Learning from Noah – A Jewish Response to the Climate Crisis

Here is a guest post from Alex Weissman, the Social Justice Coordinator Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York City. In this piece, he reflects on a call to action that has spread throughout the Jewish community worldwide — the Climate Healing Shabbat initiated by a coalition of progressive Rabbis worldwide and coordinated through the Shalom Center. What is striking about this Jewish perspective on the story of Noah and our current climate crisis, is that it runs parallel to powerful calls to action from dozens of other religious groups and sects. Please check out the 350 Interfaith Call to Action, and take action on October 24 with your mosque, temple, synagogue, church or other faith community you may be a part of — it’s not too late!

 

Is it merely a coincidence that the international day of climate action, October 24th, falls on Shabbat Noach — the Saturday when, in synagogues throughout the world, Jews chant the biblical story of Noah, the flood, and G-d’s promise never again to destroy the earth?
 
A coincidence? Maybe. But an opportunity as well.
 
Noah’s story, of course, is a cautionary tale: Human failure to do what is right leads to environmental disaster.
 
That’s the story everyone knows, the story we see in the news headlines and in the scientific journals.
 
But there is another story as well. The story of how, when everything seemed bleakest, when the waters were rising all around, G-d remembered “Noah and all the beasts and cattle that were with him in the ark” and put an end to the crisis.
 
What causes G-d to change course? To commit to a never-before-articulated covenant to honor the earth? It may be the merit of Noah himself. Rabbinic legend has it that he built his ark out in the public square for a hundred years to warn his fellow humans about the devastation their actions would bring.
 
The Torah, though, doesn’t inform us exactly what caused G-d’s remembering. At least not in the story of Noah. But later, in Exodus, we are told that the Israelite slaves’ “cry for help” is what focused the Holy One on a situation of grave destruction and injustice.
 
On October 24th, we at New York City’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah will continue this Jewish tradition of calling out to the Divine — and of calling out to political leaders, too — at a special havdalah service marking the end of Shabbat Noach. (CBST is the world’s largest synagogue serving lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgendered people, our families and friends.)
 
There, we will chant 350 words from the Torah portion Noach, using this opportunity to explore how we can turn things around — how we, who are created in the divine image, can help world leaders commit to a never-before-articulated covenant that will save life on earth.
 

Want to chant a line of torah at our event? Contact Alex aweissman@cbst.org and we’ll sign you up. For information about other Jewish 350 events around the world, visit http://www.theshalomcenter.org/node/1571 

 

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