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Noach.  November 1, 2019

Rabbi Richard Plavin

We had the pleasure of visiting the Azores this August together with several of our friends from BSBI, and we all did it thanks to the urging of Victor and Lieba Bernstein who organized the trip.
One of the particularly memorable visits on the itinerary was the town of Farnash and the fortuitous appearance of a beautiful rainbow in the sky. You how excited everyone gets when you see a rainbow. Immediately people open the camera app on their cell phones and start taking a multitude of photos. Someone in the group, and I must admit it wasn’t me, reminded us that this is an opportunity to say a Bracha – and you never want to miss such an opportunity. Who knows the bracha to recite upon seeing a rainbow?
Baruch Atta Hashem Elokenu Melech HaOlam Zocher HaBrit, (Ve)Neeman BeBrito, VeKayam BeMaamaro.
Blessed are You Hashem our God King of the universe, who remembers the covenant, and is faithful to His covenant, and keeps His promise.
I want you to know this bracha so that when you have the good fortune of seeing a rainbow you’ll know how to recite it.
Repeat: Baruch Atta Hashem Elokenu Melech HaOlam Zocher HaBrit, (Ve)Neeman BeBrito, VeKayam BeMaamaro.
Notice, the bracha says nothing about a rainbow. The main subject is the concept of the Brit – the covenant, and it comes directly from our Parasha this Shabbat.
For  most Jews, the mention of brit brings to mind an 8-day-old boy facing a surgical procedure, traveling to see family and eating bagels and lox. 
That is understandable. But it should also bring to mind this passage from our parasha today:
Genesis 9:8-13
8 Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: 9 “And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. 11 Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
12 And God said: “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13 I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.

So how is this working out? Is God keeping his promise? Is the earth going to endure for our descendants? If you listen to the news, read the newspaper, or getting updates on your phone about such things, you have to really wonder. In the NYT this week we read about California on fire to such a degree that it will never be in the future what we knew in the past.
God promised he wouldn’t bring a flood, and I take that to means waters from above, but what about seas rising from below? The paper listed major cities throughout the world that won’t exist fifty years from now. Better book your tickets soon before your desired destinations disappear.
Want to go see the glaciers? Better get a move on because they are quickly melting.
Does all of this make us doubt the words we have in our parasha and the rainbow bracha?
Can we wholeheartedly say that God is Zocher HaBrit – that he remembers his covenant with Noach to never again destroy the earth? Is God neeman b’vrito – faithful to his covenant?
I think the answer is yes, and I want to explain.
Our parasha is in many ways a repetition of the Creation story we read last week, and a few times before that.
Quick – al regel achat –review:
God creates our world but is very unhappy with humanity. He wants a do-over.
He finds one of His creations, Noach to be above the average, and calls him a Tzadik and perfect in his generation.
You know the story: God floods the earth to wipe out the first creation saving just Noach and his family and a representative set of the animals and starts all over.
In chapter 9, just before the section I quoted earlier, God instructs his newly re created world in a vein similar to the instruction the first time: be fruitful and multiply and take care of this world. He also gives a dispensation on vegetarianism saying that he understands that people a not fully up to that high standard, but the laws of kashrut begin in that when we do eat meat the blood has to be removed to remind us that we are taking a life.
The essential point is that there are responsibilities on both sides of this covenant. That’s the way it works with britot, covenantal agreements.
My feeling is that the destruction we see now in now in our world is not coming from God’s side. Humanity has to carefully examine it’s deeds and see if we are keeping our part of the bargain. In my humble opinion, I believe the answer is no.
I don’t have to tell you about recycling and solar power and hybrid vehicles and so on so on – or as Shtisel would say “v’chulay v’chulay.” You know all of that as well as I do. It is all important and even though it appears to be a drop in the environmental bucket, I remind you of the saying in Avot: “lo alecha hamlacha ligmore. You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
I will just conclude this morning on a happier note – the way the haphtarah always concludes with a happy verse. In Israel there is a company called Electreon has a brilliant idea: it has developed a relatively simple way to electrify roads so that electric vehicles won’t need heavy batteries that have to be recharged but will recharge as they travel. They are beginning with bus routes and shuttle vehicles. Of course the idea is that this will reduce our use of fossil fuels and thus reduce carbon emissions. Another instance of what we’ll read in the parasha next week; the Jewish people will bring blessing to the world. Ken y'hi ratzon.

 

 

Sermon given by Rabbi Richard Plavin at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, November 2, 2019.

Mon, August 3 2020 13 Av 5780