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Faith and Fantastical Beasts

10/08/2021 01:17:17 PM


     Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is, of course, Parashat Noach, in which we read about the story of Noah’s ark, the flood that covered the whole earth, and finally a strange little story about a group of people that tried to build a tower up to heaven and were punished with the creation of multiple languages. 

     I am often pretty ungenerous in my reading of Noah. I tend to think the classic question of Noah’s righteousness does not lead to great answers for him, given that he leaves the whole world to be destroyed without any argument. However, this year, as we celebrate this Shabbat with our fun and silly unicorn service, I am thinking about this parasha through the theme of faith and belief. 

     We don’t know exactly what kind of world Noah was living in, other than that God felt it was too wicked to continue. The rabbis tell us that there was wanton violence, people tearing limbs of living animals and consuming the meat raw and still dripping with fresh blood, and that there was relational impropriety not only between unsuited human couples but even between angels and human women. Talk about abuse of an imbalanced power dynamic - literal celestial beings taking advantage of mere mortals. Even if we accept this explanation of the wicked world, we know even less what Noah thought about it. Was he frightened of the violence, worried about his children’s marital status, concerned at all for the direction of the human race and the safety of the natural world? What we do know is that when a Divine voice came down to him, he listened. When that voice told him to build something that had never been built before, he did. We don’t even know if Noah was a carpenter! While the rains fell, and everything and everyone he’d ever known outside of his own family and really what amounts to a handful of animals in the grand scheme of things was destroyed, he stayed firm on the ark. When the waters stopped, he sent out the birds to search for dry land and establish survivability off the ark. In short, he had faith every step of the way and never doubted God’s plan or his own ability to follow through with what he needed to do. 

     The same goes for the people of Babel at the end of the parasha. They were able to communicate with one another and work together to build something so tall it threatened the very heavens. Although in the end, that project was not such a good idea, the effort behind it shows belief and strength of intention, and there’s still something to be learned there. 

     I’m not suggesting tonight as we learn about Noah and sing the silly unicorn song that we should believe in unicorns or leviathans or mermaids or dybbuks or any of the other fantastical creatures mentioned in this service. Although I’m also not saying we shouldn’t or that I don’t believe in fantastical creatures. I am saying that so often in our everyday lives as modern Jews, we forget that faith is the foundation of our peoplehood. Whether that is faith in God, or some other Higher Power, or if it is in ourselves, our communities, our abilities to make the world better, it is so important to maintain that faith, to internalize it and let us propel us forward in strength, and to never lose hope in the promise of a brighter future that we can actualize through our own actions. In short, I guess what I’m saying is Don’t Stop Believing, and also to let that Feeling guide you in world-saving action. May we believe in magic, Tikkun Olam, and in our own amazing selves. Amen and Shabbat Shalom. 

Sat, May 28 2022 27 Iyyar 5782