By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant This week’s Torah Parsha (BO) continues with the story of Exodus. God had already inflicted seven devastating plagues on Egypt, subsequent to the Pharaoh’s...
A considerable amount of time has passed between the introduction of Adam and Eve, and this week’s Parsha. The parsha begins with an instruction to Noah from G-D, “You are the only righteous man in a world consumed by violence and corruption” He tells Noah to build a large wooden ark, claiming that “a great deluge will wipe out all life from the face of earth, but the ark will shelter Noah, his family, and two members (male and female) of each animal species”.
The descendants of Noah remain a single people, with a single language and culture for ten generations. During these ancient times, ‘identity’ was based on blood relations and land.(1) Noah’s descendants, believing that they were the only true Jewish people, build a tower to symbolize their own invincibility. However, in their arrogance, they attempt to create a structure, with height closest to G-D. In his wrath, G-D dampens their presumptuous plan. He confuses their language, so that ‘one does not comprehend the tongue of another; and, then disperses them all across the earth, split into seventy (70) discrete nations.
Some of these nations are enemies of the Jewish people; and, inter-faith marriages are numerous. Gone are the days of Jewish identity based on blood and land! The Torah editors were forced to design new irrevocable means to for ‘Jewish Identity’. What seemed most powerful were ‘covenants’ between G-D and the people: “All That Is Eternal has spoken, we will faithfully do”; (2) and, another covenant scene “You are witnesses against yourself; that by your own act, you have chosen to serve the Eternal. (3).
The tower of Babel is about choices and consequences; and, how our ancestors understood and experienced G-D in their lives. (4) Based on over 600 Commandments, and the various covenants, we agreed to, in different portions of the Torah, we accepted being Jewish as a choice.
Each week at Shabbot, and on the Holy Days, we reinforce our commitment by chanting the ‘Shema’…’G-D is one’. We choose to put our faith in a G-D, who believes in equal justice, for all, regardless of status, wealth, or life-style. We accept, with contentment in our heart, G-D’s commandments to show compassion, empathy, generosity, and support to whomever is in need. This is what we have learned to do…and, to be a Jew.
(1) The Torah (Reformjudiasm.org)
(2) Exodus (24:7)
(3) Joshua (24:22)
(4) The Torah (Reformjudiasm.org)