Yom Shishi, 30 Tishri 5775
Friday, 24 October 2014
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Read an inspired commentary on this week’s Torah portion by one of our free-thinking Liberal Rabbis.

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Parashat Noach
22nd October 2014 - Rabbi Margaret Jacobi

The story of Noah bothered the rabbis of the Talmud.  What had the Generation of the Flood, as they were referred to, done that could possible deserve such wholesale destruction?  What did it say about God’s justice that so many people, not to mention animals, could simply be swept away?

The rabbis wrestled with these questions in the Talmud.  They taught the concept of ‘g’mul’ that God rendered just punishment and reward, and gave every chance for repentace before carrying out a punishment.   So what was just about the punishment of the flood, and what chance was there for repentance?  The second question is easier to answer than the first.  According to the Talmud, Noah took about 120 years to build the ark.  During this time, people had the chance to ask him what he was up to.  Noah would explain that God was bringing a flood because of their sins, and they would mock him, claiming they did not fear a flood because they were well protected. Still, they were given an extra seven days, during which the sun reversed its course to show them God’s power, and still they did not repent.

Back to the first question, and what was their sin that justified such punishment?  As always with the rabbis, there is more than one answer.  Rabbi Yochanan, one of the greatest rabbis of the 3rd century, said, ‘Come and see how great is the effect of violence, for behold, the Generation of the Flood transgressed every sin, but the decree was not sealed against them until they stretched out their hands in extortion, as it is said, "For the earth is full of violence before them, and behold I will destroy them and the earth.”’  In other words, God was ready to forgive the Generation of the Flood for idolatry and other sins, but once they began acting violently towards one another, their wickedness passed the limit and they became worthy of the severest punishment.

Another opinion attributed their punishment to their pride. They were blessed with every material good and prospered. But instead of being thankful to God for their blessings, they began to turn away from God, feeling that they had no need of God’s protection and that they themselves could take credit for what they had achieved.  In the end, the two explanations are not so different. For once they felt they had achieved everything they had, they felt no need to share their gifts. They became selfish and acquisitive.  They failed to see their fellows as people but only as rivals to their wealth, and so they came to rob and murder one another.

When we look at our world today, and especially the Western World, we can see the sins of the Generation of the Flood being committed again in our own time.  Most of us are living in a time of affluence, even at this time of financial crisis.  We think we can continue living at the current level of consumption and wastefulness.  We fail to see the warning signs of our profligacy, the pollution, the land fill sites with their toxic waste and the signs of global warning.   We are not willing to change our ways, despite the warnings.  At the same time, we are becoming a cynical society, where it is more acceptable to mock than to show compassion.  Shows such as ‘The Apprentice’, now celebrating its tenth anniversary, thrive on people being humiliated and belittled.  The most vulnerable - the poor, the disabled and the mentally ill - are seen as undeserving of support and treated punitively instead of being cared for.

For the sake of the future of the world, we must urgently repent.  We must recognise that our prosperity is conditional.  It is given to us to care for others, not to accumulate wealth for ourselves.  We must learn to respect the humanity and sensitivity of others and treat them with compassion.  If not, we, too, will face destruction.  And just as in Noah’s time, the innocent will perish along the guilty in the resulting flood.    Let us turn from our ways.  If we show compassion, then we may merit the fulfilment of the words of our Haftarah:  ‘For the mountains may depart, and the hills may be moved;, but my kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall My covenant of peace be removed, says the Eternal One who has compassion upon you.’

 

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