Earlier this week I was doing my least favorite chore - washing used plastic bags and hanging them to dry. I called a friend in California to keep me company. She was hiding out in her kitchen, venting about her inability to go outside because the air is not fit for breathing. We shared an uncomfortable laugh about living through the end times. The earth is burning, the earth is flooding, people are suffering - and here I am washing plastic bags.
Later in the week, I went for a walk in the woods with one of my mentors who was recounting an article in the New York Times, which suggests that by 2050 the land that 150 million people live on will be underwater during high tide. We similarly shared an uncomfortable sigh about living through Noah's flood. I asked her (kidding, not kidding): Might we really not have great-grandchildren?
What we know is that estimates continue to worsen. Even if we were to cut carbon emissions in half, we might be in irreversible trouble. And instead emissions are just increasing. It is at once hard to believe and also hard not to believe, as I am talking to a dear friend who for the second time this year doesn't have safe air to breathe.
In a D'var Torah she published this week, my hevruta, Rabbi Avi Killip, points us to wisdom from this week's parsha. "In Genesis chapter 7, verse 7, we are told that Noah and his family enter the ark 'מפני מי המבול - because of the flood waters.' Rashi lingers on the word 'because.' Noah shouldn't be boarding the ark because of the falling rain pooling at his ankles, maybe even his knees. He should have entered the ark 'because God said so.' If Noah had really believed, if he were a man of greater faith, Rashi implies, he would already be inside the ark when the rain begins."
And so Rashi tells us:
מפני מי המבול אַף נֹחַ מִקְּטַנֵּי אֲמָנָה הָיָה, מַאֲמִין וְאֵינוֹ מַאֲמִין שֶׁיָבֹא הַמַבּוּל, וְלֹא נִכְנַס לַתֵּיבָה עַד שְׁדְּחָקוּהוּ הַמָּיִם
Because of the flood waters Noah, also, was of little faith: he believed and did not believe that the Flood would come, and he would not enter the Ark until the waters forced him to.
Increasingly I feel a lot like Noah. I believe it and I don't believe it. I can't believe it. It is unbelievable. And yet how could I not believe it. Could it be that Noah is a man of little faith because he is hopeful? Perhaps Rashi is wrong. Perhaps Noah had so much faith in God that he too couldn't believe it was the end times. And we, too, have so much faith in our planet, in its resilience, that we can't believe it either.
Rabbi Killip concludes, "We must each find the balance between hope and fear, between belief and disbelief, that will allow us the strength and courage to move forward." May we be granted the courage and wisdom to know when to believe and and when not to believe, so that we, and our children's children, may live. May it be so!
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.