One year ago on the Jewish calendar, I wrote the D’var Torah for The Jewish Chronicle on this precise parasha, Noach. When I was assigned this Torah portion again for this year, I was tickled by the chance to demonstrate the depth and breadth of Torah. Year after year, Torah can always yield something new, something different.
But my initial glee has now vanished. Noach is as timely this week as it has ever been, but this moment in history casts this parasha in a different, far darker light than last year.
This Shabbat immediately precedes the national election. As I write, the outcome of the election seems headed in a specific direction, but America did away with all ironclad election predictions and projections with Thomas Dewey in 1948. One thing is absolutely certain: this election is the most divisive and polarizing presidential election since 1860 when Abraham Lincoln’s victory put the match to the tinderbox of the Civil War.
Slash and burn politics, smear tactics and racism ranging from disingenuous to thinly veiled to blatant have been the recurring lowlights of this election. The campaign has been more akin to the Bataan Death March than to a political campaign. So from this vantage, I cannot be certain who will win on Nov. 4, but I am certain that America will awaken on the morning of Nov. 5 with half the country feeling victorious and vindicated, and something less than the other half feeling outraged. America will be a house divided against itself.
Noach teaches that God brought the flood to destroy a world ravaged by hamas, “violence.” Has this election been violent? Vile beyond question. Verbally violent, yes. And do all of us sense a troubling potential for real violence? Herein lie our worst fears.
The Torah portion itself is curiously silent about the landscape that Noah and his family awoke to on the morning after the storm waters subsided. But we can imagine the devastation, the carnage. When I was a child, I had a picture book of Bible stories. I shuddered each time I turned to the page depicting a waterlogged landscape piled high with corpses following the Flood. The Torah does tell us that when Noah alighted from the ark, he immediately planted a vineyard. In the midst of the devastation, Noah wanted something to live and grow. Too bad that he took the first fruits, distilled them, drank the brew and got drunk. Perhaps the poor soul needed to anesthetize himself from the carnage all around him.
We can learn from what Noah did right and what he did wrong. On Nov. 5 we will need to dedicate ourselves to renewing our nation, to make it live and grow. We cannot anesthetize ourselves to the political and social carnage that will follow in the wake of this stormy national election. Without our good efforts, this storm surge will only rise with the inauguration of the new president come Jan. 20. Our task will be to heal a house divided. God will bless America when every American is a blessing to America.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)