Parshat Noach

Torah Reading for Week of October 3 – October 9, 2010

“The Rainbow Covenant: Supporting Sustainability and Diversity”

by Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, PhD, ’07

From Adam to Abraham, G-d works with multiple generations to create a sense of justice and diversity that can sustain the world. In Noach’s generation, G-d used a flood to destroy humanity for corrupting the earth and filling it with violence. What is G-d doing today about the state of the world? Viewing An Inconvenient Truth orFood Inc, documentaries about climate change and the corruption within agribusinesses, we recognize G-d’s wrath metaphorically emerging in weather and food related catastrophes.

While G-d created the rainbow as a sign of a covenant that God would not destroy the world again through floods, we agreed to protect the world from corruption and violence, which continue to plague us. It is incumbent upon us to create a sustainable future through social and economic justice advocacy that addresses these issues. We need to vote our conscience in the next election to give voice to the widows and orphans, the unemployed and the dispossessed, and to support the business incentives that will create growth and prosperity.

Continuing in the parsha, we discover another source of distress for G-d, which leads to destruction. “All the earth had the same language and the same words.” This displeased G-d. After inspecting the Tower of Babel that the people had built, G-d determined that their sharing a language and exercising unified power was dangerous. G-d created multiple languages, confusing understanding. G-d destroyed the tower and scattered the people who built it. Early midrashic understandings indicate that this destruction was a punishment for hubris, for trying to build a tower to reach G-d. Later midrashic commentary extols G-d’s destruction of the tower as an intentional creation of diversity. G-d wants us to have a multiplicity of clans, tongues, lands, and nations described in the genealogy of Noach’s sons.

If the later interpretations have merit, then we are obligated to support diversity. The Academy for Jewish Religion, CA has set an example for us in this regard. Not only has it created a seminary that supports pluralism within Judaism, it has joined with the Claremont School of Theology and the Islamic Center of Southern California to participate in the consortium called “CUP” (Claremont University Project) which supports religious pluralism in America. Providing a forum for Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy to study together and encounter each other in dialogue encourages a multiplicity of voices and perspectives that will deepen our mutual understanding of each other.

Jews are known for their diversity of opinion on issues. We quip, “Two Jews, three opinions.” In the Talmud, we record minority as well as majority opinions. We speak of the seventy faces of Torah and the 32 pathways to G-d. Moreover, in early Talmudic debates, the houses of Hillel and Shamai frequently presented opposing opinions. In representing them both, it is written “eilu v’eilu, this and that, these are the words of the living G-d.”

Today, we continue to represent disparate viewpoints. While Jews have been at the forefront of ordaining women clergy or supporting GLBT rights, the work is not done. Through the destruction of the Tower of Babel, G-d was laying the groundwork for us to both welcome and respect diversity and pluralism. Thus, when we see the rainbow after a storm, we are reminded that accepting and supporting diversity is part of G-d’s covenant with the world as well.

Look for your way to serve G-d, the planet, and humanity.

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