This coming Shabbat (Oct. 19-20), Jews read the second portion of the Torah, about God's decision to reverse and undo the Creation that has been the theme of the first Torah portion.
Noah, the Flood, the Ark and the Rainbow make up the story. At the end, facing an Earth-wide pile of corpses, a Holocaust of almost all life, God reconsiders yet again and with the Rainbow promises never again to destroy all life with a Flood of water. But rabbinic tradition saw the possibility that a world-wide Flood of Fire might come about through human transgression.
In the light of that Danger of Desolation hovering before us in our generation, let me offer what follows as a possible Haftarah or, for congregations and individuals who hesitate to see it that way, as a supplementary reading for this coming Shabbat.
For a blessing before and after: Blessed are You, the Breath of Life, Who in every generation makes of every human throat a shofar for the breathing of Your truth.
You, My people, burnt in fire,
still staring blinded
by the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
You, My people,
Battered by the earthquakes
of a planet in convulsion;
You, My people,
Drowning in the flood of words and images
That beckon you to eat and eat,
to drink and drink,
to fill and overfill
at the tables of
the gods of wealth and power;
You, My people,
Drowning in the flood of words and images
That -- poured unceasing on your eyes and ears --
drown out My words of Torah,
My visions of the earth made whole;
I have for you a mission full of joy.
I call you to a task of celebration.
I call you to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
But the light in which all beings see each other fully.
All bearing One Spark.
I call you to light a flame to see more clearly
That the earth and all who live as part of it
Are not for burning:
A flame to see
in the many-colored faces
of all life.
I call you:
I, the Breath of Life,
Within you and beyond,
Among you and beyond,
That One Who breathes from redwood into grizzly,
That One Who breathes from human into swampgrass,
That One Who breathes the great pulsations of the galaxies.
In every breath you breathe Me,
In every breath I breathe you.
I call you --
In every croak of every frog I call you,
In every rustle of each leaf,
I call you,
In the wailings of the wounded earth
I call you.
I call you to a peoplehood renewed:
I call you to reweave the fabric of your folk
and so to join in healing
the weave of life upon your planet.
I call you to a journey of seven generations.
For seven generations past,
the earth has not been able to make Shabbos.
And so in your own generation
You tremble on the verge of Flood.
Your air is filled with poison.
The rain, the seas, with poison.
The earth hides arsenals of poisonous fire,
Seeds of light surcharged with fatal darkness.
The ice is melting,
The seas are rising,
The air is dark with smoke and rising heat.
And so -- I call you to carry to all peoples
the teaching that for seven generations
the earth and all her earthlings learn to rest.
I call you once again
To speak for Me,
To speak for Me because I have no voice,
To speak the Name of the One who has no Name,
To speak for all the Voiceless of the planet.
Who speaks for the redwood and the rock,
the lion and the beetle?
My Breath I blow through you into a voicing:
Speak for the redwood and the rock,
the lion and the beetle.
I call you to a task of joy:
For seven generations,
this is what I call for you to do:
To make once more the seasons of your joy
into celebrations of the seasons of the earth;
To welcome with your candles the dark of moon and sun,
To bless with careful chewing
the fruits of every tree
For when you meet to bless
the rising juice of life
in every tree trunk --
I am the Tree of Life.
To live seven days in the open, windy huts,
And call out truth to all who live beside you --
You are part of the weave and breath of life,
You cannot make walls to wall it out.
I call you to a covenant between the generations:
That when you gather for a blessing of your children
as they take on the tasks of new tomorrows,
You say to them, they say to you,
That you are all My prophet
Come to turn the hearts of parents
and of children toward each other,
Lest my earth be smashed in utter desolation.
I call you
To eat what
Food that springs from an earth you do not poison,
Oil that flows from an earth you do not drain,
Paper that comes from an earth you do not slash,
Air that comes from an earth you do not choke.
I call you to speak
to all the peoples,
all the rulers.
I call you to walk forth before all nations,
to pour out water that is free of poison
and call them all to clean and clarify the rains of winter.
I call you to beat your willows on the earth
and shout its healing to all peoples.
I call on you to call on all the peoples
to cleanse My Breath, My air,
from all the gases
that turn My earth into a furnace.
I call you to light the colors of the Rainbow,
To raise once more before all eyes
That banner of the covenant between Me,
and all the children of Noah and Naamah,
and all that lives and breathes upon the Earth --
all the days of the earth, shall
sowing and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
I call you to love the Breath of Life --
For love is the fire
That blazes in the Rainbow.
Blessed are You, the Breath of Life, Who makes of every human throat a shofar for the breathing of Your truth.
In August of 1994, I was the Resident Torah Teacher at Elat Chayyim retreat center. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi was the prayer leader of every Shabbat morning service, and had asked me to read in English the Prophetic readings every week.
During the week of Aug. 8, I was invited to speak to speak with teenagers at a nearby summer camp about Jewish approaches to the growing ecological dangers facing our planet. I did, and then came back to Elat Chayyim, feeling I had failed. Feeling distraught that I had not connected with the teens -- the next generation of the Jewish people -- even though they seemed to me the most important audience for what I had to say. The next night, I slept uneasy.
When I awoke, I felt unrolling in me a scroll of passionate words that seemed to me not in any ordinary way my own. I wrote them down.
Then, I went to Reb Zalman to say I felt and thought as if I had been channeled a Haftarah for the days of Consolation that follow after the grief of Tisha B'Av, mourning the destruction of the Temple. I asked whether he would permit me to deliver it as the haftarah for the coming Shabbat. He agreed, and I did so on 27 Av 5753/Aug. 14, 1994. A few weeks later, Reb Zalman translated it into Hebrew.For a discussion and midrash on the Flood and the Rainbow from my book "Godwrestling -- Round 2" (Jewish Lights, 1996), please click here. In it I report work the Shalom Center did in the early 1980s to persuade synagogues to set aside the 27th of Iyyar (in biblical tradition the day when the Rainbow came) as a day to address the danger of global disaster and the ways for us to deal with it. And check out these resources:
- Video on how to draw on the wisdom of the Flood/Rainbow story to address the climate crisis of today.
- Materials by Rabbi David Seidenberg for use on the Shabbat of Noah or on the anniversary of the Rainbow.
- Reb Zalman's translation of the Rainbow Haftarah into Hebrew.
- To set forth your own public comment on the Haftarah.
- For an extraordinary commentary on the danger that Humankind with ultimate power in its hands might transgress in such a way as to destroy Humankind itself, though not all life, see Bernard Malamud's amazing novel, "God's Grace." In it, the sign of Desolation is the appearance of a broken Rainbow.