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Noah: The Flood and the Rainbow
Video 18 of 22
A while back I encountered a book called How to Read a Book by this fellow over here, Mortimer Adler. Great thinker, great proponent of reading books that are above you, that are more difficult than you feel you can really understand. According to Mortimer actually the Bible is one of those of books and he writes a manual for how to read these kinds of books. Not just any book, he argues that there are really only about 100 books that are worth reading. But of those 100 books that are worth reading, how do you read a book that's above you, that you have to struggle to figure out? He gives you essentially a guide about how to read these kinds of books. It's a fascinating book, I do recommend that you read it.
But one of the things he says in here is that when you try to read a book - any one of these books - the first things - one of the first things you need to do is you need to figure out what genre the book is. That is, what kind of book you're talking about. In other words, let's say you're reading a chemistry textbook but you don't realize it's a chemistry textbook and you think it is a poetry book, you're going to start asking the wrong questions about the book, it's just not going to make any sense to you. Or if by converse, you're reading a poetry textbook but you think it's a chemistry textbook, you can't start reading Carl Sandburg's poem; The fog crept on his little cat feet, and ask questions like, well I don't understand the fog, it can't creep, it doesn't have feet, it's not a cat? That's not a legitimate question for a poetry book. Poetry works with metaphor. You can't questions about why it doesn't make sense literally if you're reading a book that is based upon metaphor. So this is one of his arguments, you need to look at the genre of a book.
So when we read the Bible, how would you look at the genre of the Bible? What kind of book is the Bible? So it's really not an easy question to answer, what kind of book is the Bible, we are tempted perhaps to argue that well, the Bible is a book about G-d, it's a theological book - that would be a book about G-d. There are theological books, a lot of Christian books on the medieval times, Dante's Inferno - [it's kind of blocked over here by 3:08] [unclear] Dante, but Saint Augustine The City of God, these are theological books, they paint a picture of what it's like to be G-d. What does it look like living in G-d's world in heaven? Or what does it look like in hell. What are these experiences like? What do the realms beyond - the metaphysical realms - beyond the human world look like?
But if you look at the Hebrew Bible and you say is the bible a theological work I want to argue the answer is no, the Bible is not a theological work. So you say, well that's ridiculous, the Bible is about G-d, how can it not be a theological work? So I say, no, the Bible is not about G-d. So now you're sounding heretical, right? The Bible is not about G-d? How can the Bible not be about G-d? Well the Bible is sort of about G-d. The Bible is about what? It's about humanity's relationship with G-d. It's a book for us, it's not a book for G-d, it's a book that is trying to describe how G-d and humanity should interrelate with one another. What is G-d like in His own numinous solitude that is not the subject of the Bible, that's not what it's about. That's a need to know kind of thing. One day you'll die - in the Bible's perspective, then you get up to heaven or wherever it is and you'll figure out what G-d is like. But now you're in this world that's not what it is about, it's about establishing a relationship between humanity and G-d.
Of course, you don't always need to know what something is like in its own world in order to be able to establish relationship with it; men and women have relationships all the time, but does a man really understand what it's like to be a woman? No. He's guessing, he can't really figure it out, he has to establish a relationship with her anyway. So we can't - on a larger scale we can't at all figure out what G-d is like but we, as human beings, have to build a relationship with G-d despite that.
So I would say that the Bible is not a book about G-d, it's not a theological book, but it's a book about our relationship with G-d, it's a chronicle of humanity's relationship with G-d over a certain period of time.
If it's true that the Bible generally doesn't give us a picture of what it's like to be G-d as G-d, that's not the subject of the book giving us an insight into what it's like to be G-d, there is, fascinatingly enough, an exception to that rule. There is one point in the Bible, one point in this book, where the Torah actually - the Bible gives you an insight into what it's actually like to be G-d. That is to say, something where it's not portraying to you a relationship which G-d has with humanity, it's not portraying something from our perspective, it's not portraying an interaction between G-d and humanity, it's just portraying G-d in His own world, and what it's like to be in that world. That is the exception. Where do you think that is? Where in the Bible is that? So even if you're not much of a scholar by now you know the answer to that. What is the answer to that?
