HaMirpeset Shelanu 263: From Louisa Kornblatt

Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Louisa Kornblatt, Rosh Bogrim 2016.  After graduating from Washington University in St. Louis in May of 2014, having majored in Women, Gender and Sexuality studies and minored in theater and Spanish, Louisa was a Dorot Fellow in 2014-2015 in Tel Aviv.  Originally from Madison, WI, and a lifelong Ramahnik, Louisa made aliyah (moved to Israel and became an Israeli citizen) in 2015 and now lives, works, and creates art in Tel Aviv.

Reflections on Parashat Noach
by Louisa Kornblatt

Every year I am surprised by how quickly we arrive at the story of the flood. In one moment we read about how God created the world, and in the next—just one Torah portion later—God decides to destroy it.  Events seem to spiral rapidly out of control after Adam and Eve bite into the apple from the tree of knowledge. In a matter of a few columns of Torah, God exiles Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, Cain kills his brother, and humanity falls into disarray. People make a series of poor choices, and God intervenes to restart the world.

Throughout the Torah, the number forty appears in times of transition. The Israelites wander in the desert for forty years; Moses spends forty days and nights atop Mount Sinai; and in this week’s portion, God floods the Earth with heavy rain for forty days and forty nights. The flood literally washes away the world’s evils to make space for the world to transform. Water is the most obvious vehicle for transition as it accompanies the process of childbirth, and here, the process of the world’s rebirth.

While the flood visibly marks this transition from corruption to purity, it also demonstrates a subtle shift in God’s role in earthly events. At the very end of Parshat Bereshit, God feels responsible for the state of the world, and expresses sadness over the decision to create humankind.

 

ו  וַיִּנָּחֶם יְהוָה, כִּי-עָשָׂה אֶת-הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ; וַיִּתְעַצֵּב, אֶל-לִבּוֹ.6 And the LORD regretted that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.

 

As the creator of the world, God takes ownership over the acts of man. Maybe God even feels a sense of culpability for man’s wrongdoings. And yet, at the beginning of Parshat Noah, there is a distance between God and God’s creation.

 

יא  וַתִּשָּׁחֵת הָאָרֶץ, לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים; וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, חָמָס.11 And the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.
יב  וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְהִנֵּה נִשְׁחָתָה:  כִּי-הִשְׁחִית כָּל-בָּשָׂר אֶת-דַּרְכּוֹ, עַל-הָאָרֶץ.  {ס}12 And God saw the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. {S}

 

Now corruption exists “before” God—separate from God. All flesh itself, and thus humanity, is responsible for its own corruption. It is as if God turned away from the earth for a moment, and when God looked back the world was suddenly “filled with violence.” Upset by this arrival of evil, God makes a steadfast, unilateral decision to “blot” out humankind from the face of the earth. God presses the reset button, but then hands the reigns back to humanity, and promises never to wipe out humankind again. God transitions out of the active role of creator and takes on the passive role of observer. Our mess-ups are now our own, and later in the portion, humanity goes on to build the Tower of Babel.

These are the questions the first narratives of the Torah raise: about the inherent nature of humankind, about our responsibility for the things we create, about using our own limited powers for creation or destruction, about when to step forward and intervene and when to step back and remove ourselves.  These are also the questions that helped motivate our founders in their creation of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, and that, every year, our campers and staff grapple with.  Of course, though longer than forty days and nights, a summer at Ramah serves as a transition time itself, a time in which we can grow and mature as things hang in the balance.

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