For about the 97th time, I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey – (one of the true gifts of monolith was, I am convinced, Netflix!) Every time I watch the movie I get something else out of it. Now that the story of Noah is here, I have yet another, more Jewish, insight.
You have probably seen the movie. If not, you have missed one of the best films of all time. In it, the earth is created (Genesis) somehow involving the monolith, the animals are created (again, involving the monolith) and at every major junction between inanimate creation to animate creation, animals to thinking beings and, of course, the Jupiter project, the monolith seems to be the ‘thing’ which somehow nudges us forward.
Of course, no one knows what the monolith is or what it is supposed to be or where it comes from. In fact, it remains a total mystery (even up through the movie 2010). But there is little doubt to me that it seems to act like a hinge connecting two ages together as we move forward into a more enlightened and, hopefully, civilized future.
The Torah is like that, as well. Last week we read the beginning of Genesis, the creation of the inanimate and the animate. First were rocks and wind and then life. After less complex life, the creation of man and woman become the pinnacle of creation. And then there is the connective hinge – the monolith if you will.
We move immediately after this parasha into Noah. And this portion is famous for its ark filled with animals. But there is a more important part of the story (not that animals aren’t important but they saved because they are totally innocent). It is humanity which has become corrupted.
As the Torah tells us
וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְהִנֵּ֣ה נִשְׁחָ֑תָה כִּֽי־הִשְׁחִ֧ית כָּל־בָּשָׂ֛ר אֶת־דַּרְכּ֖וֹ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
וַיֹּ֙אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֜ים לְנֹ֗חַ קֵ֤ץ כָּל־בָּשָׂר֙ בָּ֣א לְפָנַ֔י כִּֽי־מָלְאָ֥ה הָאָ֛רֶץ חָמָ֖ס מִפְּנֵיהֶ֑ם וְהִנְנִ֥י מַשְׁחִיתָ֖ם אֶת־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
“When God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth,
God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth.”
Another hinge moment where history changed.
This was a new beginning. But, like all beginnings it got off to a rough start. Though the story includes cute animals, it also includes drunkenness and rape. Humanity may have been given a new start, but it was still far from perfect. God must have been disappointed or, as Elie Wiesel once said, ‘this is the beginning of God’s understanding of His limited ability to control the world. No wonder God is the character most deserving of pathos in the Bible.’
But the disappointment is not forever. At different points in history, another hinge appears that gives rise to greater and greater levels of holiness and civilization. Though there are times when the world seems less holy (usually violence perpetuated in the name of God) the story of Noah teaches us that, though we slip and though “violence stills fills the earth,” it does not have to always be that way. Soon there will Abraham which leads directly to Solomon and David which lead directly to us.
And so, what is the lesson I get out of 2001 and this week’s Torah portion of Noah? It is this. There are hinge points in history where the trajectory of history changes because of one person or one act. And the great changes often happen when the Divine is in the background and when the person acts with divinity, in imitation of God. That is when the best future begins. So was Noah special? Not really. He was simply a good man in a generation of very bad people doing very bad things.
Each of us is a potential Noah and each of us is a hinge – if we choose to be.
(So, what’s my understanding of the monolith? Well, mono means ‘one’ as in one God and ‘lith’ means ‘rock’ – One Rock as in, “Trust in the LORD for ever and ever, For in Adonai the LORD you have an everlasting Rock.” So is the monolith God? No, but as a symbol of God’s presence in the ‘hinge moments,’ I can live with that.)