SERMON FOR PARASHAT NOACH
3.6mm per year; this is apparently the current rise in sea level per year… At the end of the Flood story God swears Genesis 9:11) never to bring a Flood upon the Earth again – or at least, not a flood of Waters, there are many other destructive options available – but God does not say that Mankind will not ever bring this upon itself. If it is so important for God to ensure that Noah saves and preserves and maintains continuity by keeping specimens of all species – what does it mean if we make several species extinct each year? How long could it be before not just coastal areas of other continents a long way away, but also large areas of Northern and Central Europe are also flooded and where will the refugees go then? And where will crops for food be grown then? There are many questions one could pose.
The sidra Noach has many inconsistences and contradictions. Noach himself is no hero – the rabbis pounce on the term that he was ”good for his time” to show how relativising this term is. His father has given him the name ”Noach” with the deliberate idea or hope or prophecy that being of the tenth generation he will bring ”Rest” to the world – ”Menucha” – and in essence cleanse the world from the curse which God had placed upon the earth as a punishment for Adam. (This is not the same thing as the doctrine of ‘Original Sin’). And – well – in the time of Noach the world is indeed washed clean, but in a destructive rather than constructive way). At the end of the story, God does not promise never the destroy the Earth again; God merely says ”Never again with a FLOOD” – thus leaving many options open (a Black Hole? A meteorite? Drought? Radiation?)
The Flood story is the last time in the Torah that we speak of ”the whole world’ as one unit. The Creation stories speak of the world as being ”the World” – part of a unity described as ”the Heavens and the Earth” – but soon this unity will be divided into different languages and then different cultures and different people, ethnic groups, nations, each thinking only of their own interests, each prepared to conflict with the others, to focus not on ”The world” but only ”My part of the world”. ”This Land, that Land, the Land of the such-and such, the Land we left, the Land that was promised to us… ” Later certain prophets and the Psalmist will take a universalist vision, that God will ”come to judge the Earth”, but this is much later and more a messianic vision for the future.
Noach is picked by God for survival, together with his three sons (and their respective spouses who are never named) and certain animals are picked for survival but we are never told what makes them so special, so deserving, compared to their fellows. Nor are we told why the rest do not deserve this. The question facing us now is: How many of US may be picked for survival? How often have we seen in recent years the images of inundated towns and landscapes – this is not the same as Sea but was technically Land – but Under Water? Buildings and trees and embankments poking above the surface of the water after a high tide, a heavy rainfall, a tsunami, a flood? A denial of the original division between wet and dry made in Genesis 1:9f. The answer may depend upon the extent and the speed with which we learn to think once more of ”One World” rather than of ”Our own personal Ark”.
The so-called ”Chaos Theory” formulated by the mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz (1917-2008) speaks of the way in which everything is, if one goes far enough, interlinked. The example best known, though not always understood, is of a butterfly in the Amazon jungle which flaps its wings, the ultimate consequence of which could be a hurricane somewhere else, in Europe. Everything links to everything else – but we do not know how. Now we are confronted with what I will call ”Rothschild’s New Chaos Theory”: If that Butterfly is not there any more, and is therefore not able to flap its wings, because it had been a victim of pesticides or its habitat had been destroyed, then this ABSENCE of a little movement can also lead to a natural catastrophe elsewhere. So the absence of some insects and plants can for example lead to an absence of birds and other predators which in turn leads to a migration or extinction of further species which would have been dependent on this part of the food chain. And so on. It may be rather over-simplistic to say that burning the trees in Brazil could lead to trees burning in California, but at the same time it may also help to realise that burning the one can lead to a warming and a drying-out of the atmosphere generally and thus help enable the other to happen. In Genesis Chapter 1, which is of course a poem and not a scientific treatise, it is made clear that ground, water, plants, light, crawling creatures, birds, fish all have a part to play somewhere in the world – and not JUST the Person created on the Sixth Day.
So one message is that a catastrophe, whenever it comes, does not respect so-called artificial national boundaries, nor even ethnic or cultural boundaries. It obeys natural laws. Sometimes there is nothing that tiny, ineffectual homo sapiens can do – against a volcano, an earthquake, a tsunami, a meteorite – but sometimes we could indeed have an impact – a minor impact but better than none at all – if we obey natural laws as well. If we respect the food chain and our place in it, and the need not just for we as mammals but for certain other life-forms and plants to survive and the water and the air and the atmosphere in general – we do not Bless the Earth, but we may possibly reduce the Curse.
Slowly, maybe too slowly, but inevitably, we are learning to perceive the alternatives. Shamayim – the Heavens – is written in the dual form; but HaAretz, the Earth, is in the Singular.
Shema Yisrael, HaAretz Beiteinu, HaAretz Echad.
Hear O Israel, the World is Our Home, the World is One.