Torah Readings for Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Please note: Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan is a two-day Rosh Chodesh. The first day actually falls on the 30th of Tishrei. The second day falls on the first day of Cheshvan.
Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan28:1-15 Bamidbar (Numbers)
This is the standard reading for each Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Chodesh is the name of the minor holiday that marks the start of each month. The term Rosh Chodesh is translated as New Moon. The first day of the month is referred to as Rosh Chodesh because the months are lunar and the first day of each month comes with the start of the new moon. In the days of the Temple special sacrifices were brought in honor of the new moon. With the destruction of the Temple, the sacrificial system ended. In place of the sacrifices, Jews read a description of the sacrificial offerings, which is described in the first fifteen verses of chapter 28 in the book of Numbers. The Torah reading takes place during the daily morning service. There are many Jews who have no desire to return to the sacrificial system. They use these readings as a way of providing a connection with the past which is one of the keys to our future preservation. Because of the Rosh Chodesh a shortened form of Hallel is recited. Tefillin are worn until Mussaf or Additional Service. Because of its connection with the moon, Rosh Chodesh is thought to have special meaning for women and should be used as a way of honoring Jewish wives. There are those who use this as a gift-giving event for their spouses. (Alternatively, they give Tzedakah in honor of the women (wives, sisters, daughters, etc.) in their lives.
Cheshvan is the second month of the year counting from Rosh Hashanah and the eight month of the year from Pesach. In one of those calendar related “tricks” designed to protect tradition, Cheshvan will have an extra day added to it to “prevent the next Yom Kippur from falling on a Friday or a Sunday.” Cheshvan may be viewed as quiet month since it comes between Tishrei with its welter of celebrations and Kislev, the month containing Chanukah. According to tradition, the Great Flood took place on the 17th of Cheshvan which corresponds to
the date on which the Balfour Declaration was made public. November 2, 1917
12th of Cheshvan: Yarhrzeit of Yitzhak Rabin.
15th of Cheshvan: Yarhrzeit of Matityahu; better known at Matthias, the man who started the revolt against the Syrians and was the father of Judah Maccabee.
16th of Cheshvan: Yarhrzeit for those who perished during Kristallnacht.
20th of Cheshvan: Yarhrzeit of Shalom Dov Ber, 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Torah Readings for Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan
28:1-15 Bamidbar (Numbers)
Torah Readings for Saturday, November 5, 2016
No’ach (Noah)6:6-11:32 Bereshit (Genesis)
No’ach is the second sedrah in Bereshit (Genesis). The sedrah takes its name from the third and fourth Hebrew words in the first sentence of the sedrah, “These are the generations of Noah (No’ach). - Noah (No’ach) was a righteous man.…” No’ach can be translated as peaceful or resting. Yaniach is a Hebrew derivative of No’ach and means to leave or let go. What does the meaning of the name say about the character or role of the man? No’ach is the last sedrah dealing with mankind in general. The rest of Bereshit focuses on the Jewish people. Major events in No’ach include the Flood, the Intoxication of Noah and Ham’s Sin, the descendants of Noah and the Tower of Babel. It may be viewed as a second creation story. Having failed with Adam and Eve, mankind gets a second chance. This second chance also ends in failure as is witnessed by the building of the Tower of Babel. The sedrah ends with a foretaste of the ultimate solution - the creation of a special relationship with a group of people who will take the divine message to the world.
The Flood (6:9-8:10)
Ample evidence exists to prove that there was some kind of flood. Other civilizations have their flood stories. The Biblical story is unique in that it ties this natural catastrophe to questions of good and evil. The text says that Noah was a righteous man perfect in his generation. The qualifying statement “in his generation” has led to two views. One view is that he was not really all that righteous. That he was righteous only in comparison to the evil people who lived at that time and that had Noah lived in another generation he might not have been regarded as righteous at all. The other view was that Noah was really very righteous because he was able to be righteous while living among evil people. The thought is that if he could be righteous while living in a truly evil generation, just think how much more righteous he could have been had lived in a generation of decent human beings. In deciding which view of Noah is more correct consider Noah’s silence when God tells him that He is going to destroy the earth versus Abraham’s noisy defense when God tells him that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Here are a couple of other questions for your consideration. First, if God had decided that the world was corrupt and needed destroying, why not just blow the whole world away and begin the process anew? Why save the sphere and one family of its imperfect inhabitants? Second why did God have Noah build an ark? Certainly there were other ways that an all-powerful deity capable of flooding the entire world could have saved Noah’s family. One answer to this might be that building the ark is consistent with the concept that man must be an active participant in what is called the on-going process of creation. Man cannot rely on God to save him. Rather man must do his share of the work to ensure the triumph of good over evil.
