One Minute Torah: Noach 5779

The Great Flood

This year, we will read about the great flood with images of Florida in our minds. Last year, we read the story of Noah while Sonoma was on fire. Hurricanes don’t hit the Pacific, and the fires so far have not touched us. But when we smelled the smoke 100 miles away, our paradise felt more like an Ark, bobbing uncertainly above the depths.

All around me, I sense stress. It’s not just the usual “Things are crazy busy” stress of Silicon Valley. That’s like skating wildly on the solid floor of an indoor rink. Now, some of us wonder if we’ve been skating all along on a lake, and the ice that feels solid may not always be so.

The awareness of Florida is a piece of the stress, especially if we have friends or relatives in the state. The deep acrimony on the national scene is an even bigger piece. Even when we avoid the news, the tension is in the air around us.

No sooner had humanity repopulated after the great flood, we returned to our arrogance. “Let us build a city, and a tower that reaches to heaven, so we can make a name for ourselves,” they said (Genesis 11:4). Biblical scholars explain that the ancient Israelites were rural folks, suspicious of those fast-paced Babylonian city-dwellers . Apparently God felt the same; He stopped the project by changing their languages overnight, so one could not understand the other. Without the ability to collaborate, their grand plans fell apart.

5000 years later, we love diversity of language, of skin color, of cultural background. Diversity is a strength! We embrace it, and have used it to build skyscrapers that would have made the Babylonians think they had died and gone to heaven.

But diversity of perspectives – that’s the rub. And how will we stop the floods, halt the fires, keep our skyscrapers standing proud, if we cannot learn to listen and talk to each other? This is the critical work for this moment, and we can do it. We can learn to listen to each other again, undo the scattering of Babel.