Friday, October 31, 2008

Parshat Noach - פרשת נח

"Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
And no religion too"

Imagine, by John Lennon.

In an age where John Lennon's legend grows, where the ideals of socialism endure despite its defeat as a political movement and system, it is pertinent to make note of two particular events in this week's Parsha - those of the דור הפלגה and the covenant after the דור המבול and the Rainbow.

Over this past summer I was fortunate enough to attend classes by the excellent R' Daniel Katz. R' Katz is a man with far more world experience than myself, who then chose to turn his back on his previous secular lifestyle in pursuit of a more Torah adhering one. When I say that he is not your average Charedi, I mean it. He is a man who knows, understands and truly appreciates cultures outside of Judaism. In one class of his, the conversation turned to nudist colonies. He made a remark along the lines of, "They're absolutely right! What would we wear clothes for? No other creature does it! Why should we hide, be embarrassed about our bodies, it's not natural!" The point is in accordance with the Torah - after all, God created Adam and Chava naked. As Jews, why should we deviate from that?

But of course we do clothe ourselves. As it says in Bereishit, Hashem actually made clothes for Adam and Chava. What happened? The answer given is simple.

We live in a fractured world, as R' Sacks puts it. We live in the post-sin world. We live after the original sin of Adam HaRishon, and although quite correct as the nudists are that being unclothed is our natural state, we now no longer live in that world. It is our task to return to that perfect world, but the way to get there is not so simple. We have to perfect ourselves, our midot, and only then will our bodies be ready "for show," as it were. We no longer can look at the world the same, and now we are charged with a different task.

Similarly, Lennon's observation that arbitrary country lines and languages are obstructions to peace. Yet, even in the age of a "European 'Union' " with one currency and no real borders, and a " 'United' States of America," there are still many tensions beneath the surface. Even in an age where the world is getting increasingly "smaller" due to telecommunications (chiefly the internet), and one where languages are becoming less and less of a boundary, peace remains elusive in our world. True, this is one of the most peaceful times the world has ever seen, yet peace is elusive.

So as said before, the lesson we may learn from this week's Parsha is especially pertinent. The Dor Haflaga were united in their ambition to make a name for themselves. As R' Shlomo Riskim says:

"The entire earth had one language and uniform words" ("Safah AHAT, dvarim AHADim", Genesis 11:1) resonating with our prophetic vision where "The Lord will be King over the entire earth, and on that day the Lord will be one His Name will be one"(Zecharya 14:9). The fear of this united humanity, gathered together in the valley of Shinar (Sumer, identified with ancient Babylon), was that they would be exiled into different places, scattered throughout the world. In order to prevent this, "they said,'Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower, whose tops shall reach the heavens.'" (Genesis 11:4). This is certainly reminiscent of our Jewish dream of the holy city Jerusalem with its tower -Sanctuary reaching up to the heavens in order to ensure Israel's eternity and express Israel's mission; it even brings to mind Jacob's dream at Bet-El (lit. House of G-d), where he saw a ladder rooted on earth but whose top reached heavenwards (Genesis 28:12).

"There is however one major flaw in Shinar which turns the entire Tower of Babel into a transgression of hubris: their purpose in construction is to "make for ourselves a name" (Genesis 11:4), rather than to build for the Name of G-d and for the sake of a just and compassionate humanity.

"Much to the contrary. The Almighty decides to "confuse their speech, so that one person will not understand (shma) the language of the other" (Genesis 11:7), because such a punishment will fit the crime; a totalitarian state united in order to establish a collective name has neither the energy nor the motivation to empathetically hear or sensitively internalize the individual needs of anyone else. And such an inhuman and godless society must be stopped in its tracks before it does even greater damage."

It is vital for this generation to understand that our sense of unity is a powerful tool that we can use for the good. Our sentiment is ultimately goof, but at the moment, the world is caught up in a dangerous trend of atheism. Unfortunately, it is fashionable at the moment to deny the existence of God.

The second theme I wanted to mention was that of the קשת, the rainbow. The form of a rainbow is interesting, it is something that appears to come from the ground, reach the heavens, and then return to the ground. If we look at the middle letter, we see a form very similar to that of a rainbow, the letter Shin. The Shin, representing Shalom, is facing the other way, coming from Heaven and meeting us in Earth. The Rainbow represents divin enlightenment, a refraction of God's light, as it penetrates into our physical world. (Hence the split into the seven colours.) We must understand that although after the Generation of the flood Hashem will never bring about such destruction upon us again, we must hearken to His will. If we truly strive for Shalom, we would do well to listen to Him. If we try to create peace for ourselves, circumbventing Hashem, we will never be successful.

After all, is Shalom not one of God's names?

Shabbat SHALOM!

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