Divrei Torah by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
In recent weeks we have watched in shock and grief as communities all over our land, in Puerto Rico as well as in Asia have been destroyed through water and wind or consumed in fire. Water, wind and fire- all fundamental elements that in proper balance maintain life on this earth and cause it to flourish. But when out of balance, each becomes a force of destruction.
Just last week our Torah portion began with these words: “When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the face of the deep, and a wind from God swept over the face of the water.
Our Torah teaches the Creation of life begins with water. This truth is mirrored in the miracle of a woman’s body- the creation of new life in the amniotic waters of the womb.
Each day of Creation we read how all the elements of life on earth were created in proper balance and that God saw that it was Good. The earth and sky, the stars and sun, the plants and animals- and even human beings were described as Very Good- until… they were no longer any good at all.
For this week we read: God saw that how great was Man's wickedness on earth, and how every plan Man devised in his mind was nothing but evil. And God regretted making Man and decided to blot Man out from the earth. And God's heart was saddened.(Gen. 5:5-7) God responds to this devolving morality by deciding to "re-boot" the earth, delete this first edition and start over, by covering the earth in water. By doing so, we might say that God returns the world to the state of the womb.
These days we are struggling through difficult times in which our natural systems of balance have been thrown off course. We have witnessed Water as a profoundly destructive force rather than a life-giving foundation. Let us consider that we may currently be in a process of unconsciously re-wombing the earth, as water levels rise and Hyper-Hurricanes have begun to strike with alarming frequency. While the causes of climate change sadly remain debatable within our current administration- the results of climate change are present- front and center- causing untold suffering and loss of life. The profoundly beautiful and balanced world described in Genesis no longer exists in a state of perfected balance. Tonight I would like us to consider that the Earth herself is responding to our man-made world in an effort to restore natural balance.
Like the human body, the earth’s ecosystem is homeostatic – that is-designed to maintain balance through adjustment and readjustment. On a most fundamental level one could say that it seeks balance between the tendencies for expansion and contraction, between growth and decay, between activity and rest.
Our earth, when viewed through this lens, has been thrown out of balance by an unchecked force for unbridled expansion- growth without restraint.
Whether we call these forces carbon or greenhouse gases;
whether we call these forces ever expanding consumerism or greed;
they grow and multiply like a cancer in this body of Earth.
And the Earth responds with rising warming waters from below
and raging waters from above;
waters that threaten to engulf and re-womb the earth herself.
This is an inevitable process, unless we can consciously take action to reverse the tide.
What if we could take ownership of this need to recalibrate?
What if we could intentionally re-womb ourselves and the earth in a way that would not destroy life?
Our Torah teaches us many pathways for maintaining balance, but perhaps our most central teaching on this subject is that when we honor and keep the Sabbath, we create balance. By refraining and resting from the active life of doing, making and accumulating, we are given the opportunity to be released from the chase. We are given the gift of rest- to consolidate- to re-womb- to return to the heart. Shabbat supports us in shifting focus from me and mine to a connection with one another and with the transcendent, with the Mystery that is greater than any of us but which includes all of us.
In our Torah portion, Noah is described as righteous in his generation.
He stands apart from the dominant culture of his day.
His name means rest- for God finds rest in Him.
Torah says: God finds respite from regret and sadness over creating man who manifests wickedness on the earth.
God finds rest- menuchah- in Noach- God finds the Sabbath in him.
What might it mean for the Divine to find the Sabbath in us?
Our lives are not lived in isolation. Everything we do is interconnected. When the Rabbis teach that if all the Jewish people celebrated 2 consecutive Sabbaths, the Messiah would come, they are saying that if there was a massive critical shift in consciousness,
one that honored the sacred pause that is Shabbat
releasing the centrality of each individual ego for the sake of the larger whole,
then the Messiah would manifest.
For then WE would manifest a global sanctuary that embraces All as One. This is the vision of Shabbat and the Messianic vision that has sustained our people through all ages.
I therefore ask each of us to consider this frame of reference, to utilize this Jewish lens that puts balance at the center when making choices. We are always making choices, whether we do so consciously or unconsciously. With each choice, let us ask ourselves: will this decision support the healthy rebalancing of our world?
May we learn from Noah as Torah describes: “And Noah gathered in, two by two, all the creatures of the earth and sky...”
Noah invited all the animals- all the diversity, all the seeds of life into a safe space that could whether the storm. May we too be inclusive of all diversity.
Noah nurtured and sustained all of this varied potential and waited patiently.
May we too learn how to support diversity and cultivate the quality of patience as we move through times of great change.
Noah and his children understood that to maintain life requires collaboration, cooperation and a concern for the entire collective. May we too recognize that our ability to flourish is bound up with this entire collective called Earth.
May we be as Noah, righteous in our generation, standing against the tide of reckless consumerism that threatens to consume us. As we allow for a sacred pause, may we re-womb ourselves on this Sabbath, and on every Sabbath to come.
Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Rabba Kaya served as Interim Rabbi of RJC from October 2017 through June 2019.
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