After the intense cycle of Jewish holidays, and with winter peeking around the corner, the month of Heshvan is all about returning to routine, to the simple repetitive tempo of life. No frills - life itself. Menawhile the Torah portions of Heshvan raise the root questions of human existence, wrapped in the stories of a primordial world. From Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, the Torah outlines the complexity â€“ and darkness â€“ of Humanity, and Godâ€™s attempts to work with it.
Noah. This year I find myself appreciating the Noah narratives anew thanks to the recent blockbuster commentary by Reb Darren Aronofsky. In studying the Deluge I always focused on Godâ€™s vindictiveness or Noahâ€™s disappointing silence, not to mention the cute animals coming two by two. But returning to the tale of the Flood after a bloody summer, Aronofskyâ€™s film puts a painful truth center stage: that Human beings left to their own devices are horrific. It is a Hobbesian tale of the deepest Human moral bankruptcy. Of a world turned from â€œvery goodâ€, to: â€œGreat was humankindâ€™s evildoing on earth, And every form of their heartâ€™s planning, Was only evil all day. Then God was sorry that he had made humankind on earth, And it pained his heart.â€ (Genesis 6:5-6)
Something about this perspective rings disturbingly true this fall. How do we face Humanityâ€™s murderous and destructive nature? It once seemed that the Enlightenment saved us from our darker demons. Yet the 20th century made us doubt if progress makes the world a more civilized place; now the 21st century brings to the fore those who shun progressiveness, turning the world back to more medieval fundamentals. And that is only in the realm of man to man (and woman?). In the realm of our relationship to the Earth, to Creation, we seem to be failing even more. Is it too late to heal our relationship to nature, to the world, to eachother?
Rain. Ideally, we should live in deep symbiosis with the earth. Humanityâ€™s name,Adam, derives from the Hebrew word for earth, Adamah. Yet we fear the earth, for it reminds us that not only have we come from it â€“ but that in the end, we will return to it. Earth symbolizes our death, our limits, our finitude. When Adam is banished from the garden, the Adamah becomes damned on his account. The word itself â€“Adamah - leers at Humanity: â€œAdamâ€“Mahâ€, says Earth, â€œHuman, what is Human?â€ Can we redeem our relationship to Adamah?
Heshvan, in which Nature molts its dried leaves and begins its slow process of hibernation and renewal, is also the month of rain. Rain, as opposed to Flood and Deluge, is a sign of blessing. Rain heals the curse of
Adam/Adamah, offering a promise of divine collaboration with Humanity in the project called Life on Earth. Rain is about relationship. Just as Noah offers us a â€œpleasing smellâ€ to the Lord after the Flood, so the rains of Heshvan leave the earth with a â€œpleasing smellâ€ for us, Humans, to believe in the possibility of renewal and relationship, growth and change.
Great Father. In the move from Adam to Noah and ten generations after that, God mostly hides his face from Humanity. Canâ€™t live with â€˜em, canâ€™t kill â€˜em. Until a new figure enters the scene. Avram of Ur, who somehow forces God out of His divine hiding place. What did Avram do that got God to seek out a new relationship with him? The Torah never discloses directly, but perhaps it lies in his name: Avram, Av-Ram, Great-Father.