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Every year a flood… Every day a tower



Before I move on to my own take on this week’s reading, I want to send you merrily off to read Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s Haftarah for the Rainbow Covenant.  Consider these lines of prophecy: 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 your bellies 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 ear drown out My words of Torah, My visions of the earth made whole…

Cool, huh? Puts me in mind of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl just a tad, though this has a happier ending.


Last year, I posted a perfectly good summary of the story of Noah and an accompanying poem. Rather than write something original, I’m going to offer a refrain. The first line of this week’s Torah portion finds Noah, already 500+ years old, in a hell of a spot: he’s the only human being on Earth God isn’t annoyed with. The first stab at populating the world has already gone to hell in a hand-basket & the Source of all life decides to blot out humankind. For Noah, there’s an ark to build, a floating biology experiment to conduct, a deluge to survive. But what happens on the other end? That’s what I’m curious about. How do any of us find our way to the other side of disaster? What do we bring with us? What do we try to forget? I might also mention that this week we read of the Tower of Babel. Also a good story, rich with metaphor. It was just too much to try and fit into one poem. Alas.

Alas is right, but I’ve now remedied this small problem with the poem When You Get Where You’re Going Next. It is a postscript to my musings re: what we do in the face of a deluge (Mnemonics) and is best understood if you read the two pieces together (though that isn’t mandatory and would be grossly underhanded of me).

Anyhow: Babel, the quasi-ziggurat built on the plains of Shinar, in Babylon. Just as there are many Great Flood stories, so too are there many tower-in-the-sky stories found from ancient Sumer to the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa and central Asia. Many of these stories involve a confusion of languages. All involve catastrophe when humans approach the skies — cracked heads, crashing scaffolding, burning and swallowing up and just plain falling down. I am struck by the yearning contained in such accounts – are the gods approachable? Will iron or clay open the gates? Just how far can the earth extend before it meets sky?

How do we, facing the vagaries and mysteries of life, manage to go on? Every year – or 10, if we’re lucky – there’s a deluge, an out-of-the-ordinary catastrophe that knocks us on our ass. But every day (every single day), we’re faced with whether we can speak with Heaven. We’re faced with building up and knocking down. God doesn’t destroy the Tower, but rather scatters its builders and leaves the bricks and mortar standing as a reminder of what went wrong. Feels kinda like the real thing.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah Rubin permalink
    10/08/2010 10:21 pm

    Thank you for grappling with the Tower story. It seems to me it is much neglected, and I am not free from guilt on this account. I was going to grapple with it this year, but then there was all the 350 / environment stuff, and there came Noah and the flood again.

    I am reminded, in your recap of a story and its general meaning, of the story of the astronaut who seeks God in space (one version I heard recently has a questioner on the ground ask, “Did you see God? What did He look like?” to which the astronaut responds, “yes, I saw her, and you’d never guess it: She’s black!”). What do we expect we will find when we finally reach the heavens?

  2. sue swartz permalink*
    10/10/2010 8:41 pm

    That is the question, isn’t it: What do we expect we will find when we finally reach the heavens? We were talking about this very thing the other day when we spotted Jupiter in the sky. No wonder ancient civilizations were so curious about what’s going on up there – how to explain the bright lights and their movement in the sky.

    • Sarah Rubin permalink
      10/11/2010 6:57 am

      And with all that room up there – so much “space” in outer space – oughtn’t there to be some grand scheme of creatures/people to fill it? I have many favorite stories filling my head – I’ll share just one:

      Once upon a long time ago, when I was a camp counselor, I had the honor of sleeping out as an “extra” with a group of cabins of seven-year-old boys. For many of them, it was their first time sleeping under the stars, and some of them were terrified by the vast openness of it. At that particular camp we had a song, which I and another counselor began to sing: “The angels are lighting God’s little candles, softly they glow as the day turns to night; The angels are lighting God’s little candles, we call them stars they’re our friends in the sky.” And I started making up a story to go with the song: Each star, you see, has its own angel holding it, lighting it. And there are so many starts that even if you think you are picking the same one as someone else you aren’t, really – especially if you pick one of the smaller, less bright ones. But just because it isn’t so bright doesn’t mean the angel can’t see – and if you pick a star it will watch over you all night long.

      There was a part of me that was sure those boys wouldn’t buy it. But hook line and sinker, even the “tough” one among them began to relax and fall asleep. I think the sky became smaller for them, and thus less scary. I wonder if any of them – they would now be nearly 30 – remember that, and what they might take from it.

      Hmm…thanks for a place to ramble. Now I think I’ll go recite “Who are holy beings,” or something 😉

      • sue swartz permalink*
        10/11/2010 9:06 am

        Thanks for this sweet story! No wonder you turned into a rabbi.

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