Make a Fixed Time for Study

עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Archive for October, 2014

Parshat Noah – The Flood This Time

Posted by rabbiart on October 21, 2014

Our opening verse sets the scene for a classic debate about Noah’s merit. Was he righteous only in comparison to the rest of his generation, or was he truly righteous depsite his generation? And therefore he would have been even more a tzaddik in other times? (Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 108 Read about it in English here) He was – in his generation – an ish tzaddik; a righteous man. Not only that, elohim walked with Noah.

אֵ֚לֶּה תּֽוֹלְדֹ֣ת נֹ֔חַ נֹ֗חַ אִ֥ישׁ צַדִּ֛יק תָּמִ֥ים הָיָ֖ה בְּדֹֽרֹתָ֑יו אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֖ים הִֽתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹֽחַ:

Noah is the last righteous person on earth. The world has descended into immorality, idolatry and robbery. Everyone and everything has lost its way. Hashem selects Noah, and commands him to build a very large boat. Without this intervention, humanity will be eradicated. Sound familiar?

Rabbi Avi Shafran complained last week  about the sinister sound (as he called it) demonstrations beneath the window of his Agudath Israel offices in Manhattan. We shouldn’t worry about climate change, he reassures us, because ‘Hashem has built self-correcting mechanisms into nature, and that our zeal should be reserved for Torah-study and mitzvos.’ He mentions several anecdotal adjustments to planetary warming as evidence that nature will self-correct regardless of anything humankind can do to it. According to R. Shafran: No interventions are required.

Davar Acher

When Noah was born, his father named him with a prayer that he would relieve the pain and toil of working the ground which HaShem had cursed. (Breshit 5:29) Noah worked for 120 years to build the ark. It must have required trust, faith, perseverance and even a modicum of zeal. Saving the world from itself is no casual endeavor.

From Noah we learn what it means to be an active partner with HaShem in the ongoing work of creating the world. Just as humans had caused the ground to be cursed, another human would redeem it.

We make much, as we should, of Avraham Avinu and his willingness to answer hineni when called. With Noah, it appears that no call was even necessary. When he enters the story, he is already a tzaddik, walking with HaShem.

Perhaps Noah was righteous only in his generation because his vision did not include saving the entire world, only the future of humanity. Shall we be gladdened at the end of the story because Noah’s family and the animal family are saved? Or shall we be sad for the deaths of all those who perished?

At the end of Noah’s story, HaShem comes to grips with the realization that HaShem’s most important creations are flawed. HaShem promises HaShem’s self to never again bring the hammer down on all living things. The seasons, as well as the times for planting and harvesting, will continue for all time. HaShem establishes a brit in which the use of flooding (and we would like to believe, all weapons of massive destruction) are forswarn.

It would seem in our day that Noah is someone we should seek to emulate. We are flooded with the consequences of so much yetzer that we cannot simply be passive and trust to self-healing mechanisms. We need to partner with HaShem in everything symbolized by Noah building his ark.

Advertisements

Posted in Torah Commentary | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Parshat Breshit – Keeping Our Brotherhood

Posted by rabbiart on October 16, 2014

Who me?

Not me?

Got kids?  Then you’ve heard these phrases before. In particular, this might serve as  modern vernacular translation of Cain’s response to HaShem when he is asked “Where is your brother Abel?”

In his book Bedibur Echod Asher Ben-Zion Buchman offers explanations of each Parshah. In particular he searches for ‘thoughts on the unity of the weekly sidrah’. For Breshit he writes that the key phrase is “ ‘heaven and earth’, which refers to the duality in creation of the spiritual and the material”.  When he comes to the two brothers, (p. 11-12) he references Rabbi Don Isaac Abravanel (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Abravanel.html) as observing that Cain קין is based on the Hebrew word that means ‘to acquire’, while Abel – הבל – means breath or nothingness.  One brother, he continues, is soley concerned with acquisition and materialism while the other brother is purely spiritual. The world cannot be built only out of the one or the other. Only through the characteristics of the lesser known third son – Seth – can the world be built up.

In concluding his remarks on Parshat Breshit, he mentions that Noah’s birth is included in this parshah, thereby completeing the first ten generations of humankind. According to the Torah there is only one sacred spark left from the divine light of creation; it is embodied in Noah, who finds favor in HaShem’s eyes.

In this parshah we have the astonishing (but not surprising!) statement that HaShem can hear the voice of Abel’s blood crying out to HaShem from the ground.

