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Virtual Talmud

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Last Shabbat we read about how God commanded Noah to collect an ark load of the Earth’s biodiversity and ride out the mother of all storms, which cleansed the earth. When Noah and his family finally emerged from the ark to a fresh new world, God makes a covenant with them and seals it with a rainbow.
This covenant is often misunderstood as a promise that God will never again destroy the earth and all that lives upon it. But if you read the text carefully two things become clear: First, The Bible states that God promised never to destroy the Earth again. God never says God will stop others from destroying the Earth.


Second: The Bible does not use the word for promise (oath in Biblical parlance) but rather the word for covenant, brit in Hebrew. (It is the same word found in the term brit milah, one symbol of the covenant between God and the Jewish people through ritual circumcision.) A brit is an eternal contract between two partners, here between God and Noah, and by extension, between God and all of humanity. Each partner has obligations that are part of upholding the covenant. In this case, God’s promise not to destroy the Earth and all within it is dependent upon humanity’s similar commitment not to destroy the Earth.
Any number of indicators tell us that we are falling down on our part of the bargain: Glaciers are melting; animals are retreating north due to habitat loss; storms are becoming dangerously more extreme. The earth may be in danger of being destroyed, not by God, but by us.
Our Rabbis ask: Why did God tell Noah to build an ark, which took time and effort to build, rather than just out and out save Noah, his family and the animals? They answer that God wanted to warn humanity and give people a chance to change their ways–in other words, the flood was not inevitable and could have been averted through consistent communal change. The same is true for us as well.
An Inconvenient Truth is just one of the many ways we can learn more about the crises confronting us and what we can do about it. In a way, Former Vice President Al Gore, who just won a much deserved Nobel Peace Prize, is our modern day Noah, warning us of our impending doom and giving us a chance to avoid it by changing our ways.
How long will it take for us to make all our synagogues and Jewish institutions green? How long will it take for us to become energy and resource thrifty in our homes and personal lives, and mobilize our entire nation’s corporate ingenuity to make conservation an essential part of our national interest (much like recycling and victory gardens were in World War II)? We must also ask ourselves, “Will it take too long?”
While we might not have the clout or connections of Former Vice President Al Gore, we certainly can do (and hopefully will do) our part, for the future of the world is literally in our hands.

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