The answer is the Sabbath. It's right over here in Genesis Chapter 2 in the words which we've been reading. On the seventh day when G-d creates the Sabbath we get a portrayal - the sort of intimate sort of emotional portrayal really, of what it's like to be G-d, of G-d's own world in His sort of numinous solitude. Let's read these words; As G-d had finished creating the heavens and the earth - in the words of Genesis Chapter 2, verse 2; Vayechal Elokim bayom hashevi'i - G-d finished on the seventh day all the work that He had made; Vayishbos bayom hashevi'i mikol melachto asher asah - and G-d rested. So far just these verbs describing G-d's actions; G-d created and then G-d rested.
But now look at this; Vayevarech Elokim et yom hashevi'i - and G-d blessed the seventh day; Vayekadesh oto - and He sanctified it. He blessed that day and He made it holy. Why? He didn't tell mankind about it, He didn't tell Adam about it, so it's a little secret that G-d has in His own world. He blessed the day because He made it a holiday for Himself. Ki bo shovas mikol melachto asher barah Elokim la'asot - because on it He rested. G-d was so happy that He decided to bless this day and sanctify it, not so that in the future sometime He could make it a holiday for mankind and that He's teaching us what - no, this is because G-d's own experience - we're getting this little insight into G-d's own experience, it's not about the future. Later on in Exodus G-d will command people to keep the Sabbath, but that's not what this is about, this is about right now. Right now G-d as G-d is really happy with this day, He's excited. He's blessing this day, He's sanctifying it, because He's just so thrilled because He rested from all His work that He made.
Strange. G-d is really excited about this rest. What is so fascinating about this rest? Why is this the one insight that we get in the entire Torah - seemingly - of, so to speak, G-d's emotional state, what it's like to be G-d in G-d's own world? Very, very strange.
What it seems to suggest by the way is that as good as creation was - and this is just absolutely astounding - rest is even better, rest is like the purpose of everything. By the way, the Rabbis later on in the language of prayers actually that are said on the Sabbath, on the Friday night, Sabbath prayers, actually do use that language. They talk about rest as the Tachlit Shamayim Va'aretz. Tachlit in Hebrew, spelled over here, actually is Hebrew for purpose. The purpose, the very purpose of Shamayim Va'aretz, the very purpose of the creation of heavens of earth somehow is rest. Sounds preposterous. You can imagine somebody working over here, okay so you're working and working, the purpose of work is vacation? It's the umbrellas and it's the chairs at the beach? That's the purpose of work? I get it, nice to take a break, okay great, breaks are great. But this break, this 10-day break when you get to go to Florida is the purpose of the work? The purpose of the work hopefully is for what you achieve during the work. How can the purpose of work be taking a break from the work? It doesn't seem to make any sense, rest is the purpose of creation.
But we are starting to get a very fascinating view of the Sabbath, a very counterintuitive view of the Sabbath, and it's emerging from a number of questions that we've raised. Just to summarize these questions; why would an all-powerful G-d need to rest? Seemingly G-d wouldn't need to rest at all, how tired was He? Why do we celebrate creation by resting, it seems like counterintuitive, we should celebrate G-d's creation by creating, making papier-mâché worlds, globes, why do we rest as a way of celebrating it? But perhaps the answer, we're not actually celebrating creation, what we're actually doing is celebrating rest. But why would we do that? Again, we get this insight into G-d's own world, G-d is celebrating rest, but how could rest be the purpose of creation? Why is rest this grand thing? How do we understand that?
I think the Hebrew word for rest, what we're talking about rest, Shabbat, is actually probably a very different thing than what we mean in English when most of us talk about rest. What really does Shabbat mean? What does it mean to rest as G-d, from this kind of creation? I think it means something different. I think we get a clue to this if we go back to this very first text, the text in Genesis Chapter 2 that actually introduces us to the first Sabbath. If we read it very carefully I think we will get a clue to exactly what the nature of this rest is, it's not what we would expect. We'll come back and talk about that next.
1. Water, Water Everywhere
2. Parallel Universes
4. The Sixth Day
5. Brave New World
6. Noah's World
7. Is There a 'Sabbath' in Noah's World?
8. Sabbath Echoes
9. Rainbows Have Seven Colors
10. A Bow In the Clouds
12. Chiasms: More Than Just a Pretty Face
13. Colors of the Rainbow
14. Numeric Centers; Thematic Centers
15. Taking Stock: Where Are We Now?
16. Sabbath's Center
17. How Tiring Was It To Create a World?
18. Rest As the Purpose of Work?
19. Positive Rest
20. What If a Parent Never Lets Go?
21. Conclusion: Two Ways to Destoy a World
22. Epilogue: Why the Rainbow Covenant is a Two-Way Street (Premium)
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