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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT NOAH
November 1, 2003 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 6:9-11:32 - Hertz, p. 26; Etz Hayim, p. 41
Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 11:1-11:32 - Hertz, p. 38; Etz Hayim, p. 58
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-55:5 - Hertz, p. 41; Etz Hayim, p. 64

Discussion Theme: Community

“This is the line of Shem. Shem was 100 years old when he begot Arpachshad, two years after the Flood. After the birth of Arpachshad, Shem lived 500 years and begot sons and daughters. When Arpachshad had lived 35 years, he begot Shelah. After the birth of Shelah, Arpachshad lived 403 years and begot sons and daughters. When Shelah had lived 30 years…” (Genesis 11:10-14)

Commentary

  1. The Lord God said: “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a fitting helper.” (Genesis 2:18)
  2. This is the record of Adam’s line -- When Adam had lived 130 years, he begot a son in his likeness after his image, and he named him Seth. After the birth of Seth, Adam lived 800 years and begot sons and daughters. All the days that Adam lived came to 930 years; then he died. When Seth had lived 105 years, he begot Enosh. After the birth of Enosh, Seth lived 807 years and begot sons and daughters. All the days of Seth came to 912 years; then he died…. When Lamech had lived 182 years, he begot a son. And he named him Noah…. (Genesis 5:1, 3-8, 28-29)
  3. We have made the twentieth century the century of the individual. For most of human history, a person was part of a family, part of a clan or tribe or neighborhood. People defined themselves on the basis of their relationships to other people, not on the basis of their individual achievements. Think of all those pages the Bible devotes to genealogies, lists of who descended from whom…. To be an American is to be raised on the myth that a real American is ready to leave security behind and set out on his own in search of fame and fortune. It has led to some very impressive results, but it has also led to a lot of rootless, lonely, detached people….  What does religion offer that we lonely human souls need? In a word, it offers community. Our place of worship offers us a refuge, an island of caring in the midst of a hostile, competitive world….  The word “religion” comes from the same Latin root as the word “ligament.” It means “to bind.” As Durkheim discovered, what it does best is bind us to the people around us. Religion is not only a set of statements about God. Religion is also the community, the family through which we learn what it means to be human, and by which we are reinforced in our efforts to do what we believe is right.” (Rabbi Harold Kushner, Who Needs God?)
  4. It is written in Psalms 69:14, “but as for me, let my prayer be unto Thee, O Lord, in an acceptable time.” When is an acceptable time? It is when the congregation prays. (Talmud Berachot 7b-8a)
  5. God’s presence is in the synagogue, as it is written in Psalms 82:1 “God stands in the congregation of God.” (Talmud Berachot 6a)
  6. Abaye said: One should always include himself with the community. He should therefore say, “May it be Your will, O God our Lord, that You bring us in peace….” (Talmud Berachot 29b-30a)
  7. Between the year Lamech is born and Adam dies, all nine generations of human beings are alive at the same time. Remarkably, Noah is the first person born into the world after the death of Adam. Noah is the first to live in a world that knows natural death. He is the first with no direct link to Eden …. Genealogies are reminders of mortality, of the chain of generations, of the importance of each individual life even in the grand sweep of time. They connect one age to another, and give subtle clues as to the fate of each. Ancestry exerts a powerful pull on later generations; each name is a bulwark against the abyss. (Rabbi David Wolpe based on Dr. Leon Kass’s The Beginning of Wisdom)
  8. When we look at a soul, we always see a community rising behind it. What it is, it is by virtue of others… it must live in community because it is its nature to communicate itself to others, to share blessing with them. (Johannes Pedersen in Israel, Its Life and Culture)
  9. Though we will see that most Jewish rituals also have complex symbolism, their most powerful quality may be the most obvious: They create and invigorate connections and relationships. Jewish ritual is about interrupting the pace of modern life to provide a chance to think about and to celebrate that which is more enduring, more compelling, and more important. Shabbat, births, weddings, funerals, holidays: Beyond their individual significance, each helps to re-establish Jews’ connections to the people who give their lives context, joy, and meaning. (Rabbi Daniel Gordis in God was not in the fire)

Discussion

Usually we pay little attention to the genealogies in the Bible. Rabbi Kushner makes a profound point that these genealogical lists indicate to the reader of the Bible from the very start an emphasis on the importance of community. If this can be seen as a mission statement, that Judaism is meant to create a sense of family and community, where do we see signs of this in actual practice? How do prayer, language, ritual, and mitzvot achieve that mission? And how do we preserve the dignity of the individual in the midst of a religion that places so much emphasis on the community?


 
 
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