|In last week’s portion we read the words of Lamech when he named his son “Noach—Noah.” Lamech said, “This one will comfort us (y’nachamenu) concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed.” The name Noah comes from the Hebrew word “Nacham” which can be translated as comfort/mercy. However, why did Lamech say Noah’s birth would bring comfort to humanity? Before we get into the details of understanding this verse I want to set the scene surrounding the birth of Noah. It says in this week’s portion “…the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually…the earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” Noah was born into one of the most troubled eras in all of human history. Therefore, why did Lamech say his son would be the comforter during those troubled times? In the Midrash Tanchuma, Bereshit 11 (An old commentary containing anecdotes, rulings, and teaching) we read “…prior to Noah’s birth, men performed all their labor by hand…but after Noah was born, plows, scythes, axes, and other implements were introduced.” What does this mean? Traditionally, this text is understood to mean that Noah was an inventor of farm implements. Noah’s inventions “broke,” in a sense, the “curse of the ground” that God had pronounced into effect after the sin of Adam. (Genesis 3:17) Suddenly the backbreaking, difficult, sweaty task of bringing forth bread from the earth wasn’t so difficult anymore. In my mind, Noah was the very first mechanical engineer. Think about it; Noah builds a boat without even knowing what a flood is, he creates a system within that boat to store food, keep animals, and provide drinkable water, and it seems, he has a hard time with relationships (i.e. he only brought his own family with him onto the ark) That in my mind is the perfect description of an engineer! Noah brought comfort into the world by making the toil of man easier, as Lamech said of his son, “This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands because of the ground which the Lord has cursed.” Noah brought new technology into the world, which in turn caused man to be comforted from the hard labor of agriculture.
|I have heard it said that new technology is the problem in today’s world. Some would say that technology has stopped man from relying on God. But when God created humanity, He didn’t create us to be completely reliant on Him. He created us to be co-laborer’s alongside Him, within His creation. As it says, God put man into the world “L’avada Ul’Shamara—To work and protect it.” (Genesis 2:15) New technology is not the problem in today’s world, nor was it the problem in Noah’s time. In fact, Noah, the inventor of this “evil” = new technology, of him it was said, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”
The problem with Noah’s inventions weren’t that they went beyond God’s creation neither were they a problem because they made man’s work easier. I believe the problem with Noah’s inventions was this; rather than bringing comfort to mankind, they made mankind comfortable. The “curse of the ground” was given by God to remind Adam and his descendants of a time in bygone days—the time in the Garden of Eden, when man and God walked together. In “Gan Eden—the Garden of Eden” there was no “curse of the ground,” there were no “thorns and thistles,” and working for food came without breaking a sweat. The “curse of the ground” was actually a blessing because it reminded Adam and his descendants of the garden, a place they all should have desired to return to. But when Noah’s inventions came onto the scene, rather than using this new technology to spur the redemption process along, rather than bringing “Tikkun Olam—World Rectification,” rather than being comforted and excited that Noah’s technology could bring them back to the Garden from which humanity had been exiled, instead, Noah’s inventions allowed humanity to become comfortable in the exile. Mankind used Noah’s technology to become comfy away from God rather than using Noah’s technology as a way to return to God. When humanity becomes comfortable away from God, God will not force Himself into an area where He is not remembered nor desired. At the same time God will not abandon His creation to mankind’s “default mode to destruction.” God is willing to destroy creation in order to bring about a future redemption; man is willing to destroy creation without the thought of a future redemption. God’s future redemption is what we all should be yearning and longing for! We should be using the technology of this world to spur us onward toward the “Y’mei HaMashiach—Days of the Messiah.” Yeshua, our Master warned us in Matthew 24, “…As the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and [they] did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” I hear the phrase “Days of Noah” used in reference to the terrible atrocities, corruption and debauchery happening in our world. In one sense, yes, the “Days of Noah” were wicked times. However, when Yeshua speaks of the “Days of Noah,” He doesn’t point out the wickedness and corruption of Noah’s day, rather, He says, “in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage…” Are eating, drinking, and marriage, sin? Do you know what this verse sounds like to me? It sounds like a people who are comfortable in the place they are at. The worst part about the “Days of Noah” was the fact that mankind had become comfortable living in their sin. And