Practical and Embodied Judaism – Parasha Noach

“And the floodgates of the sky broke open.” -Genesis 7:11

“People who pray for miracles usually don’t get miracles, any more than children who pray for bicycles, good grades, or good boyfriends get them as a result of praying. But people who pray for courage, for strength to bear the unbearable, for the grace to remember what they have left instead of they have lost, very often find their prayer answered.”
– Rabbi Harold Kushner in “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”

Welcome to the new season of the ‘Raising Holy Sparks’ podcast. This year, we will be focusing on Jewish concepts and will be experimenting with ways to take them out of the theoretical and turn them into the practical.

This week, for parsha noach (from the book of Genesis), we look at the idea of humanity being wiped out because of sin and transgression. While parts of the Torah have great compassion for the suffering, there are times when Biblical theology slips into ‘victim blaming’.
The story of Noah asks a crucial question and then quickly answers it: why did everyone drown in a worldwide flood? Because of their behavior!
The problem with this construct is that if God brings punishment to those that act wickedly then surely the decent people among us would be spared lives of hardship. Yet, we all know that’s not the case.
So what do we do with this “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” theology?
The Torah actually contains multiple theologies and conceptions of how God acts in this world. While Genesis chapter two takes what is often seen as the classical Biblical approach of God lashing out at humans for misbehaving (Adam & Eve banished from the Garden), the opening chapter of Genesis, however, takes a different approach.
Genesis chapter 1 starts off by saying that the world was filled with chaos and was devoid of life before God even enters the story. But then the spirit of God comes to hover over the chaos and brings order, and as a result life flourishes and “it was good”.
In this theology, God arrives on a scene that is already out of control and overwhelming. So what is Godliness? It is speaking hopeful and life-affirming statements during moments of struggle or hopelessness. On the personal level, it’s the equivalent of having a hard week but then saying ‘let there be light’ in my life. As the quote above from Rabbi Kushner points out when we hold on to hope we are able to hang on. We tame the chaos and turn it into creation. (Continuing with the ‘name it to tame it’ theme.)
At the end of the day, we have the power to choose a Genesis 1 (turning nothing into something) or Genesis 2 (no opportunity for changing reality). Do we deserve to suffer like Noah’s neighbors and should therefore accept our fate? Or is there inherent chaos to life despite our actions that create waves for all people at all stages of life? (Hint: the neighbors got a bad deal). Noah was able to ride the waves of chaos with a little bit of help, we can too.
An intention that I’d like to offer forward:
During times of frustration or overwhelm, try a mantra/prayer:
1), “I am hovering over the chaos, and there will be light.”
Or 2) “I am drowning in despair, but my body is the ark for my soul.  I will take care of my body so that it can take care of my soul/spirit/energy.”

See you next time!

Thanks for listening and looking forward to being on this journey through the books of the Torah with you!

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