Are we walking with God?

This second portion in Genesis begins with Noah, a just, wholehearted man,- תָּמִים) tamim) in his generation. Our sages explain that being righteous meant that he was less evil than other people at that time.  I think that they don’t give him any credit when they say that if he had been born at the time of Avraham Avinu, he would have been of no importance. How could they have known that? You may be surprised to know that I don’t take the Scriptures literally, not even historically. How can we know that these events really happened thousands of years ago? What is more important is that we understand that the Bore Olam, who created us in His image, who breathed His Ruach into us, and gave us a neshama making us part of Him, had Moses write these narratives for a purpose. They hold life-giving principles; when we live by them, they point us in the right direction.

Let me ask you this question: They say that when a donkey falls into a hole on his path, he will always remember it and never step into it again. It seems that a donkey is smarter than we are, so imagine how much smarter the Bore Olam is!  Why, then, would this Creator, who is omniscient, omnipotent, omni-everything, who created everything that exists, say that He was fed up with mankind, yet He keeps giving each generation another chance to begin again?

The Scriptures state that there were ten generations from Adam to Noah. One generation is considered to be 40 years multiplied by 10, comes to 400 years. Abraham received God’s revelation saying, “Your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years.” In other words, we can surmise that humanity goes through a great change every tenth generation; however, it seems that it is not for the better.

Our Creator gave us Bechirah Chofshit, Free Will, with which He wants us to take responsibility for the choices we make. We can choose our direction in life.  Our sages say that we have within us Yetzer ha Ra and Yetzer ha Tov, the bad and good inclinations. It is better for us to understand that the Creator gave us a dual nature which causes us to  continually struggle within and work out which one is more prevalent within us. The name, Israel means “to struggle with God”.  Why did Jacob have to struggle with the Creator?  Like us, he needed to learn to tame his nature, like training an animal. For example, what was the first thing that Noah planted after the flood? A vineyard and he got drunk.  One of his sons didn’t respect him showing the dark places right within our own families. This story clearly depicts our humanity.

The Yetzer ha Ra is not necessarily a bad thing, since it acts as an internal engine forcing us to keep going, to push forward. For example, I heard an actor say that “greed is good”. Greed forces us to work harder to get what we want. If we can dominate that aspect of our being and keep it in the right perspective, it is amazing how much we can accomplish.  We see this with the Tower of Babel.

Was the Creator not intelligent enough to know that if He gave us Free Will, we would continuously choose to do the wrong thing? Why did He have such infinite patience with us?  He told Moshe that He was going to eradicate that entire generation and make a new one. Moshe begged Him not to. Why?  Doesn’t the Creator know what He is doing? Some sages say that the Creator wasn’t able to see the future. Everyone tries to explain God but we need to go beyond ourselves and see it from the perspective of the Creator which is almost impossible.

Generation after generation, our Creator continues to give us the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and choose to return to Him. He did not create us to be slaves; as a matter of fact, after He gave us the Ten Commandments, He immediately spoke against slavery. Sadly, we humans prefer to be dominated than to be responsible for ourselves.  That is why the welfare system is so popular and Communism was accepted by billions because people prefer that their governments make all their decisions for them. This is like selling our souls to the devil, to the system.  That is why religions are so popular and have been able to accumulate so much power and wealth.  Anyone who speaks up against them is silenced or disappears. Even then, the Bore Olam gave us a brain and He wants us to think for ourselves and not allow others to think for us.

What does this have to do with Noah? Bereshit 6:11 says, “The earth was also corrupt before God and the earth was filled with violence.”  The word for violence in Hebrew is “Hamas – חָמָס”. Here the Creator was letting Noah know that man’s actions were destructive and had infected everything that lived on the earth and so He was going to destroy every living being including animals, fowl and vegetation.

Is it any wonder that today the environment has become like a god?  The same people who are for saving the whales are for killing the unborn. This is the most immoral generation since Noah. All the principles of the Torah are being erased from society. The environment, the earth is again being destroyed because men are again becoming evil, violent, hamas. It is not surprising that the terrorists in Gaza have this same name.

Why would He have to destroy everything that He created on the earth?  The Torah doesn’t give us all the answers but suffice it to say that we are responsible for our actions and we harvest the consequences. With the gift of freedom comes responsibility; they go hand in hand. If we see something evil, do we do something about it or just look away?

Noah was the example of a man who may have been less evil than the others of his generation but his story shows us that the Creator wanted to allow us to be renewed. This is called teshuva, return to Him.  The Torah repeats the idea of ten generations signifying that every 400 years, there would be dramatic changes upon the earth.  We went through a period of wars, WW1 and WW2, followed by peace but once again we are entering a time heading toward man’s self-destruction. The worst part is that the majority of people who are pluralists, progressive and open-minded say that the world is improving. What it really means is that we can do whatever we want, without caring about others.  If you are optimistic, blind, or isolated from society, of course, you would think that the world is getting better. But if you interact with others, how we are doing is obvious. We have forgotten that we are our brother’s keeper.

In Genesis 11, we reach the story of the Tower of Babel.  The meaning of the word Babel is “Gate of God”.  The Hebrew language plays with sounds where here it is like people were babbling – imparting the idea of confusion. Man was united as one, in language and purpose as vs 4 states,  “And they said: ‘Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in the heavens, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”  “Let us make a name”…against whom were they competing?  Against God! That’s our problem: we deny the Creator because we don’t want to be under or report to anyone. That’s human nature, “let me do whatever I want, but you have to take care of me.”   God wanted us to multiply and fill the earth but chose instead to not get scattered all over the earth.” From the beginning, we have been constantly going against the instructions of the Creator.  Verses 6 and 7 tell us that their languages were confused, so they had to stop building the city and they were scattered over the earth.

What can we draw from these narratives?  When men intend to do evil, they unite in their purpose.  When men want to do good, there is always division. The Tower of Babel shows us the oldest religion in the world –humanism – the enthronement of man as god. They create their god-like leaders whom they exalt and they attribute human traits to their gods.

This is occurring as we speak even if we refuse to see it. Whether we want it or not, we are responsible for each other on this earth. This portion teaches us about the deterioration of humanity because we assume positions that are meant not for us. In  Deuteronomy, Moses tells us in Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things which are revealed and disclosed belong to us and to our children forever, so that we may do all of the words of this Torah”.  Sadly most of us pursue the things that are not for us to know and the things that we need to master, we ignore them saying that they are too simple or we are too busy doing other things.

Noach means “comfort”; the Creator wants to comfort us, to give us a suitable life, worthy to live but we are in a constant struggle because society is divided and filled with (hamas) violence both within and around us.  If we can remain clear, open, and honest and stand up for what is right; if we hold those who doing wrong, accountable for their actions, perhaps we can change the direction in which we are headed. We are all responsible for one another; that is community. We depend upon each other and need to help each other even when we are tempted to do the opposite. When we learn to dominate our nature, that beast within, we will have the opportunity to turn things around. And Noach walked with God…it is my prayer that all of us would walk with God!

Shabbat Shalom

Ranebi  (from rabbi’s 5780 message)