Noah — Genesis 6:9-11:32

"Who is like you
Who could reach you
Who has seen
Who has been
...When you ride a cherub
And glide on the wind
And wander through thunder
And move within storms
Making your way through the waters...
"

The liturgical poet Yannai here imagines the divine as controlling the universe, "from the sky to the heaven’s heaven." Water and its sacred nature are ever-present in the ancient Israelite imagination.

In our reading this week, as the only righteous person left standing in a world bereft of morality, Noah is called upon by God to design and build a wooden ark to escape the deluge that is about to wipe out all of creation from the face of the earth. Noah gathers his family and two members of each animal species to ensure continuity after the flood.

The ark settles on Mount Ararat after 40 days and nights of rainfall, which recedes 150 days later. From the window of the ark, Noah sends forth a raven, followed by a series of doves to find any traces of dry land. Finally Noah exits the ark, in a sense restarting the process of creation by repopulating the earth.

A covenant of the rainbow is made by God, testifying to never again destroy all of humanity. With the flood’s dramatic destruction fresh in mind, it is decreed that, henceforth, murder is a capital offense, and flesh or blood taken from a living animal is prohibited (while properly slaughtered meat is permitted to be eaten).

Noah drinks from the first produce of his vineyard, and becomes intoxicated. Again this righteous exemplar is being tested. This time, we see how effective Noah has been as a righteous exemplar through the behavior of his offspring: Shem and Japheth cover their exposed father while Ham takes advantage of his vulnerability.

With power comes responsibility, and the power of creativity is manifest through the divine song, channeled and composed by liturgical poets like Yannai who sought to intensify the experience of prayer for worshippers, making the contents of familiar weekly readings such as the story of Noah new again.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: Biblical scholars contend that the Tower of Babel story was not composed as a cautionary tale about universal human overreaching. Instead, they suggest it is a veiled screed against cities. Professor James Kugel (Harvard and Bar Ilan Universities) writes, "The whole point is Babylon (babel in Hebrew)...[and] the thing that most characterised Babylon in the minds of ancient Israelites was its big cities with…their massive populations. ... From [the Israelites] standpoint, who were sparsely settled in the Semitic hinterland, such teeming conglomerations and the complex urban culture they made possible…do not find favor with God." Here, we see the Tower of Babel rising from the desert as a towering metropolis. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Raquel Sweet's Bat Mitzvah

My name is Raquel Sweet. I am 13 years old and attend The Brandeis School of San Francisco, where I am in seventh grade. I enjoy swimming, dancing, and playing with my dog, Teddy.

I have belonged to Beth Sholom for my entire life. I have so many memories from the synagogue, from attending PJ Shabbat to celebrating all of the holidays – and, of course, my sister’s bat mitzvah last year.

This week, it will be my bat mitzvah. I will be reading from Parashat Noah. This is the story of Noah and the flood. The parsha also includes the story of the Tower of Babel. What many people don't know about this parsha is that it talks about the first time that people ate meat. Before the time of Noah, no one ate meat - everyone was a vegetarian. I am vegetarian myself, and at my bat mitzvah, I will be talking about reasons we have for making different decisions in life including my deciding to become a vegetarian.

I am so excited to celebrate with everybody this Shabbat. I am very thankful to have all my family and friends coming from near and far to join me. I am also excited to be sharing this occasion with my Beth Sholom family. I look forward to seeing everyone this Shabbat to join me and my family at this simcha.

Lech Lecha — Genesis 12:1-17:27

facebook_coverdesign_lechlechaWe move from the displacement associated with the Tower of Babel at the end of last week’s reading to even deeper displacement this week as the Torah introduces us to the journey of Abram and Sarai.

Their leaving home can be thought of as the setting of a tripwire, a process of setting in motion dramatic change. The challenge of starting out on a new venture — which is not limited to physical relocation — is perennial. We are constantly setting the tripwire of change; nothing in life is permanent.

