At the end of the story of the deluge in this week’s Torah portion, Noach, God promises: “The waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” As a tangible reminder of this covenant with creation, God places the rainbow in the clouds. Nachmanides suggests that it represents an archer’s bow, overturned. By setting the bow’s arc heavenward, God indicates that no more arrows of destruction shall be let loose from above. To this day, the rainbow remains a sign of hope, harmony, and peace.
Yet an old gospel song, made popular by the Carter Family, hints at a darker possibility: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign—no more water but the fire next time.”
These words ring forebodingly prophetic in this age of climate change, which Rabbi Arthur Waskow wisely calls “global scorching” since “warming” sounds far more pleasant than the grim reality that it presents. As the song would have it, God may not flood the earth again, but we humans are doing an awfully efficient job of unleashing our own destruction, by way of fire.
I fear that years from now, when the massive damage caused by climate change is irreversibly done, our children and grand-children will look back and wonder, with deep sadness, why we did so little to avert the disaster unfolding before our very eyes. They will see us as Nero, fiddling while Rome burned.
But while it may, alas, already be too late to completely undo the harm we have done, we can still at least mitigate it. On this week of parshat Noach, let us re-dedicate ourselves to doing what we can. Here at CABI, that effort should include a hard look at our own practices, from how we use our resources to the way we tend our landscape. On Tuesday, Social Action committee chair Tom Rogers and I will be talking with Isaac Nuell of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center in Washington, DC, about steps that we can take to become part of a growing group of GreenFaith congregations of all religions committed to being better stewards of God’s earth. You’ll be hearing more about this in coming weeks.
God made a covenant with us after the flood. Now it’s up to us to do our part to avoid the fire next time.