For the week ending 28 October 2006 / 6 Heshvan 5767

Parshat Noach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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It is ten generations since the creation of the first human. Adams descendants have corrupted the world with immorality, idolatry and robbery, and G-d resolves to bring a flood which will destroy all the earths inhabitants except for the righteous Noach, his family and sufficient animals to repopulate the earth. G-d instructs Noach to build an ark. After forty days and nights, the flood covers even the tops of the highest mountains. After 150 days the water starts to recede. On the 17th day of the 7th month, the ark comes to rest on Mount Ararat. Noach sends out a raven and then a dove to ascertain if the waters have abated. The dove returns. A week later Noach again sends the dove, which returns the same evening with an olive leaf in its beak. After another seven days Noach sends the dove once more; the dove does not return. G-d tells Noach and his family to leave the ark. Noach brings offerings to G-d from the animals which were carried in the ark for this purpose. G-d vows never again to flood the entire world and designates the rainbow as a sign of this covenant. Noach and his descendants are now permitted to slaughter and eat meat, unlike Adam. G-d commands the Seven Universal Laws: The prohibitions against idolatry, adultery, theft, blasphemy, murder, eating meat torn from a live animal, and the obligation to set up a legal system. The worlds climate is established as we know it today. Noach plants a vineyard and becomes intoxicated from its produce. Ham, one of Noachs sons, delights in seeing his father drunk and uncovered. Shem and Yafet, however, manage to cover their father without looking at his nakedness, by walking backwards. For this incident, Canaan is cursed to be a slave. The Torah lists the offspring of Noachs three sons from whom the seventy nations of the world are descended. The Torah records the incident of the Tower of Bavel, which results in G-d fragmenting communication into many languages and the dispersal of the nations throughout the world. The Parsha concludes with the genealogy of Noach to Avram.


On Being A G-d Neighbor

“And he will dwell in the tents of Shem” (9:27)

Most of us have dreamed, at one time or another, of living a life of rustic isolation; an idyllic existence in a solitary cottage, the birds chirping uninterrupted by the drone of the freeway traffic — or of our neighbors.

This is not, however, a particularly Jewish view of the world. Apart from the halachic needs of a minyan with whom to pray, and a mikve to protect family life, the Jewish idea of a home is inextricably bound up with neighbors.

The Hebrew root of the word “to dwell” — lishcon — is the same as the word for “neighbor” — shochen. In other words, the essence of dwelling is to be a neighbor. There is no true dwelling without neighbors.

Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel once described the defining lesson of the Holocaust thus: In the horror of the camps, when only one out of every six inmates was given a blanket to ward off the crippling cold, rather than hog that blanket to ourselves, we shared it with five other people.

The power of the human spirit is never more manifest than in our thoughts for the well being of others.

That same Hebrew word, shochen, is also the name for the Divine Presence in this world – the Shechina. The Shechina is Man’s “neighbor.” She dwells alongside man. She is a Neighbor because she allows him his own ‘space’ — his ability to exercise that most precious human gift, the freedom of choice.

It is this worldview that has protected the Jewish People from the fanaticism that plagues other religions. Without a concept of a dwelling together with G-d in this world, the religious seeker can easily fall into a gushing absorption in the Divine so total that he loses his sense of self; the result being that his will and G-d’s Will become one and the same – meaning what I want is what G-d wants. If I kill you, it is because G-d wants you dead. A person can become so entranced in his own vision of THE TRUTH, that he believes that everything he does is, by definition, G-d’s Will.

The Hebrew name for the nation that surrounds our small but Holy Land is Yishmael, which means “G-d will hear.” Whatever I say, G-d will hear. This is the essence of fatalism and fanaticism. G-d agrees, de facto, with whatever I do.

The Jewish people are called Yisrael, which means “G-d is Straight.” Whatever He does is Straight and I have the choice to align myself with that Reality.

That’s what it means to be a good neighbor.

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