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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Noach

Floods And Arks

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The Torah’s recitation of the events of the great flood and of Noach’s ark is well known to all of us, no matter our position on the religious spectrum of Jewish life. It seems pretty accurate in reviewing human history since that event that we are always somehow perched on the precipice of a great cataclysmic event of horrendous consequences whether it is man made or of natural or climatic making. In our time we are faced with recurring natural disasters that have taken hundreds of thousands of lives, with the threat of nuclear wars of untold destruction and with economic crises that sap the vitality of societies, nations and individuals. The motto of King Louis of France après moi deluge - after me comes the flood - is an apt assessment of how much of humankind thinks today. There is very little optimism to go around in today’s world. The messengers of hope and change are not very convincing in their words and certainly not in their deeds and policies. So there is an overall malaise that besets us. There are no big dreams, bold policies, acceptances of risk and visions of what can and should be accomplished broadcast. The great ideals and movements that marked the beginning of the twentieth century are now all shattered idols at the beginning of the current century. Political rhetoric has lost all believability and the "kabbalist" soothsayers and human rights activists are in the main imposters. We pray for rain but are fearful of the flood.

Enter the ark. The ark symbolizes not only the salvation of one person and his family from the ravages of the flood but it more importantly symbolizes the ability to rise above our fears and innate pessimism and salvage the purpose of our lives from pessimism and nihilism. As a reinforcement of this idea of a saving ark there is also the natural phenomenon of the rainbow which represents an eternal covenant between humankind and the Creator that the flood will not recur. This rainbow is not to be misinterpreted or its impact to be exaggerated. We have no guarantees against recurring disasters, natural and man made, wars and strife, but we do have a promise that somehow human life will continue. It is therefore incumbent upon us to make that life productive, meaningful and in a true sense, eternal as well. The ark was and is the will of humankind to not only survive the omnipresent threat of the flood but somehow to overcome its dangers and attempt to reinforce the rainbow and not be distracted by the false messages of unrealistic hopes on one hand and the prophets of impending doom on the other hand. Every generation is charged with the task of building an ark for itself anew. It is also instructed to teach the message of the rainbow to the next generation, to implant belief, tradition, values and a concern for others into the lives of those that will follow us here on earth.

All of this is true for humankind generally. It certainly is true for the Jewish people particularly. Israel, world Jewry generally, finds itself hemmed in by enemies and beset by great problems. We are the only people targeted openly by others for a great flood to befall us. The world apparently is unaware that the fate of all is tied in inextricably with the fate of the Jews. One would have thought that the story of the twentieth century and its horrendous events would have made this lesson clear to all. Obviously this is not the case. But we Jews have to nevertheless continue building our ark. This little seemingly flimsy ark has withstood all of the floods that time has thrown against us. We should revitalize ourselves, dream great dreams again, see the great picture and not concentrate so much on the picayune details which so blind us to our accomplishments and goals. We have to rebuild ourselves anew but without discarding the treasures of our past. God promised the Jewish people a new heart and the ability to rise to all challenges. And above all we must educate our generation and future generations to observe the rainbow which is reflected in the Torah and our teachings and traditions. Jewish ignorance, hedonism and worshipping false idols that mask themselves as being somehow the greater good are the real flood that threatens our future existence and success. The rainbow teaches us that our ark is waterproof and those generations and individuals wise enough to enter it will surely succeed in avoiding all permanent floods and disasters.
Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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