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Torah Commentary
Noach (October 21, 2017)

For My part, I am about to bring the Flood — waters upon the earth — to destroy all flesh under the sky in which there is a breath of life; everything on earth shall perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark, with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives.
— Genesis 6:17-18

Bettijane Eisenpreis

As I write this, the first flight after Hurricane Maria has just reached New York City from Puerto Rico. I have not seen a photo of passengers kissing the ground, but I can well imagine that, after being battered by the storm, they might feel like doing so. In my apartment building, we still are waiting for word of the doorman who went to Puerto Rico on vacation. Another staff member tells me that his mother is frantic; her brother and his whole family live there, and she has not heard from them.

September 2017 was the most active month on record for Atlantic hurricanes, with Irma and Maria reaching Category 5 and José Category 4. And that’s just September. Hurricane Harvey, which devastated parts of Texas, took place in August.

While I am writing this in advance, it will not be long until we reach the story of Noah in our Torah. The Torah makes it clear that God brought the Flood because there was evil on the earth. When I went to Sunday school, my teachers pooh-poohed this simplistic idea. We learned that people did not understand natural phenomena like floods and darkness, so they reasoned that “Someone up There” was punishing them. When the weather is stormy or dark or frigid, it certainly feels like punishment, doesn’t it?

We were too enlightened to take the story of Noah seriously, or so we thought. But can we be so sure? We have had two Category 5 and two Category 4 hurricanes in the past two months, with untold damage and suffering. As I write this, New York is expecting its fourth day of 80+ degree temperature — and it is late September. We read frequently about the thawing of the Arctic ice shelf. Global warming is a reality. Could it simply be part of the normal change of the Earth’s weather that has taken place over the centuries? Or is it man-made, something we need to do something about?

The answer to both is “yes.” The climate of the world has changed over time, but not at the rate it is doing now. We are affecting it, and we can slow it down if we try.

A friend gave me three apples, part of a carton she had received from relatives in apple-growing territory. They were delicious, but they were individually wrapped in non-recyclable plastic — big sheets of it. What ever happened to plain old recyclable paper? It used to work just fine!

I try to put everything I can into the recycling bin. I carefully wash out the ice cream container, the milk bottle and the take-home trays from the deli. But when the food sticks to the paper wrappers, they go into the trash, as — I am ashamed to say — does a lot of probably recyclable garbage. Multiply mine by the 17 floors of apartments in my building and then by all the apartments in Manhattan — that’s a lot of garbage.

Harvey, Irma, José, Maria – The next name alphabetically is Nate, but it could have been Noah. Maybe next time, it will be. The cost of convenience in our modern, “one-time use” disposable society is high. Is it worth it? Is God punishing us? Perhaps. But perhaps God doesn’t have to. We are punishing ourselves.

Bettijane Eisenpreis, a freelance writer, is a long-time member of Temple Emanu-El
and a regular participant in our Saturday morning Torah study group.

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