The Intoxication of Noah and the Sin of Ham ()
No sooner does Noah get saved and offer up sacrifices to God for saving him than he plants a vineyard and gets drunk. In other words, instead of enjoying the fruit of the vine, he abuses it. This creates the environment (think back to our comments about Adam and Eve and the effect of parental behavior on the lives of children) that leads to Ham’s sin. The puzzling thing is that the punishment is stated not in terms of Ham, but in terms of his son Canaan. The positive note is that the other two sons found a way to honor their father despite his behavior. Rabbi Schneerson (of blessed memory) uses this story as tool to teach about the proper way to correct mistakes. His teaching includes the concept that sometimes what we see as most distressing in the behavior of others really mirrors a shortcoming of our own.
The Descendants of Noah (10:1-32)
The genealogy is split in two parts. The first portion includes all of chapter ten and lists the descendants of all three sons. The second portion starts with Shem and one of his offspring Arpachshad and continues through to Abraham. Just as Bereshit ends with a “teaser” by mentioning Noah, so No’ach ends with a teasing reference to Abraham who appears in the next sedrah.
The Tower of Babel (11:1-11-32)
This is a further attempt on the part of the ancients to explain how different nations came to exist. This tale offers an explanation of why we have different languages. At a deeper level, some see the story as raising questions about the use of technology. Technology, in this case the ability that ancient man had gained to build sophisticated structures, is neutral. It is how we choose to use the technology that makes it good or evil. Others have also used this story to raise the question of “just because you can do something, does this mean you should do it?”
None of the 613 commandments appear in this sedrah. However, the sedrah does supply a series of strictures and rules:
9:1: Noah and his sons are told to be fruitful and multiply.
9:3: Mankind is given permission to eat meat for the first time.
7:2 and 9:4: Together they provide a precursor to the Dietary Laws. 7:2 refers to “every clean animal…and of the animal that is not clean…” while 9:4 prohibits consuming blood when eating meat.
9:5: Prohibits murder.
The Seven Noahide Laws, which are the criteria for the “righteous non-Jew:”
Blaspheming the name of God;
Eating the limb torn from a live animal;
Establishing a court system to ensure obedience to the other six laws.
(These are based on interpretation and not stated in the Torah).
Names of God
God is referred to both as Elohim and YHVH (the name we do not know how to pronounce). Some contend that these differences exist because of different authorship. Another explanation is that the different names are used when different attributes of God are being invoked. Elohim invokes the image of God as Judge of the Universe. YHVH invokes the image of God’s mercy and is used when referring to sacrifices as in and .
Universality of God
God is the God of all mankind and not just of the Jews. In Bereshit and No’ach, God deals with all men and women. He addresses His first rules to the entire world. As can be seen from the Noahide laws, Judaism differs from some other religions in that it believes that all righteous people will have their share in what we call “the world to come.”
God makes the first Covenant or Brit with Noah in . “But I shall establish my covenant” is interpreted to mean that God will supply Noah with a year’s supply of food in the ark. God makes the second Covenant (9:8-11) with Noah and all of the animals on the ark to never destroy the world by flood again. The difference between these two covenants and the Covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (all of us) is that these are what are called unilateral contracts. In other words, only God is promising to do something. The “contract” with the Jews is bilateral or mutual. In other words God promises to do something but we also promise to do something for the covenant to be binding or take effect. (I apologize to any lawyers, if I have made a technical mistake in the terminology.) The significance in the difference between these two types of covenants will be more apparent when we get to Lech-Lecha, next week’s sedrah.
