Some say that Noach himself took care of the wild beasts. His sons: Shem was in charge of domestic animals; Cham over the birds; and Yephet over reptiles. All of them shared in caring for the other creatures. For twelve months they had to remain among wild beasts and snakes. One may logically ask what carnivorous beasts such as lions ate while they were in the Ark. But when no meat is available, even carnivores can be induced to eat specially prepared vegetarian foods. The Abravanel points out that there was a decree from God that even carnivores be vegetarians in order to make them less ferocious. There is a different opinion whereby the contention is made that carnivorous animals were sustained by a special radiation that God had prepared for this purpose. This is a Midrashic interpretation brought down in the Talmud. The story was related that Avraham’s servant Eliezer met Shem, the son of Noach, and asked him about life in the Ark. Shem had replied: “It was very, very hard. Some animals would eat only by day, while others would feed in the middle of the night, and in all twelve months that we were in the Ark we never got to close our eyes.”
God made promises to Noach when he left the Ark. When Noach and his children left the Ark they looked out and saw the entire world destroyed. It was desolate and empty with nothing left standing. They began to weep as they gazed on this cataclysm. They had themselves suffered during the Flood and had lost many friends and relatives. They had three major concerns. First, since only Noach and his family had survived they were very much afraid of the wild animals. They were vastly outnumbered by the animals and susceptible to the pack. Second, they were afraid that they would not have food to eat. The earth was completely desolate. Not a single plant or tree had survived the Flood. Even though Noach had taken along all kinds of seeds in the Ark to replenish the world, they would require time to grow. They were therefore in great danger of starvation. The Abravanel points out that the divine permission to eat meat was a necessity in order to avoid starvation since there was no vegetation to feed from. The third concern that Noach and his family had was about strife among the brothers. There was fear that one might kill another like Cain killed Abel, since there were no authorities to instill respect for law and order. Therefore all the survivors decided not to have any children. God told them not to worry about these three things, that all had been taken care of. Now they would be able to be fruitful, multiply, have children, forget about the past, and develop the future.
Rabbi David Grossman
Rabbi Joshua Grossman
We all have known people who could endow another with a nickname that stuck. Perhaps, you are such a person, or have been the recipient of such a person. A namer must recognize the essence of the person being named, and be able to have the nickname reflect this core. If it doesn’t, the nickname will not stick.
Have you ever considered the power of a name? When parents name a child, they hope that it will describe their boy or girl. Perhaps, the name belonged to a departed member of the family, and the parents are trying to perpetuate the values of that person.
When my father fell ill as a boy, he was given an extra name, a middle name. This was done to confound the Malach HaMawvet, the Angel of Death. By calling him by a slightly different name, his mother was hoping to alter his fate.
When the relatively new crime of identity theft occurs, the victims speak about not only their pecuniary loss, but the eerie feeling that someone, somewhere, without their approval, is acting in their name. Their very identity, the way they perceive themselves, is threatened by the unauthorized use of their name.
We can only imagine the feeling of those who have been consigned to the Department of Justice’s Witness Protection Program. Not only must they change their location and even sometimes their appearance, they must leave also their name behind. I recall Mr. Homer Simpson undergoing this transformation, and the baseball hat he wore with the words, Witness Protection Program, proudly emblazoned on the visor!
Have you ever met a person by the very same name as you, first and last? I recently did, and felt strange. Was this person like me, were we linked in some way beyond our names? I must admit that I felt a bit diminished to have my namesake right there-almost like I was less special. I wonder if he felt the same.
So, what is the power of a name, and from where does it derive?
In Breishis, we read about the first human, Adam. God Himself gave him that name, based on the fact that he had been created from adama, earth, dust. God’s charge to him was to tend the grounds of Eden and to hold dominion over all the living creatures. Part of the job was to name all the animals. We are told that Adam did so, endowing each living thing with a name that reflected their essence, their true nature.
We can see by this biblical account that giving a name is power being exercised by the namer, and, if it is an apt name, it can be a statement about the person or animal being named.
We have, from Torah, the familiar story of the creation of the first woman, someone to be a companion for Adam. We see, interestingly, that she is nameless for the first part of the narrative. After the pronouncement of the curses that will befall society because of their sin, toil by the sweat of his brow, an earth that will produce thorn and thistle, the pain of childbirth, and eventual death for all, Adam seems to take the dire news in stride. In the verse immediately following God’s verdict, Adam does not lament his fate. He continues developing civilization exactly where he left off. He continued to classify all living things and naming them. Then, he does one more thing: He names his wife.
“Adam called his wife Chava because she was the mother of all life.” Is it suitable for Adam to name his wife Chava immediately following the curse of death? What are we to make of this message from the Torah?
Adam heard the curses directed at himself, his wife and humanity for eternity. His reaction was not one of scorn or criticism. He named his wife Chava, derived from the word for life. He viewed the woman whom he had once blamed for his downfall with a different perspective. He saw only the dawn of life, and named her so. His name for her is a triumph of hope over despair.
After we experience tragedy and defeat, there is enough blame to share and spread. Will we do that, or will we, like Adam, pick up the pieces and cherish the beauty of what is left? OO’Varcharta B’Chaim. As the Torah tells us, Choose life!
