All of our eye are focused on the catastrophic destruction wrought by Hurricane Michael. Homes, businesses, schools and more; the infrastructure of life spanning Panama city, Mexico Beach and beyond, is no longer. The remnants of life tell a story which terrifies us to no end- leaving us to wonder over the enormity of a hurricane’s power. Inhabitants of Florida’s panhandle suffered mightily and will continue to suffer for decades while we of lower Alabama escaped a similar fate.
Meteorologists can explain the causes of hurricanes but no scientist can explain why this devastation occurred. We are left with too many questions and too much despair. The overwhelming sense of ‘why’ will never be resolved.
Bizarrely and ironically, this week’s Torah reading is the portion named Noach which describes an all-consuming flood. All life, all civilization was blotted out with only a few remnants surviving. A lifeboat containing the seeds of humanity and the gene pool of animals floated upon the storm waters. The Ark held much more than life within its fragile wooden frame; it held the only hope for the future of all humanity.
What are we to make of the ironic coincidence of reading the flood of Noach during the experiences of our Florida brothers and sisters who were holding onto everything they owned and praying for their very lives? I would never dare draw a comparison between the floodwaters of Noach and the floods of Hurricane Michael. I would never dare teach the message that God wanted to destroy the people in these affected areas. There must be a different lesson we can learn from Parshat Noach.
Look closely at chapters 4-5 of Genesis and we see indications of marriage, child-rearing, the planting of crops, shepherding of animals, city life, forging of implements, musical instruments and more. In modern terms we would summarize this chapter as detailing technologies, cultural expressiveness, institutions of family, commerce, agriculture and the breadth of urban and rural life. If so, why did God destroy the world’s life? What could have prompted God to obliterate everything? The oft-stated
“the world became corrupt ”(Gen. 6:11) might better be read as ‘the world gradually and slowly became corrupt’. The entire society did not change itself overnight into a society of cruelty. Gradually, people began to fill the world with lawlessness and wickedness.
In other words, people gradually began to become selfish and cruel. I see one glaring lack in the world of Genesis. Have you noticed what is missing from the world? (Technologies, cultural expressiveness, institutions of family, commerce, agriculture and the breadth of urban and rural life).
There is no TZEDAKAH! Humanity developed and they failed to establish mechanisms of helping each other. Can a society exist if only with tech, business, equipment and sources of income? No- to found a society which will persist we must have institutions of compassion, kindness and support. A society without agencies which will feed the poor, clothe the naked and provide housing for the homeless is empty. Such a society will crumble and fall. God only brought about the elimination of a society which was already hollow within itself and was about to collapse.
Contrast the episode of Parshat Noach with the overwhelming spirit of caring we are already seeing. Florida State officials have launched massive relief efforts in cooperation with neighboring state officials . National Guard, law enforcement, first responders and other emergency staffs are at work reaching out to people in need. The Cajun Navy, Red Cross and many other volunteers are making plans to assist while generous donors throughout our land will begin to raise funds for those afflicted by MICHAEL even as we continue to assist people still afflicted by FLORENCE. As crucial as the housing, food, clothing, medical needs and more, so, too is the need to extend comfort and support- a gesture, an embrace and the reassuring message that each of us cares for others. The generation of Noach had none of these capacities. The generation of Noach could have learned from us all.
Please plan to assist in any way you can. I will update our Shul members to opportunities to bring holiness and caring into our world. By so doing we will offset the lawlessness found in the time of Noach.