Forth Light Weekly Sedra
Contained within the story of the Flood and its aftermath, are three approaches to coping with and rebuilding from, catastrophe. These are seen in the actions of Noach, the builders of the Tower of Babel and in the story of Abraham. Noach survives the flood but faces a devastated world with the knowledge that he could have maybe prevented the catastrophe had he, like Abraham and Moses, pleaded with G-d to spare humanity. He reacts to the silence and the ghostly voices of the millions no longer alive by planting a vineyard and getting drunk. He thus demonstrates one reaction to tragedy, a turn to escapism and hedonism. This of course does not solve anything; only possibly temporarily dulls the pain. The second method of dealing with disaster is demonstrated by the builders of the Tower of Babel. It is in some ways the opposite of the first. Recovering from the total loss of control experienced during the catastrophe, they seek to prevent a repetition by seeking to assert total control over everything and everyone. The problem with this approach is that it is just as cruel and inhuman as the original tragedy and seeks to create a sense of total security that is both unattainable and self-destructive.
The Tower builders who valued a brick more than a human life are the epitome of the immorality of this approach. Finally, at the end of the Parshah, we begin the story of Abraham. Abraham is someone who faced several challenges in his life but responded with neither escapist, hedonism or the immoral use of power. Rather he acted with optimism, discipline and moral purpose. When he had to fight, he fought with determination to achieve the objective but without losing his moral compass. He was able to show empathy even for those like the Sodomites who had forfeited all right for pity and generosity to his neighbours even when they did not always totally deserve it. Most of all, he refused to allow the various setbacks in his life to divert him from his purpose or to lose either his determination or his humanity. As the Jewish people again face tragedy and the need to respond, let us remember the lessons of our Parshah and act neither like Noach or the builders of Babel. Rather let us look to the example of Abraham and go forward with deep moral purpose, steely determination and ultimate hope.
As we start again the weekly cycle of Torah readings we face a worrying and traumatic situation of uncertain duration. As Jews have done for centuries in such situation we turn to the Torah for answers. As we read this week the stories of the Creation and the Garden of Eden, what message can they have for us in this When we look at the Midrashic commentary on the Creation story we find an interesting phenomena. From the very beginning there were problems and discord. The trees, which were meant to have the same taste in their bark as of their fruit, ‘rebelled’ and did not fulfil this command. In like manner, the sun and moon were originally meant to be the same size but the moon complained that you cannot have two equal rulers of the firmament, so G-d diminished the moon. How are we to understand these rather strange stories? Rather than let their imaginations get the better of them, our Sages are by these comments telling us something profound. The world could have been created perfect, there was an ideal of perfection but in the end it was not. Things were created imperfect purposely and from the beginning. The question is why.
The answer can be found in the next chapter with the creation of humans. G-d decides that Adam should not be alone and so creates animals who are then brought to Adam to name. Why should Adam have to name the animals and why is it important we are told about it? Because by this act, G-d is making humans partners with him in creation. G-d could, as we have seen, created an ideal world. Instead He purposely created a deficient world that needed humans to make up the deficiency. According to the Jewish world view, evil in its various guises is the consequence of this deficiency Like the other things lacking in the world this is so we, as humans, can be partners with G-d in making up this deficiency. It is our job to face evil and to fight it and in doing so we are helping G-d complete creation. The world is thus not ideal and terrible things happen. It is easy to blame G-d for not preventing this, but in the end it is humans that create evil and humans that must combat it. As the Jewish people, always the particular target of evil forces, again face up to monstrous evil, let us take strength from the thought that this is part of our role in the world and as G-d’s partners, and with his assistance, we will ultimately prevail and so complete the work of creation.