Rabbi David Grossman
Rabbi Joshua Grossman
Shabbat Chol HaMoed Succot
Each year on Sukkot, we read these famous words of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet):
“A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven. …a time for tearing down and a time for building up.” (Kohelet 3:1,3)
To speak of building during a holiday dedicated to erecting a temporary structure seems fitting. And yet, the order the ideas in this verse is at odds with our Sukkot experience. Surely, “a time for building up and a time for tearing down” would align more closely with sequence of the holiday. So why this order? And what exactly are “we tearing down and building up”?
The Torah portion for Shabbat Chol HaMo-ed Sukkot — Exodus 33:12-34:26 — can help us answer these questions. In this Torah portion, we are presented with a slice of a story — a short vignette of a significant moment in the history of the people of Israel that covers several key events. The portion begins with Moses’ request to “behold Your [God’s] Presence,” (Exodus 33:18), continues with the carving of the second set of tablets (Exodus 34:1), and concludes with a short summary of the three Pilgrimage Festivals (Exodus 34:18). At first glance, this somewhat disjointed section seems a strange fit for the Shabbat of Sukkot and appears to offer no answer to our questions about tearing down and building up. As we examine the narrative more closely, however, we realize that the story enacted in this text is indeed one of rebuilding — not of structures but of relationship.
In their original context, Exodus 33 and 34 occur in the aftermath of the sin of the Golden Calf. God is furious, Moses is distraught, and the people are in peril. Our small section is the coda to the entire episode — the events that transpire after Moses intercedes, God forgives, and the people are spared complete destruction. Here, God, Moses, and the people all try to move forward — to rebuild their relationship and their eternal covenant.
In just a few short verses, the Torah portion reveals a path to repair:
Reassurance of God’s Presence: Moses asks God to lead the people and reveal God’s Presence (Exodus 33:12-18)
Granting a Second Chance: God commands Moses to write the second set of tablets (Exodus 34:1)
Restating the Terms of Relationship: God restates the conditions of the three Festivals (Exodus 34:18-26)
The incident of the Golden Calf creates a tear in the fabric of the relationship between God and the people of Israel. The postscript to this episode illuminates a process that leads to healing and restoration — a building up. May we all strive to rebuild the relationships in our lives that have fallen into disrepair.
Rabbi David Grossman
Rabbi Joshua Grossman
In this week’s parsha, Ha’azinu, we see Moshe’s last words, and we also reach the moment of his death. God reminds him that he is not going to cross over into the Promised Land, but God also tells Moshe that he will allow him a look into that land. In fact, it’s pretty much the last lines of the parsha: “You may view the land from a distance, but you shall not enter it—the Land that I am giving to the Israelite people.”
I don’t know if that’s a blessing or a punishment—to see something that you’ve yearned for your whole life but can’t have. So, I’ll leave it to all of you to decide if God is being compassionate or being just a little bit more spiteful. And God also reminds Moshe of WHY he is not allowed to enter Eretz Israel—along with Aaron, God says, you “both broke faith with me among the Israelite people; at the waters of Meribath-Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, by failing to uphold My sanctity among the Israelite people.”
I know many of us are bothered by what might seem like an extreme punishment. God is taking from Moshe what had been his very purpose for existence---to reach the Promised Land. How awful for Moshe that must have been! And it’s even more complicated—we know that the Israelites are hardly a perfect people. Yet they are allowed to enter, and Moshe—the awnav, the teacher, the leader—is not. Somehow it just doesn’t seem fair. And all over banging a rock!
I felt that way as well, and struggled with this part of the narrative. I mean, think about it: Cain KILLS HIS BROTHER, and he’s only sent into exile. Why would Moshe not be able to see the fruits of all of his labors? Of more than 40 years of sacrifices for those stiff-necked people? But then, I started to think about this in a different way. I kept thinking about a metaphor of the circle, of the idea that we are commanded to draw big circles, big circles that become the stories of our lives. Not little scribbles but circles so large that we can’t see the entire circle. Circles so large that we just see an arc.
That’s what Moshe did. He is, to use some of the words applied at times to Shimon Peres, a “magnificent failure.” On some level, it makes sense that he doesn’t enter the Land of Milk and Honey because life doesn’t work that way. Life is always—God willing—full of incomplete projects and unfinished tasks. Books not read, trips not taken, plans not completed, great great great grandchildren we’ll never meet. But that doesn’t mean that we have not accomplished great things in our lives. In fact, if we stop, if we are “complete,” then we have nothing to look forward to. If we stop moving, then we stop yearning, we stop striving for more.
Moshe DID accomplish his life’s mission—he led the Jewish people back to their homeland. He sees it from a distance, so he knows what they will likely experience. He has blessed Joshua, and given him responsibility for this next stage in Jewish history. So, in part, this is a narrative about passing on the baton to new leadership and to new generations. Every good leader needs a succession plan, and Moshe—with God’s help—has found one. But Ha’azinu, like everything else in the Torah, is also a more universal story, a story that speaks to all of us, not just leaders. Ha’azinu tells us that we can take pride in our accomplishments, take pride in living our life passionately and with principle, even if we pass from this earth with our missions incomplete. Let us pray that we can all be “magnificent failures.”
Rabbi David Grossman
Rabbi Joshua Grossman