when humanity becomes comfortable in their sin they cease to seek redemption. Madame de Pompadour, mistress to King Louis XV (18th century French King), she is attributed with the phrase “Après nous, le déluge—After us, the flood.” In other words, “We do what we want and hope the flood comes after we’re gone.” This is the view of many people, even believers in today’s society. People think life is about being comfortable, experiencing the American Dream, and living “Your best life now.” We’ve become comfortable in our exile from God. “Might as well make the best of it…YOLO!” we say as we pull the covers over face and bury our head in the sand. We look at this sin-infested world and ask, “Where is God?” In the meantime God sits in the heavens and asks, “Where are my children?” This question reminds me of a song by Matthew West called “Do something.” One of the lines in the song goes “I shook my fist at Heaven, I said, ‘God, why don’t You do something?’ He said, ‘I did.’ Yeah. ‘I created you.’” God has put us into this realm, and so long as there are people who aren’t comfortable with the status quo, and so long as there are people who seek their comfort in God rather than the passing pleasures of sin, there is still hope in the world. Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali Philosopher, Writer, Poet, Artist and Political figure once said, “Every child comes with the message that God is not yet finished with man.” Every day God entrusts us with time, a precious commodity we can never regain. He gives it to us to bring change and life into the world. As the saying goes “Time changes things. But you have to change them yourself.” Or, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” We must realize that the redemption is on our shoulders and as Noah invented the plow in his time, Yeshua, our Master tells us in the book of Luke, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Technology is good if it is used to bring us closer to the Kingdom of God. The problem is when technology allows us to become comfortable, separate from our Creator.
R’ Shlomo Carlebach once said, “…when I stay in a hotel, my feet are there, my hands are there and my head is there, but something is missing. My heart is not in the hotel. My soul is not in the hotel. My house is the place in which I am completely there.” Are we passing through life as we do a hotel? Is dwelling with God a passion? Where is our heart? And where are we storing up our treasure? (Matthew 6:19-21) As King David said in Psalm 27, “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life…” Is this our pursuit? And not just for us, but for the entire world? Never become comfortable in this exile away from God! Rather, fulfill the calling God has on you specifically and encourage others to fulfill their role in God’s Grand-Master-Plan. Rabbi Zusya (1718-1800) once stood before his congregation and said, “When I die and have to present myself before God, He will not ask me, ‘Zusya why were you not like Moses?’ for I would say ‘Moses was a prophet and I am not.’ He would not say ‘Zusya, why were you not like Jeremiah?’ for I would say ‘Jeremiah was a writer, and I am not.’ And He will not say ‘Why were you not like Rabbi Akiva?’ For I would tell Him, ‘Rabbi Akiva was a great teacher and scholar and I am not.’ But then He will say ‘Zusya why were you not the Zusya I created you to be?’ and to this I will have no answer. This is the question I fear most!” When we answer before the heavenly court, will we be able to say that we lived to the fullest of our potential? Will we be able to say, “Yes, I became the person I was created to be?”
|In conclusion I wanted to return to Noah, our character who, for the sake of this observation is currently in the ark waiting to be let out. Noah was a man who was obedient to everything God told him. However, if we go back to the Midrash Tanchuma (An old commentary containing anecdotes, rulings, and teaching) we find a very sharp, pointed text concerning Noah waiting to leave the ark. It says, “Once the waters had abated, Noah should have left the ark. However, Noah said to himself, ‘I entered with God’s permission, as it says, ‘Go into the ark’ (7:1). Shall I now leave without permission?’ The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, ‘Is it permission, then, that you are seeking? Very well, then, here is permission,’ as it is said [Then God said to Noah,] ‘Come out of the ark’ (8:17). Rabbi Yehudah Bar Ilai said: If I had been there I would have broken down the ark and taken myself out.”Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “The Midrash is unmistakable in its note of exasperation. When it comes to rebuilding a shattered world, you do not wait for permission.” I find this last sentence a compelling finish. Our commission is clear, we do not wait on God, we know His heart and that is what we bring to the world! In the words of Reform Rabbi Eric Yoffie, which follows in line with what many Rabbis have said before him, “We may not know precisely [who] God is, but our tradition clearly tells us what God does: God heals the sick, clothes the naked, houses the homeless and pursues peace. We cannot be God; we are weak and imperfect human beings. But we can, within the limitations of the human condition, emulate God’s behavior, and, in this way, bring God into our lives [and to the entire world!]”
Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,