Speaking of next week’s Sedrah, let’s take a look at the penultimate verse in No’ach 11:32. “Terah took his son Abram…and…departed with them from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan; they arrived at Haran and they settled there.” Why was Terah going to Canaan? In the next Sedrah we find out why Abraham was going to Canaan. (Abraham is the same person as Abram. God changes his name later on.) What made Terah stop his journey? The impact of parental behavior on the lives of their children is a recurring theme in literature and modern psychology. Was Abraham carrying out a journey that his father lacked the faith to continue? Are all children carrying on journeys begun by their parents?
Is the story of No’ach an admission that somehow there were “mistakes” made at the time of creation? According to Immanuel Jakobovits it would certainly seem so since God says “I will destroy them (mankind) with the earth.” In case there is any doubt as to who is responsible for this imperfection, Jackobovits cites the verse from last week’s reading, “’And the Lord repented (yahinnahem) that He had made man on the earth and it grieved Him in His heart’ (Bereshit 6:6). There is no hint here that man frustrated the Divine design.” This is not the only indication of error and the need for the Creator to correct it. In their interpretation of the sacrifice to be made each New Moon (Rosh Chodesh), the Rabbis note that it is called a “sin-offering unto the Lord.” There are many sin offerings but this is the only one that adds the tag line, “unto the Lord.” Why? According to Rashi and other sages, it is an apology for the original creation of a Sun and a Moon that were equal; in effect the creation of two suns. When the moon protested this celestial equality, God responded by creating the diminished Moon we know today. In other words every Rosh Chodesh, we are reminded that there was a mistake at the moment of creation. This is not meant to spark a debate about how a perfect Being could create an imperfect world. Rather, as Jakobovits points out, it is a reminder that making human error is the norm. The challenge is to rectify the error, to learn from the mistake. Whether we are repairing our own personal universe or the Divine Universe, there are numerous second chances if we are willing to take advantage of them.
Table Talk Questions
1. What can we learn from the statement, “and Noah found grace in the eyes of God?”
The commentators say that although Noah was righteous, that in and of itself was not enough to save him. It was necessary for God to bestow His grace on Noah and his family. Regardless of how righteous a person may be that is not enough. The grace of God is always necessary. Think of this as a variation on the theme of justice versus mercy discussed during the high holidays or prayer versus supplication discussed during the study of the Sukkoth Haftarot.
2. What is the meaning of the rainbow that came after the flood?
There are several interpretations. It is a sign of God’s forgiveness. It is a sign of God’s promise never to destroy mankind with a flood. It is a sign of God’s control over the universe. Finally, according to the Zohar, the colors of the rainbow remind us of God’s attributes of compassion and judgment.
Moshe Pinchas Weisblum as edited by this author.
Fate of the Animals
You would think that Noah would have used the Flood as an excuse to rid the world of a whole lot of pests. Certainly, many of us would have gotten rid of everything from chiggers to rats to those pesky fleas that caused the Black Plague. But not Noah; he followed God’s command to the letter of bringing a pair of each unclean animals and seven clean animals on to the ark. As Meir Shalev points out, this might not have been such a humanitarian or ecologically responsible move. As soon as the flood was over, Noah built an altar and must have sacrificed five of the clean animals so that the Lord could “smell the pleasing odor.” The acceptability of animal sacrifices stands in stark contrast to other Biblical commandments requiring us to treat animals with care and decency.
Why was the tune “Over the Rainbow” part of services at a Temple in Syracuse, New York? (a) The Cantor was from Kansas; (b) the Cantor’s son had written the tune; (c) Because the sedrah of the week was No’ach, which contains the first description of a rainbow. The answer is (b). Cantor Samuel Arluck was the Chazan for the congregation and his son was Harold Arlen, the composer of several popular musical scores including this one.
Gilgamesh and Noah
In 1872, the English Orientalist George Smith presented a paper entitled “The Chaldean Account of the Deluge” which presented the flood story based on the Epic of Gilgamesh. Modern critics of the Bible considered this another chink in the armor of the traditionalists’ claims about the uniqueness of the Bible. While the re-examination of the tale of Noah certainly has proven to be a lively one, James Kugel points to one unavoidable fact. The story of Gilgamesh is only important when compared to the story of Noah. We look to the story of Noah for lessons about morality and the nature of God because it is in the Bible. In other words, by being in the Bible, the stories of the Bible take on a unique importance.
