to our table, but we can’t get the food to the homeless and hungry in our own city.
- But that is only the beginning of how we abuse our world. There is a story of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the great sinful cities of the generation of Abraham. When a grain merchant came to town, the citizens of the city would come and take but one grain from his bin, but at the end of the day, all the grain was gone yet nobody was responsible since they had only taken one grain. So too, we think that our life is too small to make a difference to the planet. We only put on the lights that we need. We only drive where we need to go. We only buy groceries that we plan to eat. At the end of the day, when we look at the dumpster at the end of the street, we realize that perhaps we are not doing all that we can. How many of us are careful to recycle all the things we can and not just throw it all away as trash?
- Our local power company offers a program to help reduce our energy costs. How many of us have taken advantage of that program? Commercials on television give us ideas as to how we can reduce our energy use but how many of us follow that advice. Do we turn off our ceiling fans when we leave the room? Do we fully shut off our electronics, our TV, stereo and computers at the end of the day? Do we unplug our rechargers for our phones? You see, even when they are not recharging our cell phone, they are still using electricity. Do we raise the temperature in our homes and apartments when we go away for the day? Why do we want to air condition or heat our home if we are not there? When we go away on a vacation, we are careful to turn off the lights before we leave, but why don’t we unplug our hot water heater? Did you know that a refrigerator uses less electricity when it is full rather than empty? Will all these actions save our planet? Maybe not alone but if we all take the time to do our own little bit, we can have a really big impact.
- Noah was not an expert in flood prevention and still he saved the world. We may not be environmental engineers but we too can save the world. Does one have to be an engineer to exchange regular light bulbs for fluorescent lights? Do we need advanced degrees from college to set up timers on our lights and thermostats to save power? Does it take a great deal of experience to separate paper, plastics and juice boxes from the rest of our trash? How difficult could it be to look for food that is locally grown rather than transported all over the country? We make a big deal over food that may be genetically engineered, but we don’t even bother to complain about food that has in it so many preservatives that it doesn’t even taste like food anymore.
- Judaism, from the earliest chapters of the Torah is concerned with saving our planet from waste, from global warming and from human excess. Long before there was an Earth Day, Jews celebrated nature on Tu B’Shevat by planting trees and noting the renewal of the earth from its winter slumber. The Jewish National Fund notes that the State of Israel recycles almost 80 percent of the water that is used. Here in the USA, we recycle only 1 percent of our water. At the end of our Parsha, the Rainbow is the sign of the promise that God will never again destroy the earth. If the earth is destroyed it will be because we cut down all the trees, because we refused to invest in renewable energy until it was too late. It will be because we waste so much of what we have and recycle so little.
- Noah’s Ark, drifting alone on the flooded earth, is a metaphor for this planet, this small ball of rock circling 93 million miles from the sun. Will our greed, our tendency for violence and our disregard for other human beings destroy all the beauty and color and life on this planet or will we make sure that clean air, water and land will eternally be able to combine to form, at the end of a storm, a beautiful rainbow? Will we sit back and let others destroy all that we value in life or will we speak up and do our part to save the great whales, the tiny snail darter and those strange and wonderful plants that could easily be the source of new discoveries that will help us end disease, regenerate life and help to provide food for those around the world who go to bed hungry every night?
- We already know what will kill this planet. We can bomb ourselves into extinction. We can pollute ourselves to death or we can poison our atmosphere and water so our lives will become impossible. In a recent issue of Newsweek, Columnist George Will noted that eventually, after millions of years, this planet will cleanse its air, the pollutants will settle out of the water and all will be restored to the way it once was before. The only question I have is if we human beings will be around to see that day, or will we have ceded our place at the top of the food chain to the insects, who can tolerate greater changes in temperature, pollutants and famine then we can? I don’t know about you, but I would hate to give this world over to the ants and the palmetto bugs.
- We can argue the science but we can’t argue the results. We know that we can’t go on wasting resources and ignoring our effect on our world. It will not take millions of dollars or millions of years to make a difference. All it takes is for each one of us to care. Can you think of one thing that you can do this week to cut down your energy use or to conserve some part of our environment? Think of one thing and then, just do it. It may only make a small difference in your life, but the overall effect on the earth, could make all the difference in the world.
May God help us to find our way to better use and reuse God’s gifts in this world and may we always give thanks for the beauty and majesty of nature as we say….
AMEN AND SHABBAT SHALOM