This post is part of the #blogelul project started by the inimitable Ima On (and off) the Bima. I am using it as my motivation to rejuvenate this site and get myself back into the swing of things.
One of the pitfalls adults face when learning about Torah is when they fall into the trap of “pediatric theology”. This is where an adult’s secular education (science, math, etc) have advanced normally, but their religious education ended somewhere around 3rd grade.
So you end up with an adult who has a firm (although sometimes more intuitive than instructed) grasp of such varied concepts as weight distribution, tensile strength, group dynamics, and biology; but whose ability to explain the story of Noah starts and ends with “a big boat that carried two of every type of animal, and then there was a rainbow.”
This creates an understandable conflict, and the more educationally-developed set of explanations wins out. Meaning the adult comes to the conclusion that the Noah story is physically impossible, so it’s (at best) an elaborate metaphor or (at worst) completely false and is a sign that everything else in Torah must be false, too.
The situation is not helped by well-meaning folks who go to great lengths to find scientifically satisfying explanations, which more often than not end up being less plausible than the original narrative.
The problem, in my opinion, is that people are looking in the wrong direction.
“Its like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”
– Bruce Lee, “Enter the Dragon”
Often, the Torah is not telling us what happened. What happened is merely the finger (to use Mr. Lee’s analogy). The heavenly glory is what people DID when something happened.
To continue with the Noah narrative: What happened is that people were behaving badly. And a man named Noah chose to act better than those around him. What happened is that God told Noah he was going to destroy mankind and start over with him.
What Noah did then was choose to follow instructions, to save those close to him. To accept that this was the correct course of action. Generations later, Abraham would choose to argue with God, but ultimately cede the point. And generations after that, Moses would demand that if the people were all killed, he would prefer to die with them.
Everyone remembers Hamlet’s famous quote,
“To be, or not to be”
Fewer remember the important words that come right after that:
“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?”
If you focus on Hamlet’s initial musing, you’ve once again missed the point. It’s nearly impossible to “be” or “not be”, at least in the long term. It’s what you do – passivly allow events to affect you, or struggle to overcome them. And in struggling, potentially bring an end to them
We are here In this world to do.
The fact of life is that things are going to happen to us. Good things, bad things, exciting things, boring things. There will be moments where everything goes just right, and moments where there’s nothing on tv and we’ve already done the Sunday crossword puzzle. Twice.
For the most part, we have no control over what happens to us. Sure, we can be careful about choosing where we live, who we hang out with, what we eat, and which internet provider we use. But like the t-shirt says, sh…tuff happens.
But make no mistake, that’s the gift that God is bestowing upon us. Every day, every moment, we’re gifted with things happening to us that offer us the opportunity to act. To do. We can do things in a holy way, or we can do them in a mundane way. Or we can opt not to do them at all. That’s our choice. But in choosing what we do, we engage in the very God-like act of creating ourselves.
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Albus Dumbledore, “Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets”
In this month of reflection, this month of Elul, we must come to terms not with what happened, but with the things we did when those things happened.
And after that month of introspection, on Rosh Hashanah we will stand ask to be judged worthy of being given another year. We have to recognize that our verdict it will based on the changes in our hearts and minds – not about who we wish to be – but about what we plan to do.