מֶה עָשִׂיתָ; קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ, צֹעֲקִים אֵלַי מִן-הָאֲדָמָה

The Gemara (Rosh HaShana 16b) observes that there are three kinds of individuals; those who are completely wicked, those who are completely righteous, and those who are in the middle.  It is rarely if ever the case that those who are completely righteous regard themselves as having that much merit, and even more rare that the completely wicked will acknowledge that they are.  And in any event who am I, who are we, or who is anyone to judge.

As we look around the world at the beginning of 5775 it is so hard to ignore that there is so much blood crying out from the ground. Spilled by war, spilled by disease, spilled by – in our own country – racial hatred.  If HaShem were not HaShem, HaShem would most surely be deafened by the sound of all this blood crying out from the ground.

What we must not do is turn our own deaf ears.  We must not say Who Me. We must not say Not Me, and we absolutely must not question the idea that we are in fact our brothers’ keeper. In our day, perhaps we all in some way, wear the mark of Cain on our foreheads.

Posted in Torah Commentary | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Parshat Breshit – In the Big Inning

Posted by rabbiart on October 15, 2014

It’s baseball playoff fever here in the Bay Area.  The A’s fell to Kansas City, but the Giants are looking like a team of destiny, as they took a 2-1 lead last night on – of all things – a walk off error!  Our Rabbi is a huge Giants fan; I’ve never heard him mention the A’s.  Coincidence (as they say) I think not.  On the other hand, in the blueprint for the world as designed by HaShem, there is no such thing as luck, and really, we have no evidence that she gives a hoot about sports, other than – perhaps – that players not get injured.

My Uncle Sid (alav haShalom) ran away from cheder early in life and returned to the active fold late in life, becoming a pillar of his shul and a minyan regular.  It’s from him I learned to translate בְּרֵאשִׁית as “in the Big Inning”.  The customary translations are “In the beginning” and “when beginning”.  The former aligns with the theology that the earth was created out of nothing; the latter aligns with the idea that HaShem organized what was already there. Professor Robert Alter (The Five Books of Moses) renders it as “When God began to create” but doesn’t explain why he chose that particular translation.  The Chabad translation of the first two words of the Torah – בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא – renders it as “In the beginning of God’s creation {of the world}”.

Regardless, the creation of the world is certainly the Big Inning to begin all Innings.  The game is not yet over, although reading the newspaper makes one feel that it is most certainly in extra innings.

Even a cursory reading of the Torah reveals that it tells two stories in one. The story of how the world is, and the story of how the world ought to be.  Or as R. Shlomo Carlebach is reported to have said “The Torah is a commentary on the world, and the world is a commentary on the Torah”.

Regardless of the reader’s understanding of how the Torah came into existence, I believe that we can all agree that it is a living document that speaks to us in every generation and addresses the most issues of our times. For proof we need look no further than Rashi’s opening comment. In it Rashi asks and answers the question “why doesn’t the Torah begin with Shmot 12:2, which is the first commandment specifically addressed to the Jewish people?”. He answers, that, since HaShem created the world, HaShem may give the lands of the seven nations (what is now modern-day Israel) to whosoever HaShem chooses.  This is the answer, Rashi says, that the Jewish people should give whenever the nations of the world accuse us of having taken the land by force.

The argument over this tiny portion of the Earth continues to this day, with more and more European nations (who don’t exactly come to this conversation with clean hands) accusing Israel of exactly that – appropriation of land by force and conquest. The exploration of that debate will have to wait for a different post, but there is no doubt that the Torah has much and will have much to say on this topic because without question “It’s Alive”.

Rabbi Sheldon Lewis, in his wonderful book Torah of Reconciliation makes some wonderful observations that illuminate what the Torah has to say about this argument and the terrible darkness that seems to be falling on much of the world, especially in the Middle East.  In his beginning (p.39) he writes “Peace Comes with the First Light”, referencing the verse from Isaiah (45:7) that has become (in slightly modified form) the opening sentence of the morning service.  Later on (p.49), Rabbi Lewis, referencing Rashi, states that Reconciliation is Fundamental to Creation.

As we begin anew the cycle of reading the Torah, may we (and all the peoples of the world) be blessed with understanding that (quoting Rabbi Lewis on p. 51) Teshuva is integral to the world, a world which is “unthinkable without a way to heal relationships that were in tension or were completely broken”.

Refuah Shlemah  to us all.

Posted in Torah Commentary | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »