TORAH SPARKS: Parashat Noah | Shabbat Rosh Hodesh

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Parashat Noah
Shabbat Rosh Hodesh

October 20-21, 2017 | 1 Heshvan 5778

Annual | Genesis 6:9-11:32
Triennial | Genesis 8:15-10:32
Maftir | Numbers 28:9-15
Haftarah | Isaiah 66:1-24,23

Dvar Torah

Rabbi Andy Shapiro Katz
, Director of North American Engagement, Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem

Classical Jewish thought posits that human being have two "inclinations" - a bad one, the "Yetzer HaRa," responsible for appetite, competition, and violence, and a good one, the "Yetzer HaTov," that guides us toward justice, mercy, and holiness. (Those familiar with Freud are sure to draw a parallel between this and his concept of the Id and Superego.) But the word "yetzer" is more accurately translated as "form" as it originates in the creation story of Genesis, Chapter 2. As you may remember from last week, there are two different stories of how Adam is created. In Chapter 1, Adam, both male and female together, is created on Day 6, the last day of creation. In Chapter 2, Adam is formed from the dust of the earth, animals are formed afterwards, and eventually Eve is formed from Adam's side/rib. Interestingly, the two chapters use different verbs for these processes. Chapter 1 uses the verbs "he made" (vayaas) or "he created" (vayivra) for everything, including Adam. Adam is made/created out of nothing, in the image of God, in one step. And God calls this creation "very good." But Chapter 2 does not say that God "created" or "made" Adam. Instead, we are told that God "formed (vayitzer) Adam from the dust of the earth." God takes from already existent earth and uses it, like a potter uses clay, to FORM Adam before blowing into his nostrils to bring him to life. In Chapter 2 God doesn't say whether this "form" is good or bad. And in the chapters that follow we see that, in fact, human beings are NOT good. In Chapter 3, Adam and Eve disobey God and try to hide it and shade the truth. They are more responsive to their own appetite than God's instructions. In Chapter 4, competition and jealousy lead Cain to kill his brother Abel, despite God's warnings. It is in Chapter 6 that God assesses the "form" (yetzer) of human beings and pronounces it "bad." The Torah says in 6:5: "The LORD saw how great was man's wickedness on earth, and how all the 'yetzer' (form) of the thoughts of his heart/mind was 'ra' (bad) all his days." And God regrets making humanity and resolves to wipe them out, along with everything else. Put simply, the Yetzer HaRa is the reason God brings the flood! We all know what happens next. Noach and his family and various animals are saved. They ride out the storm in the ark and emerge again onto dry land to re-populate the earth. And in line 8:21, God promises to never bring another flood to destroy the world:, "Never again will I doom the earth because of man, since the 'yetzer' (form) of man's mind is 'ra' (bad) from his youth." Wait. So God destroyed the world because of the Yetzer HaRa, and then vows not to do it again because of the Yetzer HaRa? That makes no sense. And it reinforces the basic fact that nothing has changed: Noach may have been better than his contemporaries, but he still has the same Yetzer HaRa as all human beings! By token of being human, he shares their defect.  So how do we explain God's change of heart? The answer may lie in the subtle difference between God's statements. 6:5 says "bad all his days," but 8:21 says "bad from his youth." Perhaps the phrase "from his youth" should be read "BECAUSE OF his youth!" Based on this the Sages, in the work Avot d'Rabbi Natan, developed that idea that human beings are born with a Yetzer HaRa, but don't develop a Yetzer HaTov until the age of 13. So God recognizes that even though it LOOKS like humans are ONLY our Yetzer HaRa, in fact we just need to grow up, both individually and as a species. Fortunately for us and the world, God realized this and committed to engaging with us as a parent/teacher, to give us Torah to help us develop our Yetzer HaTov, so that we can indeed merit being called "very good."
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Table Talk