Little surprise then that the Hebrew Bible has no sense of place permanence – the ancestral house or furniture can not be assumed. Instead of such a legacy, God commands Abram to take leave — "Go forth from your land, your birthplace, and from your patrimony and go to the land which I will show you." (Genesis 12:1).

With a Promised Land in the offing, along with the promise that Abram and his life partner, Sarai, will become a great nation, they depart. Leaving everything behind, they journey to the land of Canaan along with their nephew Lot. As the narrative continues, take note of how the accepted Near Eastern context of polytheism (multiple divinities ruling the world) shifts toward henotheism (many divinities in a pantheon ruled by a supernal deity) and eventually embraces a full-fledged monotheism (a singular divinity ruling the world).

Facing a famine, Abram and Sarai detour to Egypt, where she is taken captive in Pharaoh’s palace. Her escape is only possible through deception; Abram and Sarai disguise themselves as brother and sister, which eventually leads to release and compensation. Once back in Canaan, Lot separates from Abram to settle in Sodom. He is captured by the armies of King Chedorlamomer, which forces Abram to set out to rescue his nephew. In defeating the four opposing regional rulers, Abram is eventually blessed by the King of Salem, Malki Zedek, in the powerful language of henotheism: "Blessed be Abram in the name of the most Supernal God [El Elyon], maker of heaven and earth." (Genesis 14:19) As one of many exemplary non-Jewish figures in the Hebrew Bible (including Jethro and Rahav), it is Malki Zedek who blesses this emerging Jewish leader and his mission of bringing divine awareness into daily life.

Upon completing the "covenant between the pieces" that envisions exile and redemption to the Holy Land, further transformations take place. The next covenant, this one of circumcision, is enacted by Abraham upon himself and his son, Isaac, while Hagar is banished with Ishmael. In leaving home and beginning this new venture that comes to be known as Judaism, Abram becomes Abraham ("father of multitudes") and Sarai becomes Sarah ("princess"). And so the journey continues...

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is inspired by the vision Abram had following his defeat of King Chedorlaomer. "After these incidents, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, 'Fear not, Abram; I am your Shield; your reward is exceedingly great.'" (Genesis 15:1) Here, we see a shield form on a yellow field. The shape of the shield and its markings – at once ocular and solar – are based on designs archaeologists associate with ancient Mesopotamia. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Noah — Genesis 6:9-11:32

facebook_coverdesign_noahLiving in a world where hate-mongering, half-truths, and outright lies are so prevalent in our national media, on local college campuses, and even on social networks with our "friends," we might justifiably wonder — do we again find ourselves in a state where speech is exiled? This "exile of speech" is referred to by Jewish mysticism, but the mystics were not the first. Early on, the rabbis point to this danger in their exegesis by decrying that: "In every generation, we experience something of the mentality of the Flood generation." (Sifrai Ha’azinu 7).

The ending of this week’s reading, which tells of the Tower of Babel, causes us to re-read the opening story of Noah. He is the only righteous person left standing in a world bereft of morality, and so Noah is called upon by God to design and build a wooden ark to escape the deluge that is about to wipe out all of creation from the face of the earth. Noah gathers his family and two members of each animal species to ensure continuity after the flood.

The ark settles on Mount Ararat after 40 days and nights of rainfall, which recedes 150 days later. From the window of the ark, Noah sends forth a raven, followed by a series of doves to find any traces of dry land. Finally Noah exits the ark, in a sense restarting the process of creation by repopulating the earth.

A covenant of the rainbow is made by God, testifying to never again destroy all of humanity. With the flood’s dramatic destruction fresh in mind, it is decreed that, henceforth, murder is a capital offense, and flesh or blood taken from a living animal is prohibited (while properly slaughtered meat is permitted to be eaten).

Noah drinks from the first produce of his vineyard, and becomes intoxicated. Again this righteous exemplar is being tested. This time, we see how effective Noah has been as a righteous exemplar through the behavior of his offspring: Shem and Japheth cover their exposed father while Ham takes advantage of his vulnerability.

