I found one of the most absurd moments in Torah in the reading for this week, parashat Noah. One particular verse made me lose my appetite and tested my theology. That’s a lot for one Torah reading.
We read that for forty days and forty nights Noah, his family, and an assemblage of the animals rode out the waves of a rain-swollen planet. The journey continued until they found dry land. Upon alighting Noah makes a barbeque. “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking of every clean animal and of every clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar.” (Genesis Ch. 8 v. 20).
After rescuing all of the animal species on the planet (but for the unicorn said Shel Silverstein), Noah starts firing up the grill and eats kosher animals. These are the same animals that Noah had rescued from the flood! God’s reaction was to receive the sweet smell and promise to God’s self never to destroy humankind again. As a religious tradition, the Jewish people kept on sacrificing animals until the Second Temple was destroyed. After the destruction of the Temples we tried prayer instead of animal sacrifices to get God’s attention. However, I’m not sure prayer alone is working out sufficiently well for this world. Perhaps we are reminding God not to destroy again. But while God may have kept God’s promise not to destroy humankind, it seems like we have been doing a good job of destroying this planet on our own.
For example, think about the food we eat and the way we obtain our food. I recently watched the movie Food, Inc. The movie provides far too much disturbing information about how we mistreat animals and disregard human rights in the process of feeding ourselves. I’m now wary of red meat, conventional fruits, and processed foods. We’ve abandoned sacrificing animals as ritual and now we have a system of food production that is irreligious.
I remain disturbed about the way we treat animals, the way we manage our food supply and the damage we have done to the environment. I take the issue of food production as a theological challenge. In Jewish Renewal circles we call this eco-kosher. I’m here to remind you that the promise not to destroy all humankind because of the smell of a barbecue isn’t working out so well. Our practices certainly haven’t been good for the animals, our own health is harmed and our planet is suffering. The planet is literally becoming the altar upon which our environment is burning up. The odor is not pleasing. The promise of salvation is fading.
All that’s left is for the prophets of today to call out to the world; if God isn’t preserving our world, we have to do the job. Perhaps the point is that God put us here to do God’s work. We can and must do a better job of curating this planet. Let's start by focusing on food. What will you do this week to affect safer food production? Can your food choices make the world safer, cleaner, or better? And what should I do with the steaks in my freezer?
Rabbi Evan J. Krame