Impulse > Regret > Opportunity
Since the last time I was here in Petoskey, just a few weeks ago, a lot has happened in the world. Most of us watched… or at least followed what was happening with the senate hearings for the Supreme Court appointment. Regardless of what or who you believe, the hearing was jarring. The testimony was painful to hear, and the divide that it caused in society was downright depressing. Before any investigation had begun, society made up its mind; the people were split. They either believed Dr. Ford, or they believed Judge Kavanaugh. There was no conversation about hard evidence to base our opinions on. And things got nasty fast. I watched my social media feed as people declared the end of friendships with those who stood on the opposite side.
Who in this room can think of a time in which they made a decision during a moment of anger or frustration? We all do it, and most often we regret it later. But I think that sometimes we don’t even know that we are doing it. Think about how you react when you watch the news, read the paper, or scroll though your social media feed. How do you respond to what is happening in the world; to what people are saying about it?
Many of us respond impulsively to the issues presented by the media. Lately, every issue seems to have just two sides... right and wrong. The average news consumer only watches one channel, or reads one paper. Social media feeds are controlled by an algorithm that pushes content we already like into our news feeds. We have to go out of our way to access news on the opposite side, and many people are unwilling to take that extra step. Don’t get me wrong, social media is an incredible tool for marketing, networking, and sustaining friendships around the world; but it is not a great place for us to expand our minds and push ourselves out of our comfort zones.
In this week's Torah Portion, Noach, we learn the story of Noah and how he ended up on that boat with his family and two of every animal.
The story begins rather dramatically. By the third verse we read:
The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness. When God saw how corrupt the earth and the flesh had become, God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth. (Gen. 6:11-13)
After God makes this announcement to Noah, God gives Noah the specific instructions on how to build the arc. Noah is told to bring his family with him, and to collect two of every type of animal, from cattle, to birds, to insects; one male and one female of each species. Noah does as God says.
Once Noah, his family, and the animals are safe and secure in the arc, the earth floods and rain gushes from the sky for 40 days and 40 nights. The floods continue for 150 days, and then once God is sure that all who were left on the earth were gone, God summons Noah to come out and bring his family with him.
A little later in the story, once the flood had completely subsided, God realizes that wiping out humanity may have been a mistake, and thinks:
Never again will I doom the earth because of man, since the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done.
In the very beginning of this parsha, God decided that the humans were so bad, so corrupt that there was no hope left for them. The decision seems to be rather spontaneous, made out of anger and frustration. God makes no attempt here to find the good in humanity, no effort to correct the behavior of the people. The reaction is fueled with emotion, which is not something we typically see from God. But by the end of this story, God is filled with regret, and vows never to wipe out the entirety of humanity again.
Another place we see this extreme tension and divide is in issues about Israel, especially the Israel - Palestine conflict. When I was there last year, I worked hard to learn different narratives, on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the line. In most cases I was sympathetic towards both sides, and able to understand the hardships that this conflict has on the everyday lives of citizens. The the leadership in both governments continue to fail at finding a compromise because each side wants to be right, each side wants to win. The effect on the people who are living in the region is a secondary conversation, if that.
Here in the United States and in Israel, Israelis are most often portrayed as the hero, and Palestinians as the aggressor. While this is true in some situations, it does not hold true for all. As younger generations of Jews seek to understand the personal stories of Palestinian people, they are uncovering some pretty harsh truths, and in turn making hard and fast decisions about whose side they are on. While I commend these young Jews on their interest in learning about the other side of the conflict, I am concerned that some have forgotten about the Jewish and the Israeli side of the story. The idea of compromise has gone right out the window.
So what can we learn about the modern world from God in this story of Noah? Maybe that we should take time to formulate our opinions. NOT make split second decisions. Tune into a different news channel, open a different newspaper, visit a website that we do not share every opinion with. Search for facts to back-up our emotional responses. Reach out to friends who disagree with us. Talk to people about the issues that concern us, rather than bury them away because it seems better to avoid controversy.
If we ever want to see our country and our people united again, we need to make space for conversation. We need to work towards finding compromise, and stop trying to win all the time. When we treat the issues as wins or losses with nothing in between, it becomes very difficult to make any progress.
This Shabbat I want to challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone and have a conversation with someone you disagree with. Read or watch a different news source. Learn something new about an issue you are passionate about.
And finally, VOTE - VOTE - VOTE.
The first step to changing the social discourse is to find middle ground, but our greatest power in decision making comes on election day. No matter what you believe, or who you want to see in office, make your voice heard by casting your ballot. We must not give up like God did in the beginning of this week's portion. We must remember God’s regret and not allow ourselves to fall into the trappings of anger and frustration when it comes to the future of our nation.
**Parshat Noach 2018/5779