The model for celebrating diversity amidst dispersion appears in the covenant of the rainbow rather than the bricks and mortar of Babel.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is inspired by the raven that went missing. "And he sent forth the raven, and it went out, back and forth until the waters dried up off the earth." (Genesis 8:7) The image is dark, calling to mind a photographic negative. The Hebrew words for raven (orev) and evening (erev) are comprised of the same Hebrew letters, and linguists believe that orev was derived from erev because of the raven’s dark plumage. If so, the raven’s name is born of the gloaming, a special time of day, one electric with magic and possibility. For more on the significance of the missing raven, read this Kezayit feature. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Myles Sloan's Bar Mitzvah

facebook_mylessloanShalom! My name is Myles and I am in 7th grade at the Brandeis School of San Francisco. I like to read, hang out with my friends, play video games, rock climb (both indoors and outdoors), and ski.

I am excited and a little nervous to share my bar mitzvah with my family, friends, and the Beth Sholom community.

The parsha that I will be chanting is one that everyone, no matter their religion or age, knows - Parashat Noach. In it, G-d tells Noah that he's the only righteous man left. He instructs him to build an ark and to fill it with two of every animal. G-d floods the earth for forty days and forty nights. Noah then sends out a dove to find dry land where mankind and the animals can start again. After many generations, Noah's descendants multiply and build the Tower of Babel. G-d sees this as an act of hubris and knocks down the tower. G-d also scatters their languages, hence the name, Tower of Babel (from the Hebrew word balal, meaning "to jumble.").

I would like to thank my parents for giving me their unconditional love and support. I would also like to thank Marilyn Heiss, my bar mitzvah tutor, for teaching me how to chant Torah so beautifully. I would like to thank Rabbi Glazer for helping me write my drash and for our interesting discussion. And thank you to my Congregation Beth Sholom community for being part of my life since I was born.

Noah -- Genesis 6:9-11:32

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_editedFor ten generations, the descendants of Noah remained bound as a single people with a unifying language. Following the construction of the Tower of Babel, however, these seventy united nations are scattered, dispersed across the face of the Earth. Today, amidst so many interconnected but unique cultures and ethnicities, we continue our journey toward making sense of this diaspora.

The renowned Czech-German writer Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924) once quipped in his Zürau Aphorisms:

If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without having to climb it, that would have been sanctioned.

Is the dispersion of the diaspora something “sanctioned” by our own inability to live in a unified state, as Kafka slyly suggests, or should all of the Jewish people unite in Zion as we intone each year at the conclusion of our seder?

The story of the Tower of Babel, which comes at the end of this week’s reading, inspires us to revisit the parsha's opening story of Noah. Noah is the only righteous person left standing in a world bereft of morality, and so he is called upon by God to design and build a wooden ark to escape the deluge that is about to wipe out all of Creation. Noah gathers his family and two members of each animal species to ensure continuity after the flood. The ark settles on Mount Ararat after 40 days and nights of rainfall, which recedes 150 days later. From the window of the ark, Noah sends forth a raven, followed by a series of doves to find any traces of dry land. Finally Noah exits the ark, in a sense restarting the process of creation by repopulating the earth.

During this new beginning, a covenant of the rainbow is made by God, who testifies to never again destroy all of humanity. With the flood's dramatic destruction fresh in mind, it is decreed that, henceforth, murder is a capital offense, and flesh or blood taken from a living animal is prohibited (while properly slaughtered meat is permitted to be eaten).

Noah drinks from the first produce of his vineyard, and becomes intoxicated. Again, this righteous exemplar is being tested. This time, we see just how effective Noah has been as a paragon through the behavior of his offspring: Shem and Japheth cover their exposed father, while Ham takes advantage of his vulnerability.

Considering the Babel story again in light of Noah's tale, we see that the model for celebrating diversity amidst dispersion appears in the covenant of the rainbow rather than the bricks and mortar of Babel.

- Rabbi Glazer

Image credit: "The Tower of Babel," by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1563

Listen to the audio file of this d'var Torah below!
[audio mp3="http://bethsholomsf.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/TorahByte_ParshaNoach_5776.mp3"][/audio]