Posts Tagged ‘Noah’

Will You remember me?

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

“And G!d remembered Noach, and every living thing, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark.” (Gen. 8:1)

The first, and obvious, question is: How is it that G!d should have to remember us? Does this imply that, Heaven forbid, G!d forgets us? While they wrestle with that elsewhere, the sages were not happy with such an implication. Instead, in the prelude to this story, they suggest that when G!d’s attention is turned to us, it is full of tenderness and compassion. But then R. Joshua takes it a step further:

R. Joshua interpreted in R. Levi’s name: The Lord is good to all, and He inspires mankind with His spirit of compassion. In the days of R. Tanhuma, Israel had need of a fast because of drought, so they went to him and requested: ‘Master, proclaim a fast.’ He proclaimed a fast, for one day, then a second day, and then a third, yet no rain fell. Thereupon he ascended the pulpit and preached to them, saying: ‘My children! Be filled with compassion for each other, and then the Holy One, blessed be He, will be filled with compassion for you.’ Now while they were distributing relief to the poor they saw a man give money to his divorced wife, whereupon they went to R. Tanhuma and exclaimed, ‘Why do we sit here while such misdeeds are perpetrated!’ ‘What then have you seen?’ he inquired. ‘We saw So-and-so give his divorced wife money.’ He summoned him and asked him, ‘Why did you give money to your divorced wife?’ ‘I saw her in great distress,’ replied he, ‘and was filled with compassion for her.’ Upon this R. Tanhuma turned his face upward and exclaimed: ‘Sovereign of the Universe! This man, upon whom this woman has no claim for sustenance, yet saw her in distress and was filled with pity for her. Seeing then that of Thee it is written, The Lord is full of compassion and gracious  (Ps. CIII, 8), while we are Thy children, the children of Thy beloved ones, the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, how much the more shouldst Thou be filled with compassion for us!’ Immediately the rain descended and the world enjoyed relief.

Midrash Rabbah – Genesis XXXIII:3

So, what is this with the divorced man and his ex-wife? The Rabbi had told everyone to show compassion, and everyone had gone off to feed the poor – wasn’t that sufficient? And why was the man hauled before the rabbi for such a simple act?

I will briefly guess at the answer to the second question before I offer my thoughts on the first. Clearly, this was an action to be frowned upon; perhaps people suspected him of illicit intent, or of demeaning a current wife of his.

More importantly, it was something he was not obligated to do – unlike feeding the poor, which we are all obligated to do. So what distinguishes his act is that he stepped beyond the boundary of necessary and went to extraordinary.

Such, it seems to me, is the nature of G!d’s compassion for us: it extends beyond what is necessary and into the extraordinary. And yet, there are those who are in desperate need of such Divine tenderness, such Divine compassion. Where is G!’d’s attention?

R. Joshua’s compelling lesson is that we must be – in fact, we are! – the vehicle for that Divine tenderness, that mercy, that compassion. It comes into the world when we bring it here, when we make it manifest.

May the tender rain of Divine compassion fall upon the entire world, and may we find the strength between and among us to bring it here.