Noah’s Ark + Climate Change
D’VAR TORAH / SERMON
RABBI DAVID BENJAMIN FAINSILBER
4 CHESHVAN 5779 // OCTOBER 13, 2018
Give or take, we all know the story of Noah and the flood.
Noah, the man was simply a righteous person in his generation,
אִ֥ישׁ צַדִּ֛יק תָמִ֥ים הָיָ֖ה בְּדֹרֹתָ֑יו
He goes above and beyond anyone else and listens to G-d’s word,
when G-d says that there will be flooding
that will overtake the whole of the earth.
Noah builds an ark, a teiva,
and saves his family and animal-life,
while the rest of the world,
the rest of civilisation and creation,
dies around him.
While most know this part of the story,
what many don’t know is the story that follows the flood.
No, not the land-seeking dove that comes back with an olive branch,
but what Noah does after he gets off of the ark.
כ וַיָּ֥חֶל נֹ֖חַ אִ֣ישׁ הָאֲדָמָ֑ה וַיִּטַּ֖ע כָּרֶם:
Gen. 9:20 Noah, the tiller of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.
כא וַיֵּ֥שְׁתְ מִן־הַיַּ֖יִן וַיִּשְׁכָּ֑ר וַיִּתְגַּ֖ל בְּת֥וֹךְ אָהֳלֹה:
Gen. 9:21 He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.
Meaning, he got naked in front of others,
a great sin in the Biblical tradition.
כב וַיַּ֗רְא חָ֚ם אֲבִ֣י כְנַ֔עַן אֵ֖ת עֶרְוַ֣ת אָבִ֑יו וַיַּגֵּ֥ד לִשְׁנֵי־אֶחָ֖יו בַּחוּץ:
Gen. 9:22 Ham, the father of Canaan, (and Noah’s son) saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside.
Gen. 9:23 So (his brothers) Shem and Japheth took a cloth, placed it against both their backs and, walking backward, they covered their father’s nakedness; their faces were turned the other way, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.
Gen. 9:24 When Noah woke up from his wine and learned what his youngest son had done to him,
Gen. 9:25 he (curses his son and says), “Cursed be Canaan; The lowest of slaves Shall he be to his brothers.”
Gen. 9:26 And he said, “Blessed be the LORD, The God of Shem; Let Canaan be a slave to them.
Gen. 9:27 May God enlarge Japheth, And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be a slave to them.”
Gen. 9:28 Noah lived after the Flood 350 years.
This is what we learn about Noah —
this was the life he led in this final years,
he was a decrepit drunk, traumatised and uncovered.
כט וַיְהִי֙ כָּל־יְמֵי־נֹ֔חַ תְשַׁ֤ע מֵאוֹת֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וַחֲמִשִּׁ֖ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיָּמֹת:
Gen. 9:29 And all the days of Noah came to 950 years; then he died.
Noah’s later-life state of being almost comes out of thin air.
Before the flood, he is a righteous and simple person;
he is the only one that is chosen by G-d to survive;
he is a hero — a righteous gentile — that saves humanity and all of creation.
There is no behaviour before this moment
that would indicate that he is a drunken fool.
He should be celebrating appropriately.
He should be grateful for the gifts of his children.
He should be counting his blessings.
The difference then is the flood;
the difference is that no one believed him when he started to build an ark
and he was alienated and left alone;
the difference is the trauma
of seeing before him all of creation waste away;
the difference is what set into his psyche
in the darkest days that the world has ever known,
in the days of the genocide of all of creation.
Faced with the PTSD of survival,
he lives the rest of his life
belligerently cursing his children and who knows what else.
Those curses are not only of the past, though.
This week, the UN came out with a report
that culled some 6000 scientific studies
on the potential affects of climate change.
“The world’s leading climate scientists warn
there is only a dozen years for global warming
to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C,
beyond which even half a degree
will significantly worsen the risks of drought,
floods, extreme heat and poverty
for hundreds of millions of people.” The Guardian
We know that climate change is no drunken joke.
There is plenty of evidence that today,
the hurricanes and tsunamis and wild fires
that we are already seeing in recent days and years,
are being exacerbated by the human-caused change in our climate.
I did not paint this dire picture —
the highest, most-renowned scientists of the world did.
They drew on the complex science of Mother Nature.
As a religious leader, as a Jew,
I can point us to our ancient texts
and what they might teach us in this dire moment.
If you permit me a 21st retelling of the story of the ancient flood,
Noah is our model for what the world looks like after
climate change has struck.
We know that when draught and floods come,
poverty and refugee-status follows. But how will the world react?
What is perhaps most troubling
is the unknown human behaviours that will devolve
when faced with draught and flooding,
when faced with lack of food and mass scale of survival.
How will we act in that moment?
The story of Noah does not make our human behaviour look promising.
Nor do the stories of mass deaths of refugees
taking place — as we speak — on open waters.
Last week, before the report came out,
I was watching an episode of Bill Maher,
who was arguing on screen with the actor Jeff Bridges.
Bill Maher was claiming that only political will
can change the problem
and we need to vote for folks
who will change the course of climate history.
Jeff Bridges, on the other hand,
and out with a new documentary on climate change,
was arguing that we each individually
must take personal responsibility and do what we can to make change.
Of course, we know that political will and personal change
are both important.
And what we surely know now is that action is required immediately.
I quote Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the UN working group on impacts.
She says that the study is “a line in the sand
and what it says to our species is that
this is the moment and we must act now.
This is the largest clarion bell from the science community
and I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.”
We have 12 short years to make a change.
And there are ways that each of us can make a big impact.
Putting solar panels up on your roof,
supporting community wind and solar energy are all important;
eating a plant-rich diet;
reduce transportation fuel usage;
growing more trees
and much more.
These are all part of the top 10 things
according to recent research
that we can each do to curb this plague that is upon us.
I am proud that JCOGS has begun initial conversations
about greening our building,
and I look forward to your involvement in what that can look like.
We can be a model for other religious institutions
and for our own members and the people of Vermont
that action is required now,
for our own sake,
and for the sake of our children and their children’s children.
A blessing for this time:
May we live simply, like Noah did, ish tamim,
and like Noah,
may we be anshei tzaddikim, righteous people in our generation,
to hear the call of the world community,
so that perhaps, just maybe,
we do not need to go down the full path that Noah did;
that we might stop the floods before it is too late,
before we are faced with the dire trauma.
May our choices in these next few years ahead
make us a blessed people, not cursed.
And let us say: Amen. Kein Yehi Ratzon.
May it be G-d’s will. May it be our will.