Jordana, the story of Noah and the flood is a very complicated story. The two principle characters, God and Noah, leave us deeply unhappy with the way the story unfolds. I am not sure there is any effective way to tell this story of humanity’s failure, God’s remorse and Noah as the improbable savior of God’s human project.
Just last week, God appraised the creation of humanity as “very good”; today God regrets creating human beings. God becomes convinced that the destruction of everything is necessary but if you listen to what God says at the end of a different biblical book, the book of Jonah, God has mercy on creation both man and beast, and gives them the option to repent their evil deeds and then God forgives them. Humanity is not given a chance to repent in our story today
Noah is identified as a Tzaddik, a righteous person, but his actions certainly are not the actions of a person who acts like a righteous person. He only saves himself and his family he does not protest God’s decision to destroy the world. Noah does faithfully care for the animals in the Ark but is tentative about leaving the Ark and when his mission is over, like many people today, his hero status becomes tainted by his drinking and public embarrassment.
And Jordana, what is the result of this flood? As you indicated, humanity is no different than before. God promises not to destroy the planet again and puts a rainbow up in the sky to seal this promise. Why? If people have not changed why make a promise like this? The Torah tells us that apparently God finally understands human nature and comes to accept humanity in all our failures and imperfections. Rabbi Sharon Cohn Anisfeld, of Hebrew College in Boston writes, “God has accepted and consciously decided to live with human imperfection. Out of the redefined relationship between God and humanity the first covenant is born. God sets the rainbow in the heavens as a sign saying, “When the bow is in the clouds I will see it and remember this everlasting covenant.” A reminder that God must control God’s own power to destroy – in the face of the inevitable disappointments that lie ahead.”
Jordana, there are lessons we need to take away from this strange story of the flood. The first lesson is that we human beings are not perfect. We have never been perfect and we probably never will be perfect. Just as God learned to live with that, we need to learn to live with that as well. We need not be hard on ourselves when we are doing the best we can, and think that we should be doing better. And we should also understand that other people may disappoint us from time to time and we need to be forgiving. And, perhaps even more importantly, we should not give up our dreams even if others don’t live up to our expectations.
There is a poem that speaks to this. It was written by Kent Keith but the famous Mother Theresa used a version, credited to her, that was a bit more spiritual and she posted it on the walls of her home for Children in Kolkata, India, it says:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
Jordana, you were correct when you said that God made a mistake and needed to acknowledge that mistake and should have moved on without regrets or getting angry. And I think, in the end, that is what God has done. When Noah finally disappoints us and God with his public drunkenness, God does not get angry and Noah, God is silent. I know you understand this Jordana; I am sure you can think of a time when you did something that was wrong and your parents did not yell at you but gave you a look, or should I say, “THE LOOK”, that just let you know you were wrong and you needed to do better.
That, of course, is not the look you are getting from your parents and grandparents today. Today is the day we see all the good things that you have accomplished, the study, the learning and the practice that made this Bat Mitzvah possible. Jordana, you did not settle for just a mediocre service, you added to your abilities of what you needed to celebrate your becoming Bat Mitzvah; you added the parts of the service you needed to celebrate Rosh Hodesh as well. If someone had suggested that this service was too hard, you would have done it anyway. You set your mind to be the best you could be and have done more than you could have imagined. The Torah reading was about humanity disappointing God; today your Bat Mitzvah is about your exceeding all expectations.
Jordana, we thank you for your sharing your abilities and your teaching with all of us today and we wish you a Mazal tov as we look to your future with pride and great expectations of what you are becoming. May God bless you always as God has blessed you today as we say … Amen and Shabbat Shalom
Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, October 21, 2017.