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A Message From Rabbi Eligberg

A Tidbit of Torah - Parshat Noach 5781

Having recently concluded another holiday season, we should keep in mind it’s primary message: Tshuvah/repent, return, and begin, again. One should not wait until next year to evaluate the worthiness of one’s deeds, actions, and words. This is a process that goes on “24/7.” In part, this is the message delivered in the story of Noah and the Ark.

    

“The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness... God said to Noah, ‘I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark...” (B’reysheet / Genesis 6:11-14)

With these ominous words the story of the flood begins to unfold. To better understand the divine decree and its enduring message we need to go back a few verses into the end of last week’s Torah portion. In B’reysheet / Genesis 6:3 the text expresses God’s frustration at the behavior of human beings: “My breath shall not abide in man forever, since he is but flesh; let the days allowed him be 120 years.”

Intriguingly, Targum Onkelos, an ancient Aramaic translation of the Torah (Early 2nd-century CE), tried to understand God’s reasoning and intent by offering an interpretive translation of the verse. Onkelos writes, “And God said this evil generation shall not endure before Me forever; for they are flesh and their deeds are evil. I will grant them an extension of 120 years, to see if they repent.” 



The 10th century French Bible scholar, Rashi, picked up on the Aramaic translation and further noted, “God instructed Noah to begin building his ark long before the onset of the flood in the hope that people would ask him its purpose and be moved to repent.”

       

Understood in this manner, it was never God’s desire to destroy the earth. People would see Noah building this ark and ask him, “Why?” He would tell them God has given up on humankind and intends to destroy the world. They, in turn, would work to rehabilitate society and God would rescind the order. We know what happened!

    The message is clear. We always have the chance to re-direct our actions, until it’s too late. We know we are depleting our natural resources and polluting the environment. We have been warned of what might happen if we do nothing. While there are those who refuse to accept scientific evidence of human harm to the environment, there are many more who are investing time and money in alternative energy sources and “green” technology. Whether humankind has a significant impact on global warming or not, learning to live a more ecologically-balanced life style can only be good for us and the world we live in.

 The teachings of some of the ancient scholars suggest it was not God who destroyed the world but humankind through collective inaction to the threat that stood before them. Is it any different for us, in our day?

 

Last week's (October 17) message - Parshat B'reysheet 5781

And from the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.             

B’reysheet/Genesis 2:9

Rashi, the great medieval French biblical commentator (1040-1105), opines that the tree was, “in the middle” of the garden emphasizing its equal accessibility from all directions. Over the centuries, the tree of life came to be understood in a metaphoric sense of God as the ultimate source of life. The Hafetz Hayim1 understood this concept of accessibility as an assertion that each and every person could access the tree of life, each according to his capacity and the opportunities afforded. The Hafetz Hayim, in reflecting on multiple pathways to the tree of life, enumerates the following: The study of Torah, a strong sense of awe and reverence, the fulfillment of mitzvot, and the performance of acts of Chesed, deeds of loving-kindness. Each path to the tree of life beckons to us, and waits our travelling upon it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David M. Eligberg

1 Rabbi Yisrael Meir (HaKohen) Kagan was born on January 26, 1838 in what is today Belarus. He was popularly known as the Chofetz Chaim, literally, Desirer of Life, based on the title of his magnum opus, which dealt with Jewish ethics and laws of proper speech. A Halachist, posek, and ethicist, his works remain widely influential in Jewish life.

At a young age the Chofetz Chaim married and relocated to Radin, Poland serving for a short time as its rabbi before establishing a very successful yeshiva there in 1869.

 

 

 

A Message From Cantor Marx

This week's (October 25) message:

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn that Noah planted a vineyard after the end of the flood and ended up drunk and naked in his tent. Noah's son, Ham, saw his father naked and informed his two brothers of their father's situation. The brothers, Shem and Yafet, approached their father and covered him, doing that in a manner that did not embarrass their father afterwards.

Noah woke up and understood what had happened to him, to the world and to all around him. He understood that he was sad and unhappy, probably depressed, with all the destruction and death around him.

One day COVID too shall pass, and how are we going to wake up from this difficult period in all our lives? What will we and society at large learn from this experience?

I am not talking about pointing fingers and finding culprits. I hope we will learn how things developed and never make the same decisions and choices again. At the same time there is no point in trying to understand why tragedy befalls society.

I believe we should spend more time evaluating the important relationships in our lives and how we can make a difference in the lives of the people around us. Learning that we cannot take family and friends for granted is a good start.

This is certainly a transformational experience. The pandemic effects will vary from person to person, but as a society the lessons of COVID will hopefully cause humanity to reevaluate the fact that we are all on the same boat, and to keep the boat afloat we must work together for the common good.

 

Last week's (October 17) message:

We are back at the beginning of the Torah. In the first chapter of Bereishit, God creates man “in His image, after His likeness.” How do we reconcile this statement with the fact that we know that God has no physical form, so being created in “His image” must refer to some other likeness between us and God. We are being taught that we have the potential to be like God in our actions, and we do that by imitating God.

One interpretation of “in His image, after His likeness” is that we are all created equal. This concept is a direct break with the norms and beliefs of its time. It goes against the belief that pharaohs, kings and other leaders of the ancient world were gods. In those societies there was a clear difference between rulers and everyone else. The Torah declares that not just the king, but everyone, is in the image of God. Every life is sacred.

Every individual should be treated equally, with the same dignity and no human being is illegal. It took many centuries until these concepts became what we call human rights, or the rights we all have simply because we are human.

I pray that soon we will all live in a society where everyone is created in the “image of God” will be a reality. Everyone’s rights are equal and equally respected. One of my neighbors felt it is important to put a sign in their lawn that reads: science is real, black lives matter, no human is illegal, love is love, women’s rights are human rights and kindness is everything.  I hope that soon the sign in my neighbor’s lawn will no longer be necessary.

 

Mon, October 26 2020 8 Cheshvan 5781