Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Gen. 9:8-17

In a sense, the fifth aliyah of this parashah is a recapitulation of creation, but with a difference. While God did indeed create the world and everything in it at the beginning of Bereshit, the only divine interaction with human beings and animals comes in the form of commands, to “be fruitful and multiply” and in Chapter 2 for Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.

This may be likened to a parent who provides everything for her child but does not communicate with him, except in the most basic sense of telling him what to do and punishing him when he disobeys. This parent has not made, and shown herself to have made, an unconditional emotional investment. Perhaps she has unreasonable expectations of perfection in the child. Then a tragedy happens, perhaps brought on by the actions of the parent herself, and she realizes her child does not have to be perfect; she loves him just the same.

After the flood God is in this position, at last recognizing that the contradictory creatures She has made are not going to do what they are expected to do, and accepts the situation. After laying down the basics of a human-centered system of justice, God makes an unconditional emotional commitment, not just to humanity but to all living creatures. The word b’rit is used seven times in this aliyah; this is surely not a coincidence. The fact that we divide the rainbow into seven colors, and its modern symbolic value of harmonious diversity, are only beautiful elaborations on this point.

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