These are difficult days. The bad news from Israel, and from so many other places of hurting and hatred, seems to come in waves, deep ones. On such a day as this one feels as if one might drown. The imagery of Jonah’s cry is gripping: The waters compassed me about, even unto the soul; the deep was round about me; the weeds were wrapped about my head. (Jonah 2.6)
This is the week of parashat Noakh, the parashah of the Great Flood. We read that human beings have descended into a Hobbesian nightmare of khamas, anarchic, murderous, pointless violence. Regretting the creation of humanity, G-d chooses to erase the work, by eradicating human beings, and tells Noakh that the creation of humanity will then begin again.
Sometimes, reading this story can make one wonder if the khamas we have seen in our own time is not similar. Where do we rate, on a Flood scale? The Rabbis of antiquity had no doubt, and they formed our prayers and taught our myths accordingly: we should all be wiped out, if G-d were to adhere to the strict Divine attribute of Justice.
Here is the prayer: During Yom Kippur, this is the essence of one of our most powerful prayers, in which we basically say: we know that we don’t deserve this world. We know that we are as guilty as the generation of the Flood, and You should wipe us out – but please don’t. Please forgive us; give us another chance to do better.
Here is the legend: The world would have been wiped out long ago because of our sins, if it were not for the presence of the Thirty-Six righteous ones, the Lamed-Vavniks. They do not know who they are, but it is for their sake that the world is allowed to continue.
Most of us may never meet a lamed-vavnik, and most of us most certainly are not of that number. But the Rabbis elsewhere assert that even if we are unable to complete the work of righteousness, we are nevertheless not free from doing our part.
So when the days are difficult and the floodwaters of despair rise “even unto your soul”, consider one act which is always within your power, even in the midst of much violence, hatred, and despair:
And G-d said to Noah: “The end of all flesh is come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them” (6:13)
Why was the generation of the Flood utterly destroyed, but not the generation of the Tower? Because the generation of the Flood were consumed by robbery and violence, while amongst the generation of the Tower love prevailed. – Bereshit Rabbah