Rescue boats fill a flooded street as flood victims are evacuated as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise on Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

How Houston's rain became 'biblical'

That is the word that many are using to describe the unprecedented devastation of Houston, Texas, in the wake of Tropical Storm Harvey.

“A disaster of biblical proportions.”

By the time the storm is over, 20 trillion gallons of rain might have fallen.

That amounts to about ten percent of Lake Erie.

Let's talk about Noah.

In this week's haftarah portion, God promises the Jewish people that they will return from their exile in Babylonia, and come home to the land of Israel.

For this to Me is like the waters of Noah:

As I swore that the waters of Noah nevermore would flood the earth,

So I swear that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you.

For the mountains may move and the hills be shaken,

But my loyalty shall never move from you,

Nor my covenant of friendship be shaken – said the Lord, Who takes you back in love.

God is saying: I promised Noah that I would never again send a flood. I have kept that promise. I promised that you would come home to the land of Israel. I will keep that promise as well.

So, why Houston? Didn’t God say that God would never do this again?

God did not bring these storms, and God did not bring these waters, and God did not bring these floods.

But:

  • those who have denied the scientific evidence that undergirds climate change
  • those who are in denial over the fact that we should be expecting more extreme weather patterns
  • those urban planners who do not take the natural consequences of development into consideration...

I am not saying that those people "caused" the tragedy of Houston. That would be far too glib.

But, the biblical God wants people to use their wisdom, and to contribute to the building of the world, and not its devastation.

Another piece of the "biblical" thing.

The Bible says that Noah was righteous. Sure, Noah saved his family and the animals.

But, that was all. Noah ignored everyone else.

God saw that Noah only cared about his own family -- and then, after the flood, proceeded to get drunk. (Call it survivor guilt, if you want).

A favorite Hasidic story. A boy asks his father why the stork is called a hasidah, a loving one.

The father replies: "Because the stork is so loving to its young."

"So," the boy asks, "if that is true, why is the stork treif (not kosher)?"

"Because," the father replies, "the stork is only capable of showing love to its own."

God waited ten more generations -- for Abraham, who saw that Abraham would go beyond his own family and speak up for the innocent people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

God fell in love with Abraham’s character – and that is why Abraham, not Noah, was the first Jew.

Be biblical like Abraham -- reaching out to others -- and not biblical like Noah -- caring only for your own.

Out of all the wonderful stories that you have been reading – neighbors helping each other; people offering boats to strangers; flotillas sailing down raging rivers that used to be streets – there is one overarching meaning.

It means seeing every person as a potential ally.

As David Suissa wrote in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles:

In the middle of rescue missions, no one cares whether you voted for Trump or Clinton, whether you’re antifa or nationalist, whether you’re black or Hispanic or Jewish or Muslim, whether you’re transgender or redneck. When Mother Nature attacks, we’re all created equal. We’re all neighbors.

Let us rejoice in what the descendants of Abraham and Sarah are doing to help. Israel is sending aid to Houston – helping to remove debris, cleaning homes, and offering trauma support.

This is what Israel does – and it is far from the first time.

Several years ago, I was sitting in a plane next to a man who was returning from helping out during the earthquake in Haiti. In our conversation, I mentioned that I was a rabbi, and he said: “Can I shake your hand? Because you need to know how helpful your people were for all of us in Haiti.”

By “your people,” he meant Israeli aid workers.

For that, too, is biblical.

As are Jewish summer camps, that are opening up their doors for those whom the storm has displaced.

Abraham and Sarah were known, particularly, for their hospitality to those in need. Those Jewish camps are doing the Abraham and Sarah thing.

That, too, is biblical.

I conclude with the words of David Suissa:

It’s a shame that it takes such disasters to bring out the better angels of our nature. Maybe, then, if we want to truly honor the victims of Houston, we will allow those angels to stay awhile.

Want to really bring out the better angels of our nature?

Do something.

  1. Contribute money to the rescue efforts. Do it through the Reform movement, or any other place that suits your soul.
  2. Even more important -- Houston residents need gift cards to help replenish and replace supplies. Target, Loews, Home Depot, Kroger. Send them to: Rabbi David Lyon, Congregation Beth Israel, 5600 N. Braeswood Blvd, Houston, TX. 77096.

Doing is biblical. The best kind of biblical.

 

Comments

  1. Noah did not “ignore” everyone else, a reasonable inference and argument is, that as a righteous man of God, he preached for decades, the people within the compass of his exhortations chose purely and simply to ignore him. I think comparing Abraham to Noah a bit unfair. God chose Noah as well as Abraham, nor was Abraham without peccadillos of his own. The only perfect human being that I’m aware of is Y’shua ha’ mashiach.

  2. “In the middle of rescue missions, no one cares whether you voted for Trump or Clinton, whether you’re antifa or nationalist, whether you’re black or Hispanic or Jewish or Muslim, whether you’re transgender or redneck. When Mother Nature attacks, we’re all created equal. We’re all neighbors.”

    Did he intend to leave Christians out? Or was that a “Freudian slip”?

    “Matthew 24:37-39New International Version (NIV)

    37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+24&version=RSV

    Abraham was helping everyone through his Son Isaac/Jesus. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+4.21-31&version=NIV

  3. Even this atheist knows Noah preached to his neighbors while building the Ark. Either the author is ignorant of this story or is misleading the readers.

  4. “God waited ten more generations — for Abraham, who saw that Abraham would go beyond his own family and speak up for the innocent people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

    God fell in love with Abraham’s character – and that is why Abraham, not Noah, was the first Jew.

    Be biblical like Abraham — reaching out to others — and not biblical like Noah — caring only for your own.” Both were good and in genealogy of Messiah.

    “Dt-Isa. different from Ezek. views the city not as turned inward upon the Temple but as turned outward toward the world. He reaches behind the Mosaic covenant which separated Israel from other nations, to the covenant with Noah (vv 7-10)which was worldwide in scope.” New Jerome Commentary https://www.amazon.com/Jerome-Biblical-Commentary-paperback-reprint/dp/0138598363/ref=dp_ob_image_bk

    “innocent People” There were only Lot and his two daughters. They got their father drunk and pregnant by him.

    From this week’s Torah https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+23.1-8&version=NIV

    Isaiah 56 is corrective and quoted by Jesus when he cleanses Temple. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+11%3A15-18%3B+Isaiah+56%3A1-8&version=NIV

    Chronology of Flood May 14-May 13=365 days. Eclipse in morning of May 16 was sign for Noah.

    See comments here https://religionnews.com/2017/08/17/eclipse-charlottesville-barcelona-terror/#comment-3489354574

  5. At the time of the Coming of the Son of Man, however, there will be no question that the world will have had the benefit of His Gospel, preached to them for better than 2000 years. The world will be clearly “without excuse.” As to the author’s exclusion of “Christian” from his list of exemplars, I offer no opinion as a matter of courtesy.

  6. The Rabbi listed groups that are minorities in the US and are often hated. Christians are not a minority. That’s why he left out Christians. You had to drag Jesus into it didn’t you? You do know that the “New Testament” is not part of the Jewish Hebrew Bible. “New Testament” quotes don’t impress me.

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