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Rabbi Joe's Weekly Message

Week of October 19

The Clouds Parted

An old Joni Mitchell song explores "both sides" of clouds: their dreamy variety of shapes, and the downpours they inflict on picnics, parades, and rabbis hauling supplies to temple. Somehow a rainy day inevitably takes us by surprise. We think we always deserve sunshine.

This week's Torah portion is the one with the worst weather: the story of Noah. The flood ends with a dove and an olive leaf (Genesis 8:11) and a rainbow (Genesis 9:13). What do these symbols mean: that God will never destroy the world again with water (Genesis 9:11)? Or that God will never destroy the world again by any method (Genesis 8:21)? I sure hope it's the latter.

Noah is one of Scripture's righteous gentiles, along with Jethro, Job, and Cyrus. He models the behavior God requires of non-Jews, mainly gentleness with animals (Genesis 9:4) and people (Genesis 9:5). The Noahide laws are those given to all nations, including respect for our neighbor's property and privacy. But most of the Torah's instruction is for Israel only. For example, God does not expect gentiles to keep the Biblical festivals.

Noah isn't just a goody-goody. He surely has moments of doubt, at least in Bill Cosby's classic reimagining of the saga. And he is apparently the first person in the Bible to eat meat (Genesis 9:3) and drink wine (Genesis 9:21). This general ancestor knows how to have a good time.

We still cherish the rainbow as a sign of the universal covenant, God's promise never to abandon humanity. There's even a blessing for rainbows, affirming that God zocher ha-brit (remembers the covenant) and ne'eman bivrito (is faithful to the covenant) and kayyam b'ma'amaro (keeps God's word). On the stormiest of days, when everything goes wrong and everyone's mad at you, bear in mind that it can't last forever. As Neil Sedaka sang: "Before you walk in the sun, you gotta laugh in the rain."

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