Bereshit 6:9 - 11:32
For those of us living in Florida, this week’s Torah Portion, Parshat Noach, hits very close to home. Florida is still reeling from the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Ian. We mourn for those whose lives were lost. We sympathize with those who have been displaced, and we are overwhelmed by the destruction.
In the beautiful web of Creation, everything is interconnected. In last week’s Parsha, we read that everything in nature has its place, and the Laws of Nature are Divine. But if the Laws of Nature come from God, how could God allow such a thing to happen? Could God turn nature against us? This should really come as no surprise to anyone, but the destruction and devastation that Ian brought to our shores did not come from God.
Hopefully, anyone reading this is familiar with the Jewish tenet of Tikkun Olam. For those who are not, in Hebrew Tikkun Olam means “Repair the World.” It’s based on the idea that God created the world as a perfect system but, when humans were thrown into the mix, we messed it all up. Tikkun Olam teaches that humans are partners with God in repairing the damage we have done to the World.
Psalm 95 says: אשר לו הים “The Sea is God’s”, yet humans dump millions of tons of raw sewage, plastic and other pollution into it every day. The Sea is God’s, but we kill trillions of sea creatures every year just to feed cattle, house cats… and other fish.
As I think about the death and destruction caused by Ian, as well as from other major storms around the world, I’m reminded of another text: Newton’s Third Law of Motion.
Newton’s Third Law of Motion says, “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” For the past 200 years, humans have been pillaging and polluting the Ocean with reckless abandon, and today we are seeing the equal and opposite reaction to humanity’s treatment of the Sea. When we go to the Beach, it’s beautiful. But we can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that beneath the surface, the Ocean as we know it is dying. Actually, it’s not dying. By human carelessness, by human complacency, by human greed… we are killing it. As long as it doesn’t affect us, we do nothing.
There is a passage in the Midrash Tanchuma on this week’s Parsha that says: “When Noah came out of the ark, he opened his eyes and saw the whole world completely destroyed. He began crying for the world and said, ‘God, how could you have done this? ...’ God replied, ‘Oh Noah, how different you are from the way Abraham will be. He will argue with me on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah when I tell him that I plan their destruction.... But you, Noah, when I told you I would destroy the entire world, I lingered and delayed, so that you would speak on behalf of the world. But when you knew you would be safe in the ark, the evil of the world did not touch you. You thought of no one but yourself and your family. And now you complain?’ Then Noah knew that he had sinned.” (Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Noach).
Throughout the story of Noah, the one characteristic which stands out more than any other is not obedience to God. It’s silence.
When God said the world was going to be destroyed, how did Noah respond?
He was silent.
When God said, build and ark because a flood was coming that would kill every living being on the planet, how did Noah respond?
He was silent?
The Sea is God’s, but humans are killing it. We cannot stand idly by and commit the sin of Noah. We cannot be silent in the face of such desecration and destruction of that which is God’s.
After the Flood, the Torah says that a rainbow appeared as a sign that never again would God destroy the world. Today, following our flood, we pray that another rainbow will appear. Not from God, but from us. A rainbow to symbolize that we will not stand by silently and watch the Ocean be destroyed. A rainbow to symbolize that we will take action to stop the pollution of our rivers, lakes and springs. A rainbow to symbolize that we will change our own habits of consumption and waste. A rainbow to symbolize that we will do whatever we can to protect and repair the Sea… which is God’s.