Thursday, October 27, 2011

What's It All About ?

Many many years ago, probably before most of the readers of the blog were born, there was a popular movie of the 60's called "Alfie". The movie told the story of an aimless young man who goes about flitting from one woman to another, with little care and no committment.He lives life from one moment to the next, with no purpose nor direction save to follow his pleasures. He is not a bad sort of person. In fact he is very nice. He just seems to see the world as a place to get his needs met and pursue desires as they become available. There was a song by the same name as the movie which was equally popular in its day. The opening lyrics went "What's it all about Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live...and are we meant to take more than we give?"

This week we read the parsha of Noach which predictably tells the story of the deluge and G-d's destruction of His world. After, the world begins again with Noach and his children, a new start with new hope. Why did G-d need to bring His first effort to a close? The Torah is clear that the people and the world they inhabitted became corrupt. The Talmudic sages taught us that people were steeped in idolatry, promiscuity and theivery. The implication is that humanity as a whole was invested in a life of sin. The deluge was then a punishment to a wayward civilization and a condemnation of their lifestyle.

The problem with that approach is how can the generation of the flood be taken to task and punished when they were never given commandmants regarding acceptable behavior?
The Noachide Laws, the seven commandments given to non-Jews to observe, including the prohibition of idolatry, thievery and sexual promiscuity, was given to the descendants of Noach, and not prior generations. How then could Noach's generation, while admittedly guilty of extreme moral lapses be punished without first being commanded and warned of the consequences of the partiucular sins ?

The Torah tells us that G-d informed Noach of the impending devestation. He did so in the following words " ....the end of all flesh has come before me, because the world is full of violence, therefore I will destroy them and all the land". Nowhere does G-d say that the flood was to be a punishment. Rather G-d said "the end of all flesh has come before me". The implication here is that the world reached its own end. Moreover the word used by the Torah over and over in these verses is in Hebrew "hashchata" or corruption. Earlier it said "G-d saw the land and behold is was 'nishchata' corrupt". G-d does not say here the world was evil, though it was. Its condemnations was because it was corrupt. By corrupt we mean to say that its purposes were compromised. It could not become what it was meant to be.

The upshot of all we have been pointing out is that indeed the world of Noach was not destroyed as a punishment for sin. It was not really destroyed. Rather the purpose of life is growth and becoming. When that no longer became possible because of the wayward behaviors of humanity the end of the world was inevitable. The world's corruption brought about its termination. It could not exist devoid of its 'tachlis', purpose. G-d needed to be 'mashchit', meaning perform an act of corruption to rectify the corrupted, inorder to restore the possibility of a world where growth and spiritual becoming is possible.

Every person, according to our sages, is a miniature world. The message here for us is compelling. We, like the world itself, exist inorder to grow and become. Stagnation occurrs in life. We all go through periods where we get stuck. But our overall ambition needs to be centered on growing and becoming. Else we have no claim to exist in this world. Its not enough to be good. We must be forever striving to be better. Its not enough to be without sin. We need to be driven to become holy.
Unless we are working on ourselves and all the time our life has no purpose. Just as Noach's world, when it lost its purpose lost its claim on existence, our life too needs its purpose to continue. And the purpose of our life and indeed the world as a whole is spiritual growth and becoming.

Any person who says "I have reached a place in life where I am satisfied with myself", or who lives with that attitude whether they actually say it or not, no matter how good they are, puts their existance in jeopardy. Its not that they are bad. On the contrary, they may have a great place instore for themselves in the world to come. But if you've stopped growing and becoming you can't claim a ticket to a seat in this world. The ride for you is over.

"What's it all about Alfie, or Yankey or Sruley or Rachel or whomever? It is about becoming and growing. Each day, each experience, each encounter offers us a chance to grow. All we need is to be open and meet the moment mindful of our agenda.
The new year has begun. Lets get to it!

Shabbat Shalom

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