Vered Hollander-Goldfarb,
 Conservative Yeshiva Faculty  

Last week we learnt about the creation of the world, and now we read about the destruction of this amazing enterprise because of the corruption of all living things. As life returns after the flood we read about the nations of the world that come from Noach's children, and begin to focus on Abram. 1) The Parasha of Noach introduces his 3 sons at the very beginning (6:9-10), before God announces the destructions of all living things. Why do you think that they are introduced here? Why are they mentioned after a verse describing Noach's relationship with God? 2) The children of Noach begin to have their own children after the flood (chapter 10). The Torah gives us lists of the children of each branch. Why do you think that the Torah devotes space to this? Are you familiar with any of these nations? 3) Look at the dimensions of the ark that Noach is instructed to build (6:14-16). While it is often drawn as a ship, that does not seem to be its shape. What shape is this structure? What disadvantage does that have in comparison with a ship? Why do you think that God did not instruct him to build a more hydrodynamic shape? 4) After many months in the ark, while the world was submerged in water, the ark stops on the Ararat Mountains. What does Noach do to find out what the situation outside is like (8:6-12)? Why are both the crow and the dove let go on their missions? Do they go simultaneously or one after the other? Why? 5) Noach offers sacrifices to God after leaving the ark (8:20-22). What do you think was his intention? How does God respond? Did Noach live up to his name, as we saw in 5:29, last week?
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Dvar Haftarah

Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein,
 Conservative Yeshiva Faculty  

At the opening of this special haftarah for Rosh Hodesh, the prophet asks a rhetorical question: "Thus said the Lord: 'The heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where could you build a house for Me? What place could serve as My abode? All this was made by My hand and thus it came into being', declared the Lord." (Isaiah 66:1-2) What is implied in this statement? The prophet questions whether building a house for God is appropriate. The reason for having a house for God was to give people a concrete point of access to God, but this human necessity also created a religious problem. After all, how can the created world contain its Creator? It is not difficult to discern how building a house to "contain" God might lead some to draw false conclusions about God. If God indeed lives in "His" house, then one could draw the conclusion that His influence might be limited to His house, leaving the miscreant to assume that it is possible to operate outside God's reach. In other words, one could sin outside of "God's house" and get away with it. Such thoughts led the prophet to decry the need for building a house for God and to forcefully assert God's power over the wayward who thought to take advantage of this theological loophole: "As for those who slaughter oxen [as sacrifices] and slay humans, who sacrifice sheep [inside the Temple] and immolate dogs [as an idolatrous practice] ..." (66:3) God reminds his "followers", in this case the wayward priesthood, that they should not be misled into thinking that God dwells as a prisoner in a house built for Him. Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) states the problem this way: "Like Solomon said: 'Even the heavens to their uttermost reaches cannot contain You (God), how much less this house which I have built' (1 Kings 8:27) - for I have not commanded regarding this house that I should dwell in it nor regarding the sacrifices that I should consume them; I commanded [them] only in order for Israel to incline their hearts toward Me (God) and so that there should be a special place to pray to Me and makes offerings, to awaken their hearts and to eradicate evil thoughts... if so when you do evil and then come to My house and sacrifice before Me, you have lost the proper intention - and this is My (God's) mitzvah and you do not fulfill My will, rather the opposite - You anger Me.'" Kimche suggests that the people abused an institution intended for their benefit. The purpose of the Temple was to facilitate intimacy with God in a manner which was "friendly" for human beings. It was not meant as a means of limiting God's reach. So the prophet in our haftarah comes to remind us to be discerning and conscientious when we think about God, so as not to allow ourselves to be misled.
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We would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary:

Underwriters: 

Rabbi Michael and Erica Schwab

Sponsors

Rabbi Ron Androphy, Rabbi Jeffrey & Tami Arnowitz, Rabbi Martin Flax, Rabbi Barry Dov Katz, Rabbi Ben Kramer, Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, Rabbi Robert Pilavin, Rabbi Micah Peltz, Rabbi David Rosen

Friends: 

Aaron Dworin, Rabbi Robert Eisen, Rabbi Jay Goldstein, Rabbi Rafi Kanter, Rabbi Dennis Linson, Rabbi Mark Mallach, Rabbi Marvin Richardson z"l, Rabbi Joel Roth, Rabbi Ronald Roth, Rabbi Neil Sandler, Rabbi David C. Seed, Mel F. Seidenberg in honor of his grandchildren and two great grandsons, Rabbi Ari Sunshine
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