Richard MatherRichard Mather writes and edits for Israel News Online. He has also written for the Jewish Media Agency, Poetica Magazine, Drash Pit, Voices Israel and Chabad Lubavitch’s Holiday Times Magazine. He lives in Manchester, England.
The World Meteorological Organization has just announced that the first decade of the 21st century was the warmest decade recorded since modern measurements began around 1850. Nine out of ten years between 2001 and 2010 were among the ten warmest in recorded history and the warmest year to date was 2010, according to the organization’s latest report.
I have to admit that I am skeptical about some of the science surrounding global warming and I am suspicious when vested interests like Greenpeace use the data to legitimize their eco-socialist agendas. Science aside, it does seem that humanity’s fascination with rising sea levels, bizarre weather and the planet’s destruction arises from a very real and primal fear. Movies such as The Day After Tomorrow and novels like The Burning World by J.G. Ballard are among the plethora of eco-apocalyptic offerings dished up to audiences who have a deep fascination with disaster and destruction.
Perhaps this fear can be traced back to the Flood, which is the first recorded account of global devastation. It plays a major role in the Torah and is recorded in other ancient texts such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. Perhaps fear of the Flood is somehow ingrained in our collective unconscious or maybe it’s because of the telling and retelling of Bible stories during our childhoods. What is beyond doubt is the fact that the Flood was a catastrophic time for humanity. Not only did the majority of people lose HaShem’s protection during the deluge, the entire environment was submerged by an unprecedented watery chaos.
What is sometimes overlooked is the fact that the Flood was the first time that Hashem removed the boundaries separating land from water, thereby reversing the Genesis command to “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” The deluge was so catastrophic that the universal created order so carefully laid out in the first chapter of Genesis was put in jeopardy and only restored after several months.
The upside to the Flood (once the waters had receded) was that it enabled HaShem to cut a deal with humanity. The main component of the covenant with Noah was a promise. “Never again,” says Hashem “will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And in Psalm 104:9, the psalmist observes how G-d “set a boundary” so that the waters “might not again cover the earth.”
The covenant between G-d and Noah is of great concern to gentiles who call themselves B’nai Noach or Noahides. B’nai Noach believe that non-Jews are bound by a universal code of morality called the Seven Noahide Laws, which include the injunctions to affirm G-d’s oneness and to establish courts of justice. Both these laws – along with the prohibitions against murder, theft, adultery etc – are a foreshadowing of the messianic age and ultimately the Olam HaTechiyah or World of Resurrection when Creation is restored. (Non-Jews who live according to these laws are assured of a place in the afterlife. Some rabbinical commentaries, such as Yefei Toar, go further and affirm that righteous gentiles have a place in the World of Resurrection.)
While not wishing to diminish the importance of the Noahide code, it is obvious that while the Flood wiped out most of the created world, it did not cleanse the world of immorality. The uncovering of Noah’s nakedness and the subsequent cursing of Canaan were the first signs that something was amiss. Indeed, as the Tanakh graphically demonstrates, bloodshed, disaster and heartache continue to befall Jew and non-Jew alike.
The inherent brokenness of the world is something that is of immense interest to Jews who use it as an opportunity to repair the world by performing mitzvot. B’nai Noach, too, believe that by following the Noahide laws, they are involved in the refinement of ourselves and our surroundings. Nonetheless, the Noahide code is not an end in itself but a journey towards the much-anticipated messianic age, which will culminate in the world of resurrection. More spectacularly, Hashem will change the laws of nature and restore the created world to its Edenic glory. Indeed, the prophetic books are packed with visions of a future time when man and nature are no longer estranged from each other:
“The leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9).
This is a beatific vision of the distant future, but if the current science is correct, the immediate future will be much less glorious. In a report to the UN Convention on Climate Change, the State of Israel said it faced drought, crop destruction and devastated beaches as a result of global warming. The rest of the world, say the scientists, will also be in for a bad ride – with rising tides, scorching summers and permanent winters cited as possible scenarios.
Whether or not climate change proves to be true or yet another example of science being misused for political purposes, Jews and Noahides will continue to believe that there is a better and happier time ahead – first, with the coming of the Messiah, the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of the Temple, and then the ultimate realization of Hashem’s creation as a world in which perfected man delights in the radiance of the Divine Presence.