Friday, November 4, 2016
The Building Deluge of Climate Change©
I don’t know why, but we are obsessed with the idea of the world ending. In the movies, they end in various ways – in some, by alien invasion, in some, it’s disease, worldwide pandemic, in some – earthquakes, super tornados, and of course, floods, in some asteroids have crashed to earth, and of course, who doesn’t love a Zombie apocalypse.
Our parashah this week deals with the worst-case scenario the – the end of the world, and most human life. The flood story is perhaps one of the most well-known and popular narratives in the entire Torah, the scenario that started them all – the great flood.
We have become obsessed with catastrophe. Who didn’t worry about the Ebola virus in the United States two years ago, even though, as a news article stated, More Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died of Ebola. Don’t get me wrong, Ebola is a serious illness that has killed thousands in Africa, but is it the end of the world as we know it?
We have visions of how we think the world is going to end, perhaps reinforced by this story, as a quick end whether through nuclear war or a worldwide pandemic; but I think we are overlooking one of the largest threats to our lives on earth. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, I want to talk a little bit about our parashah and how there is more than meets the eye regarding how fast things ended.
There is a famous midrash that talks about how God destroyed the world. Eli was quite upset with God – why would God destroy the world without giving the people time or opportunity to repent? The truth is, the text is unclear as to how long it took for Noah to build the ark even though it seems to be a short amount of time, and the midrash picks up on this and explains that God did give the people time to repent. As they saw Noah building the ark, they laughed at him and mocked him. Rashi, the famous Medieval commentator, comments on the line, “And the rain was upon the earth” saying, “When God caused the rain to descend, God did so with mercy, so that in the event of their repenting, the rain would be one of blessing. When they did not repent, it turned into a deluge.”
The Midrash makes the end a lot more realistic than all of our apocalyptic movies.
There is an old parable of the frog in the pot. If you throw a frog in a boiling pot of water, it will jump out and be saved, but if you put it in a cold pot, and slowly turn up the heat, it will get a boiling level, and by the time it gets to that point, the frog cannot leap out…and the frog dies.
The end of life on earth, God forbid, can happen, but I don’t think it will be because of an asteroid, a flood, or even Zombies. I think we are seeing glimpses of it now – in the form of Climate Change, which 97% of the world scientific community believes is brought upon by humans. We are seeing storms stronger than we’ve ever seen, and lasting longer. Islands are becoming uninhabitable, the earth is getting hotter, water is drying up. We are not immune here in South Florida – Miami is in danger of being under water in by the end of the century if not sooner.
I am scared, not really for me, but for my children who will inherit a much more volatile earth than I did.
Noah is criticized greatly for being silent when God says that God will destroy the earth – are we guilty of the same sin? Thankfully, not all of us have been silent
Something happened early this year that gave me a glimmer of hope. On September 21, 2014, 400,000 people flooded the streets of New York City for the People's Climate March, including my rabbinical school, the Jewish Theological Seminary. They held signs that said "We are all Noah now" and "People of faith call for climate action." Jews marched with shofars, the rams' horn associated with the High Holidays and their themes of repentance and renewal. But more than that, the shofar was sounded over and over again as a wake-up call.
We are all Noah, living in Noah like times. Like Noah, who voices no dissent when God shares the plan to destroy the world, our global civilization failed to act when we first heard the warnings about global warming. It’s not a new threat – we’ve known about it for years, but we have focused on everything else.
There are times when I feel utterly powerless when it comes to the issue of climate change – how can we tackle such a huge problem?
Here is where our tradition can help us:
Our Torah portion describes Noah in the following way: Genesis 6:9 reads, "Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his generations."
In the mystical Jewish tradition, a tzaddik, a righteous person, has the power to protest a negative divine decree. The Kedushat Levi, another 18th-century Hasidic master, looks closely at Noah being called a tzaddik: "Now even though Noah was a great and blameless tzaddik, he was very small in his own eyes and did not have faith that he was a powerful tzaddik with the ability to annul the decree of the flood."
We must begin the steps needed for this long journey to stem the tide of climate change. We cannot look at ourselves as small, but have the faith that we can bring about real change.
The Noam Elimelech, an 18th-century Hasidic master, asks why Genesis 6:9 reads, "Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his generations." Why the plural "generations"? Each generation, he says, is "connected at its root to a specific mitzvah[divine directive] which it needs to establish more than the others.”
Our mitzvah must be the mitzvah that was given to the first man and woman, when they were given a command by God, to Ovdah and Shomrah, to work for and guard the land.
The Midrash expands upon this line, saying that God showed Adam around the Garden of Eden and said, "Look at my works! See how beautiful they are--how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it."
This idea is reinforced in our parashah - After the flood, Noah is called ish ha'adamah, a man of the soil. But the Zohar, Jewish mysticism's core text, interprets ish as husband. In this reading, Noah becomes the husband of the earth, the lover and caretaker of the created world, just like Adam and Eve were.
We must also look at the earth as our partners, our Ezer K’Negdo, our fitting helpers. Let’s start by speaking up for our partner!
How many of us ask our politicians what they think of social security, are they pro-life or pro-choice, what are their stances on guns, and of course Israel – we have to care about all of these things, but how many of us ask our elected officials to act on climate change?
There’s a new movie that’s about to come out called Interstellar that I can’t wait to see. The premise is that in the future, we are going to send a space ship to find a new planet because we have ruined this one beyond repair – I would say, a less funny version of Wall-E. It can’t wait to see the special effects, but I would rather leave it as fiction, a story, rather than our future.
Our future, the future of the world, is actually in our hands, just as God promised when God showed Noah the rainbow.
Let us remember the words of the midrash everyday, as if God is actually talking to us saying - "Look at my works! See how beautiful they are--how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it."