The parashah this week seems to me to a total change from the three proceeding weeks. To me the early parts of the Torah are setting up what is to come. Bereishit (Genesis) does not even mention Moshe – he is not even born until the start of the book of Sh’mot (Exodus - in chapter 2).

One of the great things about Progressive Judaism is that we continue the tradition of reading and interpreting the Torah. While we tend to accept and believe that it is divinely influenced, it is not our tradition that it was dictated word for word to Moshe on Mount Sinai, or that it is factually accurate. We are perfectly capable of believing in a God who speaks in allegory – in a manner which we are capable of understanding. And the genius of Torah is that this can speak differently to us in different ages. We can be pretty sure that Parashat Bereishit is not scientifically factual. It can’t be. In Chapter 1, humans were created on day 6. In chapter 2, on day 2. The point is to establish relationships – between God and humanity and between humanity and the rest of creation. We learn that God is omniscient – as we read in the Torah today. But also, that God is omnipotent – all powerful. After all, creating the earth is pretty impressive. And that God is omnipresent – everywhere. God wishes humans to be just – hence the exile from Eden after eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the potential eating of the fruit of the tree of life. We don’t need to believe that this is absolutely factual, but the message is clear and it’s the message that’s important. We also learn in these three parashot about humans. Adam and Eve when caught breaking God’s rules deny responsibility. Adam seeks to blame Eve. Eve blames the serpent. They are like the most innocent of children. They are not killed but are punished. Cain kills his brother in the first murder. He probably had no idea what he was doing but was angry and we don’t even know why. Cain of course had no experience of death. But he knew had done something terrible, and that he was to be punished. He pretended that he did know where Abel was. He compounded his wrongdoing with a lie. And we learn of God’s nature in asking about Abel when God knew the answer perfectly well. Cain does not explain, say he is sorry or seek to defend himself. He is as naïve as his parents.

Noach is the next stage. The child who wants to please. He absolutely obeys God, even to the point of following the detailed instructions on building the ark. Two weeks ago, when Helen was leading our service, she told of the Chumash commentary which was seeking to explain what the description of Noach as “righteous in his generation” meant. I had always interpreted this as “the best of a bad lot”. The commentary said that Noach was flawed. Indeed, he was. As were most of the ancestors – included Moses. But to me Noach’s flaw was not so much as the commentary said – that he, unlike Avraham, failed to argue with God, but simply that he was immature. He wanted to please. But possibly this was out of fear and not out of the desire to do right. I think that is the flaw. So, I see Noach as the young child – not the innocence of Adam and Eve, or the naivety of Cain. But the next stage in our development.

So now we meet Avraham. