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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Parshas Noiach

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Parshas Noiach

In this week's Parsha, Parshas Noiach, we read of the great flood that destroyed the entire civilized world. It rained. It poured. Forty days and forty nights. People forgot to wear their boots. All the umbrellas turned inside out in the wind. The newspaper got soaking wet and couldn't be read. Uchinvei.

An obvious question arises: what did human society do that was so bad that the whole world deserved to be destroyed by the Reboinoisheloilum? This is a topic that is frequently addressed by Chazzal in their many, many ancient writings, e-mail discussion groups, and IM chats.

According to a famous medrish in the Sifre, the people of the world had all of the sudden become completely evil. They were killing each other right and left. They became depraved: Men were sleeping with sheep. Women were sleeping with well hung goats. Horses were sleeping with flounder. Businessmen were surfing porn during the work day. Children were discussing sports in shul. People were stealing each others' parking spaces. It was a real mess.

However, the Sifsey Chachomim rejects this medrish, calling it "the stupidest thing since Giuliani Presidential Campaign". According to the Sifsey Chachomim, the people of that generation were no better or worse than they are today. Rather, the Aimishteh, after creating the world, was watching its every move, staring at the world for hours on end, and interacting with it whenever necessary; He was tracking the evolution of society, shaping its progress towards ultimate redemption (and a 50,000 point bonus). But just as the Moshiach was about to arrive on screen, the phone rang. And as the Reboinoisheloilum picked up the phone, He reached over to press "pause." But the system crashed and He was forced to hit the reset button. Damn that Microsoft!

But the Da'as Zekainim disagrees. According to the Da'as Zekainim, Hakkadoshboruchhu actually decided to destroy the world on the second week of the New Year since the previous week, immediately following the Holiday cycle of Roish Hashanah, Yoim Kippur, Sukkois, and Simchas Toirah, half the shul didn't show up to hear Parshas Beraishis, staying home to overcome "shul fatigue". And while He was somewhat perturbed that the people threw their phony Teshuvah (repentance) out the window, He was completely incensed that they let half of that good Kiddush go to waste.

Some other suggested reasons:

-- According to the Toirah Temimah, the people deserved to die because they insisted on paying retail.

-- According to the RI, the people regularly ate food with Triangle K supervision, and once had a cup of coffee at a place with no rabbinical supervision whatsoever. (If this pshat is true, global destruction was too good of a punishment for them!)

-- The RITVAH suggests that the Reboinoisheloilum was actually upset that the people weren't murderous enough. Sure, they were killing, but they weren't doing it "lishmah". He cites this as proof that Israel should elect an Ultra-Orthodox, Ultra Nationalist Taliban-like government in the next election.

Finally, the REEBOK takes a totally different approach. He says that the world wasn't really destroyed. It was simply made to look that way so that the Aimishteh could collect on the insurance.

It is often pointed out by academic scholars that the Toirah's story of Noiach is paralleled by similar tales in Mesopotamian lore and other Near Eastern texts. The most famous of these is the epic of Gilgamesh. However, in Misechta Baba Basra, Rav Ashi was actually the first to note the extreme similarity between the story of Noiach and another epic cultural touchstone, Gilligan's Island.

Like Gilligan, Noiach initially set out for a three hour tour. But before he knew it, he was forced to reestablish the human society he once knew. And like Gilligan, Noiach was set adrift in the company of a small group of people.

The RAN asks: Who in the Gilligan story is the true counterpart of Noiach? I would have thought that it would be the Skipper, who piloted the boat, in which case the epic tale should be called Skipper's Island. But the RAN points to the conclusion of the Parsha, which alludes to Noiach being violated by his son, Chum, and suggests that just as Noiach was violated by his son and the Parsha is named after him, so Gilligan was frequently violated by the Skipper, and therefore the epic tale is named after him. This, the RAN points out, is the reason Gilligan always insisted upon sleeping on the top bunk.

(A separate machloikess -- Rabbinic debate -- between Rabbi Yehoshua and Rav Yoinasan on who was hotter -- Ginger or Marianne -- need not be discussed here.)

In our day we are forced to ask: If the Aimishteh brought global destruction before, why can't it happen again? We are evil. We have terrorism and endless war. We have tax fraud and embezzlement. We have political corruption. We have moral inconsistency and selective application of the law and ethical values, tinged with religious self-importance. Are we not worthy?

I am reminded of a maiseh shehoya. The Rabbeinu Tam was in downtown Lublin, delivering a shiur on the subtleties of Smicha, rabbinical ordination. As he was elucidating in great detail on the various religious laws, a middle aged man wearing train conductor overalls called out, "But Rabbi, what about ordaining women as rabbis -- can we do that?"

The Rabbeinu Tam glowered down at the man and responded, "Son, ordaining women as rabbis is like getting a PHD out of the phone book. Just please don't tell my wife I said that." His wife, of course, was the Cantor at the Hebrew Institute of Prague, who was pulling down six figures so that the Rabbeinu Tam could go around writing Tfillin that no one wanted to buy.

Are we truly better or worse than our ancient ancestors? Is our stated quest for peace a value or a fault? Is the changing role of women progress or moral corruption? Is near-total freedom of expression liberation or tyranny? Is our preparedness for war self defense or self destruction? I get cross-eyed just thinking about it; now I have to lie down.

So, are we no less worthy than our ancestors to have the full loving attention of the Aimishteh manifested by having the world destroyed in one fell swoop? Well, judging by the latest headlines, we may indeed be worthy in the eyes of the Lord. So if I were you, I would stay home from shul this week, order in some traif Chinese, and spend the day watching that new 52 inch high definition LCD TV you'll pick up on the way home. Just be sure to put it on your Visa or American Express card. Based on how things are looking these days, I don't think you will have to worry about paying the bill.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

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