Fire and Ice: Parsha Noach

Noah

“Fire and Ice”

by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

            Noah is more than a children’s story: it concerns nothing less than the destruction of the world. This theme is so important, that the mythology of every world-culture contains a flood-story, from tribes in Africa to clans in Polynesia. We Hebrews may pride ourselves that our story has a moral basis, that our God despairs of humankind’s sinfulness and corruption, and vows to “utterly erase [the memory of] humankind whom [He] has created from the face of the earth” (Gen. 6:7; paraphrase mine). This, in opposition to the Babylonian version, where the gods are trying to take a nap, but the humans are partying loudly and long. Unable to sleep, the gods resolve to destroy them, much as we would crush a bug whose buzzing was disturbing us.

Today, the Noah-story has more weight, more importance, beyond even our very real fears of global warming and wastage of scarce resources. It is the age-old problem to which poet Frost alludes in his 1920 piece above: the never-ending loathing of humans against one another, which we Jews know as sinaht chinam, or “causeless hatred.” This sin was so baseless, and yet, so widespread, the Talmudic rabbis tell us, that it caused the destruction of the Second Holy Temple in the year 70 CE.

And today? We are no better off: sit down at your computer, scroll through the news articles, and make a list of all the racial, ethnic, and political groups that hate one another in our country. I write this in the wake of the vice-presidential debate, and, although I root wholeheartedly for my candidate and his beliefs, I found the most refreshing part of the evening’s political tussle to be the aftermath, when two Irish-American politicians and their families, young and old, ascended the stage where so many rancorous words had been exchanged, and, as friendly neighbors would, stood and schmoozed. That was done in the best American tradition; for, the day after Election Day, regardless of whether your guy or the Dreaded Other wins, we still must learn to live together, and make our country the last, best hope for humankind, the America we know our children and grandchildren need and deserve.

What of the international scene? There again, we see a long rogues’ gallery of haters. What of the Arab-Israeli conflict, one of the world’s oldest, longest, and bloodiest contentions? Online recently, I came across an article on arabnews.com, an official organ of the Saudi Arabian Government, no friend of Israel; indeed, no friend of the US, except when it benefits their oil sales. This article, amazingly, gives the first admission that the Arabs themselves are guilty of persecuting their own people, and Israel, rather than being their antagonist, provides an example to be emulated. Find it at www.arabnews.com/arabspring-and-israeli-enemy

We return to Noah every year, and the timing is no accident. It is time to heal the world. Begin in the simplest fashion possible: try saying “hello” or “good morning” to a stranger. Watching their “street face” turn to a smile will make their day, and yours.

Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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