Noach, 5773 — Out of the Window

21/10/2012 at 11:29 1 comment

“Out of the Window”


Parashat Noach

Neil F. Blumofe

20 October 2012


It is instructive to compare the constricted and crowded spaces of the ark bobbing atop the floodwaters with the sweeping valley in the land of Shinar where the Tower of Babel was constructed, with bricks forged in fire.  Our tradition imagines the rainwater and the subsequent flood and the destruction of greater humanity as a watery barrage from God, truly launching a war against God’s very creation, that is in turn escalated with the determined acts of a united society with a single purpose – as our tradition teaches – to build a tower as tall as the heavens in order to climb up to God’s residence and storm God’s home – overtaking and revolting against the Divine Presence to set up a new society, based on the ascendency and the power of the mortal.


We imagine Noah and his family in the ark, caretakers of God’s creation – improbable builders and custodians of the remnants and the outcasts of the Garden of Eden, shut up in a wooden boat, helpless to exist in the wet rage outside, biding their time until the storm subsides – as our Torah relates, hewing a window to look out upon the destruction of the land and of the world that they knew, while they float, in the utter mercy of the elements.  As Noah and his family were adrift, yet safe, it was crucial going onward, that the survivors had a first hand knowledge of the devastation that was just on the other side of their tenuous shelter.


One could see the building of the Tower of Babel as a feverish release, an intense mania of wanting accomplishment, out of the trauma of the earlier catastrophe.  The tower was built by the descendants of Noah as a rampart against God’s overwhelming power to dominate and determine events – it was a symbol of the frustration and the ultimate sadness of people recognizing their own condition and trying to lift themselves out of such a vulnerable and wretched state.


These descendants of Noah were uncomfortable living after the flood – perhaps possessing the guilt of survival and the guilt of success, and not knowing quite what to do with their own life – not knowing how to apply themselves to a common good – in their upset, all they could concentrate on was to bring down an eternal force – so that the tower was a blunt weapon against an everlasting windmill – and their sense of purpose – to create a name for themselves – was misplaced.


So it is for us – as my family knows well, after the devastation of Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, many families who lost their homes and all of their possessions, immediately went out to thrift stores and to Goodwill to quickly replace them, in their new cities thinking that shopping is a curative and replacement of goods would ease pain.  We believe that stuff comforts us, and is insulation against the terrors and the panics of this world.  If we could somehow burrow ourselves deeply enough in what we own, hide under our thick covers, we could stave off looking at and having to deal with the impossible problems that our world regularly presents.


We have an opportunity to build a window both in our ark and in our fortified tower.  Beyond the commitments that we have and the regular pattern of busy-ness that keeps us afloat and gives us contour and conversation, among other things, we can adjust our eating for one week, to open awareness to the common ravages that lurk just beyond our comfort zone.


We are all invited to participate in the Global Hunger Challenge – in our Austin community the first week of November – from Thursday, 1 November – 8 November.  During this first week of November, each person is challenged to eat for a week on $31.50 – the average amount that one enrolled in the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) spends for food – one in seven Americans – and nearly 25% of our children – average about $1.50 per meal – about $4.50 per day.  We will pay attention to our hunger and also to the feelings of struggle and difficulty that may arise during this week.  We can support each other – keeping one another accountable, speaking about how our food spending and intake tests us, and by spreading the word about our experience to call attention to the scourge of hunger around the world. 


The goal of this challenge is to have us consider our obligations to each other.  We are not looking to pretend that we are less fortunate than we are.  We are challenged to simply contemplate our values and have this experience of paying attention to how much money we spend on food to be part of the larger groundwork for our responsible acting in our own life and in the lives around us.  Something to consider:  if there were only 100 people in the world, the distribution of annual income from riches to poorest is vast.  The person in place 50 of 100 has an annual income of $850.  The 20th place has an annual income of $1834.  The 10th richest person in the world makes $25,140 – while the richest person in the world has an annual income of $231 million.  How can we navigate this disparity without guilt or resentment?


We can have these conversations together, over time – we can appreciate the modest efforts that each of us put forth – and we can be patient as our feelings ebb and flow, as we find ourselves overwhelmed or as I also know, disengaged from all of this.  Rather than run from ark to tower, or from project to project, or from one appointment to another, we can appreciate a sense of perspective – we can prepare for catastrophe by our mindful and careful management of our resources and by building strong relationships with our neighbors, so we can rely on each other and trust each other in times of need.  To cultivate feelings of solidarity helps us to confront our feelings also of pity and indifference – above anything, this Global Hunger Challenge is an opportunity for us to learn and to refresh conversations with our loved ones about our priorities.  As a community, it is an opportunity for us to think about our purpose and direction – and can spark us to a more discerning and fulfilling life.


In two weeks, we will celebrate Shabbat during this Global Hunger Challenge – we will enjoy a HAZAK sponsored Pray and Stay on Erev Shabbat, and our lively and welcoming Shabbat services on Shabbat morning.  One of the hallmarks of the Pray and Stay evening, is that after services, we gather in our Social Hall for stimulating conversation and elegant desserts.  We are grateful to HAZAK for helping to lead and to teach about this challenge – the dessert reception on Friday, 2 November will be consistent with our eating parameters during this time of challenge – the reception will have a bit less food, and some different food.  Similarly, our much-revered Kiddush luncheon on Saturday morning, 3 November, will be different – the budget in both cases will be at $1.50 per person.  The money that we typically budget for Kiddush luncheon and will not spend on this Shabbat, will be donated to the American Jewish World Service. 


What is our consumption?  What is our fatigue with all of this?  What are our questions, and how can we live, opening ourselves to the integrity embedded in our life?  May we look out at the reality of our world from our places of refuge and resolve to think and to act – to bring goodness and righteousness into the world through our steady downpour of small yet virtuous actions.


The Global Hunger Challenge is an opportunity for us to feel a bit of the toxic injustice that ravages our planet and for us to being to devise a strategy and to adjust our behavior to bring our light to this darkness.  After disembarking from the ark, we can move forward by joining together and by appreciating the warnings and the lessons of our Torah, to raise our voice for reasonable accomplishment.  Let us avoid the tower – and stop making war on the Unmoved Mover, and rather in the new spaces within ourselves that our participation in the Global Hunger Challenge will create, we can commit and concentrate our efforts on moderating our behaviors and easing pain among our friends and neighbors in our community and by extension, around the world.


As the poet Marge Piercy writes,


The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

Has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

But you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

And a person for work that is real.


Shabbat Shalom.




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Bereshit, 5773 — Live Like Lance LETTERS LASTING FROM ISRAEL — December, 2012/January, 2013

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. winegarten  |  21/10/2012 at 12:44

    As someone who has been a member and active participant in The Hunger Project since 1979, this is indeed a laudable effort. There is one aspect of people living on this amount of money per week this is missing from the conversation, and that is using local area food banks. Many people on public assistance supplement their food intake through the use of community and/or religious food banks, so the challenge of living on $31.50 per week for food is not a complete picture of the reality of most people in these circumstances.


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