This week, we read the story of Noah, where we learn many things about the first follower of God. Perhaps one of the more unknown parts of the story is the post-flood section. After the flood was over and they began their community again, Noah was the tiller of a great vineyard. He had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Yaphet from whom, the Torah tells us, “The whole earth spread.” Like all of us as humans today, they each had a good and evil inclination, the “yetzer ha’rah,” and “yetzer ha’tov’” Chapter 9 tells of one night when Noah became drunk on the wine from his vineyard, de-robed, and fell asleep, exposing himself in his tent. His son, Ham found him, and instead of covering his father, Ham inclined towards the “yetzer ha’rah” and told his 2 brothers of his father’s nakedness, then walked away. The text of the Torah uses very specific, intentional language. It did not use the word vayomer (meaning “he said”), but rather vayaged (“he told”). Rabbi Marc Margolius, in his study about Noah from a Mussar perspective, writes that it is clear that Ham was trying to tell them that his father had embarrassed himself, almost making fun of Noah. Some scholars even think that Ham might have abused his father in some way.
By contrast, Shem and Yapeth take a cover, turn their backs towards their naked father, walk backwards towards him, and respectfully cover him. When Noah awakens and learns of what has happened, he curses Canaan, the son of Ham, to be the servant of his two sons. Can you possibly imagine cursing your own grandchild to be the servant of your children? No way! From Noah’s outrageous reaction to Ham’s behavior, it would seem that the scholars are correct, that indeed, Ham must have behaved in a shameful way towards his father. Indeed, he was being influenced by his “yetzer ha’rah,” which can often happen when we are pushed to our limit.
Although we all as humans have within us some degree of the personalities of these three brothers, why is it that sometimes humans often find joy in or seek out the embarrassment of others, and even cause it? For an example in today’s world, why have the social media giants not chosen people over profits, which have resulted in the destruction of so many young people? The Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of modern Hasidism, is reputed to have taught that “the world is a mirror,” that our interpretation of external stimuli reflects our inner life and thoughts. We justify this “yetzer ha’ra” with our commitment to righteousness, or by citing the shameful behavior of our victims. Most of the time though, when we fixate on the bad things of someone else, it reflects the shame we feel about how we might have behaved in the same way at some point.
How easy it is to fall into this “yetzer ha’rah” with the frustrations we are experiencing during this unprecedented time of living with Covid-19. However, within our Temple, we only saw the “yetzer ha’tov,” or the absolute best parts of so many members of our community, who volunteered to participate in our High Holy Days Services and worked tirelessly to bring the most meaningful worship to our community. We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge them, and to personally thank them, from the bottom of our hearts, for making our holiday so incredibly meaningful, and being willing to make difficult sacrifices with me so that we could offer safe and meaningful worship. We lovingly acknowledge the following members of our Adult Choir, who gave of their time and energy leading up to the High Holy Days, some of whom were not able to participate in person for the actual services:
Members of our Adult Choir, some of whom were with us at various times in the rehearsal period and some who participated in the services: Gil Adelstein, Elan Adler, Howard Brenner, Alan Bresloff, Caren Brown, Barbara Fisher, Minna Einhorn, Alene Frost, Andrea Gilman, Avi Greenfield, Debra Grossman, Loryn Kogan, Joyce Landau, Lisa Levy, Dr. Anne Lidsky, Jackie Lutz, Michael Mitzen, Greg Richards, Phyllis Richmond, Myra Shneider, Judy Tatar, Amy Ticho
Special thank you to our soloists, both in our Adult and Youth Service:
Dr. Anne Lidsky, Lisa Levy, Judy Tatar, Lilly Ardell, Caren Brown, Matt Rissien, Loryn Kogan, Jackie Lutz, Noa Levin, Lauren Zilberstein
Special thank you to our ushers: Ross Wolfson, Victoria Weisenberg, Barry Goldman, Joe Meis, Al Bresloff, Scott Cohen, Elan Adler, Babette Sanders, Gary Kash
For our Teachers on Yom Kippur: Jerry Lidsky for study session Yom Kippur afternoon, Judy Craven for leading a guided meditation
Our President, Dr. Scott Levin
Special thank you to our Musicians: Robert and Sandie Morgan, for their Oboe and Flute playing for Rosh Hashanah, Vicki Siegelman—flute and Mollie McDougall—French Horn for Yom Kippur Afternoon, Aaron Kaplan—cello for all the beauty he brought to our KolNidre and Yom Kippur Morning and Afternoon services Julian Chin, our amazing pianist, and our amazing Choir Director Musician in Residence, Paul Dykstra.
Special thank you to our Torah Readers: Marc Mayer, Isaac Shepard, Allison Kleiman, Shira Brandhandler, Julie Kosarin, and Ira Dolnick
Thank you to those who submitted video reflections: Dr. Patty Perez Vorona, Emily Green, Charles Laurito, Ron Dickstein, Phyllis Mitzen, Zachary Rosenblatt, and Alex Marks
To Our Shofar Artists Extraordinnarie: Michael Kamen and Alex Sweet
To our amazing Maintenance Staff and their fearless leader: Juan Carlos Sanchez
And Mazel Tov again to our amazing Post B’nai Mitzvah, who read Torah so beautifully for us on Simchat Torah: Lenny Kozak, Samantha Jacobs, Ella Marks, Alex Goldberg, Ruby Werber, and Isaac Margolis
It is my prayer that we may all go from strength to strength, doing our absolute best to live by the “yetzerha’tov” in most of the moments of our lives.