The Beginning of the World ~

Yes, this week we start the Torah over with the first verses of Genesis and it is one action-packed Torah portion. Never mind that G-d creates the world in six days and then, understandably, has to rest. Never mind that the first man and first woman can’t behave themselves and are cast out of the garden. Never mind that the first generation of children of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel are born and Cain kills his brother. Never mind that ten generations are listed down to Noah.  And yes, at this point G-d is sorry about the whole mess and Noah has to save us, and everything!

Is that enough for one week of reading?  I think it is enough for a year myself.  This Torah portion talks about creation, something people still argue about but there are many scientists that have faith as well as science in their hearts and minds.  There is “sin” and sex and punishment.  And it only gets worse, there is massive familial conflict that ends in murder.

And then there is the flood.

One of the things that has stood out to me as I prepare and teach on some of these early stories in Genesis, and one of the things my class and I have discussed, is what is missing.  There is all this drama and trauma but there are huge gaps.  And the gaps are the lack of communication, the lack of dialogue.  In most of these stories the details of interactions and discussions are omitted. Of course if they weren’t the Torah would be considerably longer, but it is interesting to think about what the conversations must have been between Adam and Eve for instance. It didn’t happen in the blink of an eye, you know there was more going on.  And while we are given the smallest of details of what was ailing Cain and Abel there must have been much more discussion, conflict, insults, what have you.  Cain didn’t just see a sheep over the line and decide to kill his brother.

One of the things that make Judaism interesting for me is that anyone can write midrash. Midrash are the stories that we tell to fill the gaps.  Midrash are the ideas we have about what must have happened. Midrash is how we add in what we know, what we have experienced, to make the stories of the Torah make sense for us now, today. Because I believe the Torah lives and flexes as needed in the same I believe the Constitution does the same.  The stories of Genesis mean very different things for different people, different generations, different Rabbis and different students. We all bring our colors to the stories if we are willing to dig in to them and really try to understand what they mean for us.

And so, do I really believe there was a global flood?  Maybe, so much of the earth was covered by water at one time.  Do I really believe all the animals got to go in one great boat two by two, not really.  Do I believe that creation is angry for what we have done with our free will, I do.  But that same free will allows us the opportunities for tikkun olam, repairing the world that we are destroying. And Midrash allows us to find meaning in the ancient stories.

And so, every year, we begin the cycle of reading again and the world is born anew.  Shabbat Shalom

Noah ~ where’s that ark when we really need it

This is one of those Torah portions that has so much in it that it is hard to know where to start, where to go, where to end.  It begins with that famous ark, goes through the genealogy of Noah all the way to Abraham, G-d makes promises, gives blessings, Noah falls off the wagon and the people are divided in language and the Tower of Babel is begun.  Yikes.

We seem to be living in an era of Babel/babble. Everyone is talking, everyone’s ego is at stake, we speak to each other in 140 characters, and nobody is really listening.  It is as if we are once again divided by language although now we are divided by a rigidity of ideas that is manifest in our inability to listen to or hear one another.

There are sublime moments in this portion, the first is G-Day’s promise never to disrupt the earth in the same way or to the same extent again; and the covenant is renewed with a rainbow. And G-d blesses Noah and his ancestors, as well as his sons (at least one).  In this there is hope for us I think.

But even as The portion has these blessings, we come back to drunk Noah and the Tower of Babel.   We are painfully reminded of our human shortcomings, we are blessed even as we fail.  We have that pesky free will and with that we are imperfect.  The nature of free will is that we will, from time to time, fail.  And with failure comes consequences.  As always, I do not believe in godly “tests” and so I think the gift of free will comes with the lesson of humility for our mortality.

In this time of great divisions, careless rigidity and thoughtless prejudices, the consequence of our “babble” is our failure to overcome our inability to listen.  The consequence of our failure to communicate is where we are, in a world that has forgotten to work for love and for shalom, for peace, and knows only the individual self.

Noach teaches us that we are, or should be, each other’s keepers.  Just listen. Put down your phones.  Shalom.