End violence and stop maelstrom flooding
The Torah tells us that the rains of the Flood had a purpose: to remove all corruption from the earth. The Hebrew term used is mabul , which comes from the Hebrew verb, yabul, “to flow copiously and with some violence.” These “waters upon the earth were no ordinary rains.” One commentary suggests that the falling waters were of celestial origin, probably referring to the upper part of the cosmic ocean (p.43).
The rainbow signifies God’s promise never to destroy the earth again – by flooding waters. Yet, rain remains a biblical indicator of Divine pleasure or displeasure with our behavior. In Deuteronomy 11:13-21 , the Torah teaches that when we serve the Creator “with all your heart and with all your being – then I will provide rain for your land on time, the early rain and the late rain…” In other words, our actions have Divine consequences.
A simple reading of the Torah warns us that rainfall is directly connected to our adherence to the sacred obligations, the ethical and moral actions laid out as part of the covenant at Sinai. But the idea of a God sitting in judgment of our behavior, rewarding or punishing us through Divine intervention in nature, is problematic for many people. This has led to interpretation of this passage through the lens of climate activism. Consider the following translation offered by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l:
God says to Israel: How good it will be when you really listen and hear my directions. . . . Your earthly needs will be met at the right time, appropriate to the season. You will reap what you planted for your delight and health. Also your animals will have ample feed. All of you will eat and be content.
But be careful—watch out! Don’t let your cravings delude you. Don’t become alienated. Don’t let your cravings become your gods; don’t debase yourself to them. Because the God-sense within you will become distorted. Heaven will be shut to you. Grace will not descend. Earth will not yield her produce. Your rushing will destroy you, and Earth will not be able to recover her good balance in which God’s gifts manifest.
May these values of mine reside in your feelings and aspiration, . . . so you will be more aware. Then you and your children and their children will live . . . heavenly days right here on this earth.
Joe Rosenstein offers an alternative interpretation in his siddur, Eit Ratzon. If we lead a mindful life, “the rain that falls in your fields will also fall in your lives, enabling everything to grow. Your fields will be fruitful…and you will be fruitful in body and spirit… [Turning away from this heritage and way of life], you will also turn away from My rain; you will no longer be aware of this blessing and its source, so that, for you, the rain will no longer exist. You will be unable to fully enjoy the fruits of your fields or the fruits of your lives” (p. 52).
In Hebrew, the root for rain (geshem) is gimmel-shin-mem. The expression for bountiful, saturating rain is geshem b’racha – literally “rain of blessing.” The verb l’hagshim means, “to make it rain,” and implies making something happen, as in, “my dreams come true.” Hasidism develops the connection between the human body and divinity by introducing the idea of avodah b’gashmiyut – the concept that devotion to the Source of Life takes places through physical activities such as dancing, singing and swaying in prayer. In this way, the human body actually becomes a living prayer which invites blessing into our lives. An extended interpretation suggests that standing up and speaking out about what we believe to be right and just is also a form of avodah b’gashmiyut.
So here we have it – the gentle life-nurturing rain, which invites the seeds of our dreams to take root in reality, or the violent maelstrom of the mabul sent to destroy a world filled with unfettered hatred and violent behavior – save only Noah and his family. And a later biblical warning that our actions evoke Divine response executed through nature as a form of reward or punishment – depending on our fulfillment of the sacred obligations set before us. A contemporary reading about what happens when our actions cause global imbalance and wreck havoc on the natural world. And an interpretation that moves from the literal to the metaphoric, from floods of destructive behavior to nurturing rain of blessing and life.
In only a few days, our country will exercise our right to participate in the democratic process of voting to select our governmental officials. Politico magazine examines the 2016 election as a watershed moment for women and gender politics. With grassroots organizers pushing the need for gender justice, feminist agendas have finally found a national platform. But, so too are we witnessing the bubbling up of hateful attitudes rooted in racism, gender politics, religious intolerance and the like. One wonders how these attitudes will impact social, religious and economic issues post-election.
With this in mind, we pray that cravings for power will not delude and lead us to become alienated from one another. We will sow what we plant – hopefully values which lead us to make the world a better, safer, more inclusive place for all. Our children are watching us, learning from us – how we will transform our beliefs into lived actions and behaviors which will impact for generations to come.
Just as Noah was righteous in his generation, so, too, must each of us change the “climate” by transforming the rain of destruction, hatred, corruption and intolerance into geshem bracha – the blessed rain of healing, hope and renewed compassion for every human being. This is the purpose of the sacred obligations transmitted through our tradition and heritage – Then [we] and [our] children and their children will live . . . heavenly days right here on this earth.
Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi