Small enough to know you. Large enough to serve you.

Hope Springs Eternal (Vayera – 11/04/17)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Hope Springs Eternal
This past week, what we all feared and dreaded finally took place in New York City.
A broken man, full of misfortune and resentment, became easy prey to the sweet incentives and promises of ISIS and their perverted ideals. He hoped to accomplish some “good” in the world and earn himself immortality.
He rented a truck and plowed down innocent people enjoying a pleasant afternoon by the river.
What he did is murder eight innocents and severely injure many others.
This behavior leaves us feeling bewildered and powerless. What can we do to protect ourselves?  Is there any hope for humanity, for our planet?
This question is an ancient one. One reflected upon in our Bible and Midrash.
Facing the imminent commencement of the rainwaters, Noah and his wife and his sons and daughters-in-law enter the Ark. Yet, the verse frames it interestingly:
ספר בראשית פרק ז
ז) וַיָּבֹא נֹחַ וּבָנָיו וְאִשְׁתּוֹ וּנְשֵׁי בָנָיו אִתּוֹ אֶל הַתֵּבָה מִפְּנֵי מֵי הַמַּבּוּל
“And Noah and his sons, and his wife and the wives of his sons entered the Ark because of the waters of the flood.”
רש”י על בראשית פרק ז פסוק ז
ז) נח ובניו – האנשים לבד והנשים לבד לפי שנאסרו בתשמיש המטה מפני שהעולם שרוי בצער
Rashi says the men and women were separated because they were forbidden from having marital intimacy. The whole world was in pain, so they should suffer as well.
When the waters subsided and they were told to exit the Ark, they were command to leave together:
ספר בראשית פרק ח
טז) צֵא מִן הַתֵּבָה אַתָּה וְאִשְׁתְּךָ וּבָנֶיךָ וּנְשֵׁי בָנֶיךָ אִתָּךְ
יז) כָּל הַחַיָּה אֲשֶׁר אִתְּךָ מִכָּל בָּשָׂר בָּעוֹף וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל הָרֶמֶשׂ הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל הָאָרֶץ הַוְצֵא אִתָּךְ וְשָׁרְצוּ בָאָרֶץ וּפָרוּ וְרָבוּ ל הָאָרֶץ
“Leave the Ark, you and your wife, and your sons and their wives, and all the animals…spread out in the land and be fruitful and multiply.” Obviously, intimacy was permitted to them once more.
Yet, when they left, the verse records just the opposite,
יח) וַיֵּצֵא נֹחַ וּבָנָיו וְאִשְׁתּוֹ וּנְשֵׁי בָנָיו אִתּוֹ
“Noah and his sons, and his wife and the wives of his sons, left with him.”
They didn’t exit as couples, they didn’t do what they were told.
Rather, they were unwilling to repopulate a world that could return to this barren state once more:
הכתב והקבלה על בראשית פרק ח פסוק יח
 נח ובניו. הפריד ביציאתם הזכרים מהנקבות, כבביאתם אל התבה שנאמר )ו’ י”ט( אתה ובניך,האנשים לבד והנשים לבד לאסרם בתשה”מ, היפך הצווי שחברם יחד צא אתה ואשתך להתירם בתשה”מ, מזה אמרו בב”ר, אמר נח איך אצא ואהיה פרה ורבה למארה, עד שנשבע לו המקום שאינו מביא מבול לעולם. וערש”י ואני הנני מקים:
Noach said, “How can I go out and create children just for curse and punishment to come back on them again? What’s going to stop another flood from coming and wiping them out?”
G-d then swore that God would never bring a flood to wipe out all flesh again, and G-d placed the rainbow in the sky as a sign of this promise.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a promise that no more terrorists will attack.
We don’t have any guarantees that men won’t continue to sexually harass women, or be homophobic, or that big business won’t continue to pollute the earth.
What we do have is hope.
Hope is the light that burns eternally in our hearts.
2600 years ago, when Judah was exiled, weak and scattered among the nations, Isaiah saw visions of return and consolation. He saw the approach of the Messiah, a vision of world peace, and return to Zion. He saw all of humanity uniting in harmony to serve the one G-d.
We waited 2600 years for this supernatural messiah to come.
Maybe he did come, but not in the way we were expecting. We were waiting for a godly shofar to ring in the heavens, but perhaps it was the ringing of the Liberty Bell, or the dancing and singing that resonated throughout Israel on May 5, 1948.
Perhaps the Messiah came, but in the forms of Jefferson, Hamilton, Lincoln, Theodore Herzl, Gandhi, David Ben Gurion and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Great people have made great changes for the better. Yes, powerful people have destroyed, but people have made things better too. It’s a belief that we never let go. If spirituality is an innate characteristic of human beings, as science has proven, then perhaps this belief is a part of it. We all believe and yearn for a better world, a world of peace and harmony.
Confined to her attic, during the worst expression of humanity ever, Anne Frank never relinquished this faith:

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too.  I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

Studies show that nations with large numbers of young, single, unemployed men face increased risks of instability and violence. This is what we saw occur this week. But surveys also show that having friends and neighbors of different religions leads to increasing pluralism and tolerance.
We can improve the economy, we can improve race relations. In the first half of the twentieth century, Jews were known to be good boxers, for on the streets of Bensonhurst and the Lower East Side, Jews had to defend themselves from the Irish and the Italians in neighborhood turf battles. Jews that could fight rose to prominence and some became professional. Thankfully, today they aren’t too many Jewish boxers, for these ethnic tensions have receded.
When I was young, my white next-door neighbor used to bring metal chains to junior high school to fight against the black gangs. In 1983, my high school was placed under martial law to stop the fighting between the blacks and whites.
While the issue of Black Lives Matter is still urgent, race relations have generally gotten much better.
The world is still yearning for peace and unity, but it gets sidetracked and needs brave and idealistic people to stand up and make a difference.
Outlooks sometimes appear bleak, but hope springs eternal in our hearts. It’s what keeps us going individually and universally.
Wishing you a good week,
R’ Neil

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