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Etz Chayim – the ‘Tree of Life’ – is the Hebrew name of Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue.
Can you imagine how smelly it must have been in the Ark? All the species of the land and air confined in the rooms that covered three decks, the construction details of which were described to us so eloquently by Gabi this morning. Just a door in its side that one presumes could not be opened for fear of letting the waters of the flood in and an opening near the roof for a chink of daylight and air. Noah and his family would have had to work exceedingly hard to muck out each room everyday. If you have ever worked in chicken houses on Kibbutz in Israel, taken a holiday on a farm or been to the zoo early in the morning, you might get a strange sensation in your nostrils right now!
However, it might be argued that the stench inside the Ark was nothing as compared to the rottenness of the society outside that God metaphorically chose to destroy. A world in which violence and the abject lack of morality created a stench like that of a pyre bereft of its purifying incense.
Can you imagine what that first breath of fresh air felt like for Noah and his family when they emerged from the Ark. They walked into the Ark sensing the malaise of their society all around them. They were physically reminded of it inside the Ark as the animals and birds went about their business. Then, as they exited their ghetto made of gopher wood, a scent that must have reminded the DNA in their nasal membranes, of their ancestral Gan Eden – garden of Eden – sweetened the burden of their existence. That first inhalation provided
Through the story of the flood, our ancient ancestors identified the essence of the human task. God’s promise never to bring another flood to destroy the face of the earth again, presents us with probably our greatest challenge: How to perfect society in the face of the fatal flaws that are inherent in humanity. God is not going to do it for us. Never again will we be shut away in an Ark, immune to the stench of society, kept from harms way from those who would wish to damage our society. It is God’s desire that we, humanity, will learn the lesson of the flood and forever seek a return to Gan Eden.
The flood story acknowledges that in humanity there is a stain, one which might always be with us. It is the stain that is brought when human beings feel that they cannot live with another sector of society. It is generally wrought by greed and envy but also by fear of the loss of basic human rights to accepted levels of existence in any given society. This includes the human dignity bought about by being employed in body and mind. It is the wicked few that prey on fear, greed and envy who cause corruption and violence in our society.
This Shabbat, my nostrils are still full of the stench of the one who, in the words of J.K. Rowling and incidentally following many ancient traditions, ‘shall not be named!’ Like Noah, I am assaulted by the rancid attempt to corrupt society that directly confronted us on Thursday night. The Lord Voldemort of contemporary British society. Unlike Noah, we cannot hide ourselves away in an Ark to let flood waters cleanse our land. Rather, we are urged along with all humanity that professes to the simple decency of the Noahide Laws, to purge society of the ills that create the possibility for a poisonous snake to wriggle into cracks in the ground that can morph into rift valleys of festering sores.
Whilst it is not my place to tell you who to vote for, it is my place to urge us to join with the challenge to rid us of this malodorous flaw. By the time we read Noah again from our Torah, we will have had a General Election. As citizens it is our duty to use our vote but what of us as Liberal Jews?
Everything that underpins Liberal Judaism points to an approach of inclusivity and equal rights for all. I acknowledge that such an approach brings with it an accompanying logic that might not be agreeable to all and indeed brings with it practical problems. And yet it is our unique position in society that must see us strive for the fresh, pure air of Gan Eden. This means raising our voice within our own Jewish Community to insure that the pressure towards inclusivity does not abate, regardless of what ruling the Supreme Court makes concerning our right to define Jewish Status in-house, be that at the Jewish Free School or across the Community. It means that we should never raise borders of gopher wood rather raising our voices within all the Boroughs and counties that we inhabit. We must be heard in the coming months, to insure reasoned debate pushes the mainstream political parties to do everything with the power that we have devolved to them, to wipe the foundations of hate which those ‘who shall not be named’ manipulate.
Thus, we accept God’s challenge to acknowledge that we do live in an imperfect world and to resolve to use our living breath to create a society that befits the joys of a young girl coming to the Torah and the celebrations of a couple brought together in love.
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