Trying Again

Oct 5th, 2010 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
He lived in the Ark for a year. It was a safe place, blessed by God. The moment arrived for him to step out into the world. I imagine that Noah could not help but think of the first time that a person stepped out of a safe, magical, place, into the world; Adam leaving the Garden in Eden.

That first journey had not ended well. The Flood cleansed the terrible damage that began when Adam left his Garden for the world outside. Noah had to wonder whether he would be able to lead us back into the world. God blessed him and the world, but he still wondered.

He left the Ark and allowed all the animals to leave and then decided to do what Adam had not; he built an altar to God. He had to round up many of the animals he had saved and cared for, to offer to God. He didn’t keep the sacrificial animals separate, or block them from leaving the ark. The offerings were not what was on his mind. It was the altar.

He could not make an offering without remembering the first mentioned in the Bible; Cain’s unsuccessful gift to God. Cain offered the produce from the ground which was cursed. Noah used the cursed ground to build an altar. He focused on the altar, not the offering. It was the altar that led God to say, “I will not continue to curse again the ground because of man.” (Genesis 8:21) I suspect that when “God smelled the pleasing aroma,” He smelled the aroma of the altar, not the offerings!

Adam did not offer anything to God when he left the Garden. Cain made an offering, but did not build an Altar. There is a difference between building an Altar from the earth and offering something grown from the earth: An offering is a statement that whatever I have, no matter how hard I have worked is God’s. Cain willingly made that statement. Adam, did not. Cain’s statement was not enough. He did not first build an altar.

An Altar-Builder is declaring that he will build God’s earth. He makes a statement that his work is to build God’s world. Noah’s altar was far more powerful than his offering. He committed himself and his descendants to building, not simply using, God’s earth.

We declare ourselves to be Altar-Builders each time we recite a blessing before eating. The blessing is our statement of purpose to build God’s world and expand His presence in it.

We can see our Tzedaka, or charity, as offerings, even a statement that whatever we have is God’s. We can also give that same Tzedaka as a Builder; we see our charity money as a building fund for the world, a way to improve the world and create more possibilities.

We can pray as builders. We can light Shabbat candles as world-builders. We can do all we do, as Noah’s heirs, World-Builders.

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