The Tower in the Tower of Babel
Professor Kugel calls attention to the Tower in the story of the Tower of Babel. He connects the Tower in the Tower of Babel to the Ziggurats of Mesopotamia. He sees the story as an almost satiric commentary on the settled life of Mesopotamia written by later day Semitic nomads. This view of the story gains some additional credibility when we remember that Abraham, the Semitic nomad, left Mesopotamia, rejected its culture, for the land of Canaan, a simpler more rural place to which God sent him.
Crimes of the Times
In the opening of the portion two reasons are given for the destruction of the world. First, “the earth had become corrupt before God.” According to some, this meant that people had become some depraved or so accepting of wrong-doing that only God realized the sinful nature of their behavior. Second, the earth had become filled with lawlessness (or robbery depending upon the translation). This refers to what today we would call corrupt business practices, which have the effect of undermining people’s faith in the whole social system, including government. Unfortunately, the conditions described here could be said to look an awful like our world in the 21st century. But the crime that is not mentioned specifically is idolatry. The only Deity that we meet in the first two portions of Bereshit is Adonai. But by the time of Abraham, humankind has become idolators. How did this happen? How did the descendants of Noah come up with what seems to be a new “crime.” And we call idol worship a crime because it is one of the biggies that makes the list at Mt. Sinai. In fact, much of Jewish history, as well as custom and practice, can be seen as an on-going battle between Adonai and the concept of ethical monotheism and idolatry. In the Haggadah we are reminded that our ancestors were idol worshippers; a level below being slaves since they were enslaved by others but they chose to worship stone and wood fashioned by man. What the Haggadah and the Torah do not tell us is how we got there. But at least it provides us with a way to get out.
Water, Water Everywhere
On Shemini Atzertz, which usually comes a week or two before the Shabbat when we read Noah, we add an extra line to the Amidah that describes God as the one who makes the wind to blow and the rain to fall. This daily invocation is way of asking for God to send the rains during the rainy season. But if you think of the Flood, it too was a case of making the wind to blow and the rain to fall. Since nothing exists in our text without reason, could there be a lesson in the juxtaposition of the start of the rainy season and the cyclical reading about the Flood? Could one lesson be that nature is neutral and that it is how we use it or misuse it that makes nature good or bad?
The Torah provides a very definite chronology of the Flood. Is there a message in this specificity? Is there a connection between these dates and the future of the Jewish people? In considering this, let’s remember that when the Torah talks about “the first month” it is talking about Nisan, the month when we celebrate Pesach and not Tishrei which is the seventh month.
The flood began “in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month,” (7:11). Ironically the second month which here is tied to destruction, is referred to as “the month Chodesh Ziv," or the Month of Splendor. This is because of the splendor of the sun during this month, when it has reached the height of its brilliance, but does not yet burn with the (sometimes harmful) intensity that it does in the late summer months. It is also the month when Israel is filled with a multiplicity of splendors.
“And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.” (8:4). In other words the ark came to rest during Sukkoth. Is there a connection between the Ark, the temporary shelter used by Noah and the Sukkah, the temporary shelter we use during Sukkoth?
The first glimmer of hope that the flood was ending came “in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen.” (8:5). In the Book of Esther, this is the same date on which the young Jewess went to the King who found her favorable. Unbeknownst to the Jews at that time, this event would provide the glimmer of hope that they would be saved from Haman’s evil decree.
Noah recognized that the flood was over and that a new beginning was in the offing “in the first month, the first day of the month” when “the waters were dried up from off the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dried.”(8:13). Fast forward a couple of thousand years and we find the Israelites in the Wilderness with God saying to Moses in the Book of Exodus “On the first day of the first month you shall set up the Tabernacle of Meeting.” (40:2). On the anniversary of the day when Noah was removing the covering from his ark, Moses was to bring his ark into the Tabernacle or Mishkan. Coincidence or pre-destination; this is something you can discuss during your next Kiddush.
Apparently Noah wasn’t sure about how dry the land really was because almost two months elapsed between when “the waters were dried up from off the earth” and he actually left the ark for good. Specifically it was “in the second month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month” when “the earth was dry and God told Noah 'Go forth from the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons' wives with thee.’” (8:14:16). Fast forward five thousand years (give or take) and in the second month on the 27th day of 5727, Israeli troops left western Jerusalem, entered east Jerusalem and fought the Battle of Ammunition Hill which led to the unification of Jerusalem on the following day.
