Noah: Don't "Go With the Flow"

Now the earth was corrupt in G-d’s sight, and filled with violence.  (Genesis 6:11).  

Thus begins the fateful story, told in this week’s Torah portion, of G-d’s destruction by flood of life on earth, except for Noah, his family, and the animals with them on the ark.  (Gen. 7:23). 

Those of us fortunate enough to live in America, and without family or other direct involvement in foreign conflicts, are extremely blessed to live in relative peace and security.  It’s easy to forget or to disregard, beyond watching and reading the news, that much of the earth remains corrupt and filled with violence.  One might even wonder whether G-d regrets covenanting never again to destroy the earth!  (Gen. 8:21, 9:9-17).

Barbara and I have spent the past week very close to one violent area on earth.  Virtually, and, on occasion, literally, within sight of the Lebanese and Syrian borders, we have toured national parks and archeological sights in Israel's far north "finger" of the Galilee and Golan Heights.  Amid great natural beauty and impressive ruins of ancient thriving Jewish communities, we have seen road-side signs along barbed-wire fences reading “Danger! Mines!” “Tanks Crossing” and “Stop! Frontier Ahead.” We have passed army camps and patrolling lines of soldiers.

From high atop the magnificent 12th century ruins of the Fortress of Nimrod, the mighty hunter mentioned in this week’s Torah portion (Gen 10:9), we could even hear practice (so we were told) artillery rounds eerily echoing through the steeply sloped valleys below us.   

We have driven through Arab and Druze villages, comforted by the presence of Israeli soldiers and police stations but still uneasy at the prospect of getting a flat tire or into a traffic accident on the narrow, isolated roads.  We have been mindful that just miles away from us, a civil war is raging and thousands of refugees are suffering and at risk.   

Our thoughts about violence and peace were punctuated by a visit to the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv.  This wonderful, high-tech, multi-media “museum” narrates Prime Minister/Career Soldier/Ambassador Rabin’s remarkable life against the background of Israel’s wars for Independence and survival, and societal convulsions, leading up to his 1995 assassination by a fellow Israeli.   Rabin, who during almost three decades in and atop Israel's military, saw far more violence than, thankfully, most of us ever will, became resolutely committed to pursing peace, albeit always with security.  

Our activities during the past week have reminded us both that (1) Judaism’s highest values are the protection of life and the pursuit of peace, and that (2) in our world, these goals are difficult, costly, and often in conflict. 

Noah reminds us that G-d expects us to strive for a world with less violence – be it physical, emotional, and/or spiritual -- even though were told, in the last verses of last’s week’s Torah portion, that our very human nature inclines toward evil. (Gen. 6:5.)  

This, then, is our mission as Jews: to struggle against our and our fellow humans’ violent and corrupt inclinations.  To swim against the tide, hold on against the flood. 

This Shabbat, may each of us examine our lives and ask “What are we doing to help make the world more peaceful and ethical?  How are we striving to resist our less noble inclinations?  What more can we do?”  

May we make progress in our efforts and not be discouraged at the challenges our world presents us.  

We wish you a shabbat shalom from Tel Aviv!   

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  • Noah: Don't "Go With the Flow"

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He who guards his mouth preserves his life
Proverbs 13:3