Shabbat Noach

This is my prepared text for my d’var Torah from this past Shabbat.  While I ventured from my text, this conveys the gist of my remarks:

Shabbat Noach – October 16, 2015Noahs_Ark

There is an aspect of our Torah portion this Shabbat, which has long puzzled me. I have trouble understanding why the rabbis who designated the divisions between weekly parshiyot made the decision they did in respect to this week’s portion. The story would make more sense were the first verses of Genesis chapter 6 actually included in the opening of this week’s reading, rather than having been relegated to the tail end of last week’s reading – where, after reading the different creation narratives; the Torah’s tale of Adam and Eve in the garden; the trees; and the story of Cain and Abel – experience suggests to me that those verses tacked on to the end of the reading which really belong with this week’s portion get lost. I see an important bridge from verse 5 at the end of last week’s reading, to a verse just 3 verses into this week’s reading. At the end of last week we read: The Lord saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth.” (Genesis 6:5) To me this seems a pretty important part of the setup to the story of Noach we read this Shabbat.  It is so important that it is repeated just after we are introduced to Noach at the opening of this week’s reading: “The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness.” (Genesis 6:11) These verses; and their rationale for why God wrought destruction upon the world about whose creation we read just a week ago echo quite loudly for me on this Shabbat.

Shabbat brings us a pause – a way to demarcate the week now ended as we look forward to a new week; and the myriad opportunities it may hold for us. I must confess that on this Shabbat, while I am here in body, my heart and spirit are very much in Israel. Recent weeks have brought a distinct uptick in violence in Israel – we all know it — I imagine we are paying attention in different ways.  We can’t escape it. This week’s events have ratcheted up the tension, anxiety and frustration.  Just 24 hours IMG_0414ago this Sanctuary was filled to overflowing with a crowd who had come to hear the music of Ehud Banai. Hundreds of Israelis, together with hundreds of American Jews and members of our families and community gathered for what should have been an evening of unbridled joy and artistry.  There was joy; and there was abundant artistry.  But as I made my way around the gathering, both before and after the concert, it was hard not to feel the collective sense of anguish and sense the pall which hangs over our community.

It was a challenging summer. Our Jewish community was deeply divided and anxious about the proposed deal with Iran. As the final days of debate wound down, and we entered our High Holy Days. At the same time knives, screwdrivers, meat cleavers, vehicles, and other implements were unsheathed as individual Palestinians began attacking Israelis, young and old.  Our Holy Day season was marred by reported incidents of attacks. In the days since we marked the end of holy days, the attacks have increased. Israelis, who are, by and large, accustomed to living within the tension that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and which is so present in the larger Middle Eastern context, found themselves afraid to walk the streets of their neighborhoods. They are fearful of shopping in their usual spots in Jerusalem’s Jewish market, Machine Yehuda, or to ride the public buses. The attacks seem random. They are spreading out across the country even as missiles are flying once again from Gaza.  Last night, a band of 100 youths firebombed a sacred site regarded as the Tomb of Joseph, in the Galilean city of Nablus, several damaging the site which is revered by many Jews. This, while accusing Israel of attempting to destroy and/or change the status quo as it relates to the Al-Aksa Mosque and Dome of the Rock atop the Temple Mount.

Friends, let me clear, I continue to believe that there is room for discussion and debate about the conflict and how Israelis and Palestinians find their way to some sort of co-existence.  Indeed, beginning in January  will offer the third part of the Hartman Institute’s Engaging Israel Learning series which deals specifically with the conflict. But this moment is not the time for debate.  Now is time to reach out to our Israeli family – our brothers and sisters and make sure they know – “you are not alone.”  This is the time to reach out – by phone, via email; Skype; however we can to those we know and love.  The events of recent weeks have opened a new phase in an asymmetrical conflict. Israel’s leaders do not know how to combat this wave of terror attacks. And the leadership on the other side cannot or will not  stem the tide. But they do have ample pronouncements in which they accuse Israel of acts or intended acts based on lies. The irony is that Israel is not destroying the place the Palestinians hold as sacred, even as Palestinians deliberately destroy a place sacred to Jews.

In the aftermath of a summer of deep division and splintering of our Jewish community, on this Shabbat we stand as one community – praying for our people — and for all innocent people whose lives are being taken, or challenged by a wave of evil — a wave of what our portion might call  Hamas — extreme perversion and hideous violence. I truly wish it would not be a crisis that would draw us together as a community. But a crisis is what we have — as well as a heinous display of evil such as our portion outlines as the rationale for the flood with which God destroys the world.

A 13 year old Palestinian boy lies in an Israeli hospital where he is receiving treatments for wounds he sustained while attacking innocent Israelis.  Who sends a child to commit such an act?  Who teaches children to hate so deeply that they are willing to wantonly destroy and harm anyone in their path?

In the Torah we read, “God saw the evil that was ingrained in humanity.”  Can’t we see it? Can’t we end it? Before that which now flows in trickles becomes a torrent, not of flood waters, but of overflowing rivers of blood as more and more sacred vessels of the image of God are destroyed.

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