If all of these dates have not made you dizzy, here is the really big question. What is the connection between the fact that both the Flood and the enslavement in Egypt came to an end in “the first month?” Is there a connection between the new beginning offered to mankind in the first month and the new beginning offered to the Israelites when they went out of slavery in the first month?
HaftarahIsaiah 54:1-55:5 (Ashkenazim)
Isaiah 54:1-10(Sephardim and Chabad Chassidim)
This is one of those times when different groups of Jews have different readings from the prophets. In this case, two groups have a shortened form. But the readings from all three include the key theme link, the reference by Isaiah to the flood, “For like the waters of Noah shall this be to Me: As I have worn never again to pass the waters of Noah over the earth, so have I worn not to be wrathful with you or rebuke you (54:9).” The “you” are the children of Israel who were in exile in Babylonia at the time that this was written. Just as the Lord has honored the covenant He made with Noah “so will He honor the covenant He made with
repatriate the exiles.” Israel
The Man/The Book: Isaiah is one of the Three Major Prophets. The other two are Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The term major refers to the fact that their books are longer than those of the other prophets. Isaiah is also the first of the Later Prophets, those coming after the books that start with Joshua and end with Second Kings. The book of Isaiah is attributed two at least two and possibly three authors. Traditionally, the first thirty-nine chapters are attributed to a historic figure described in the beginning of the book. Chapters forty through sixty-six are attributed to a second, anonymous author. Isaiah’s name in Hebrew is Yeshayahu, which is a form of a word meaning help or deliverance. The name is certainly consistent with the teachings of this prophet. The historic or First Isaiah lived during the eighth century, B.C.E. He began preaching around 740 B.C.E. His public career lasted for some forty to sixty years spanning the reign of four Kings of Judah beginning with Uzziah and ending with Hezekiah. He was married to a woman he refers to as “the prophetess” and he had two sons. Apparently he was related to the royal family which meant he could address his teachings directly to those in power. According to tradition, Manasseh whose reign was both long and wicked murdered Isaiah. Isaiah lived in a time of great political turmoil.
the leading power of the day. He
witnessed the destruction of the and the exile
of the ten tribes. He encouraged the
Judeans not to make a military alliance with the Egyptians who were the enemies
of the Assyrians. Rather, he urged the
Judeans to trust in the Lord for their deliverance. Isaiah lived in a time of
affluence and economic inequality. He
chastised the people for failing to care for the disadvantaged. God would punish them for this as well as
their other moral shortcomings. The
Isaiah of the Exile or the Second Isaiah is thought to have lived during the
sixth century B.C.E. during the period of the Babylonian Captivity. His message was one of comfort, hope and a
vision of universal peace. The book of
Isaiah describes a unique relationship between God and the children of Kingdom
of Israel . They are to carry His message to the people
of the world. By following the teachings
of Torah, they will show the world what God means by holiness. At the same time, Isaiah provides a picture
of God as the God of all mankind. Isaiah
transforms Him from the deity of the Israelites to the Supreme Being for all
the people of the world. Isaiah provides us with the Messianic Vision i.e. the
Coming of the Moshiach. And last but not
least, Isaiah is the prophet of world peace. Israel
For it is the words of Isaiah that we read in the prayer book each week, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall men learn war anymore.” The teachings of Isaiah, regardless of how many of them you think there are, are rich and textured. The book of Isaiah provides us with more Haftarot than any other prophet so there will be several more opportunities to explore his thoughts and teachings.
The Message: Isaiah preaches a message of reassurance to those living in exile. God has made a covenant and He will honor that covenant. Just as he has honored the Covenant made at the time of the Flood, so he will remember the covenant he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (and all of their descendants).
Theme-Link: Isaiah uses images of the Flood and God’s covenant with Noah to reassure the people and remind them of God’s forgiving nature. God has honored the Covenant with Noah, a covenant that affects the world of nature. God will also honor the Covenant with the Jewish people, a covenant that affects the world of ethics, morality and spirituality.
Copyright; October, 2016; Mitchell A. Levin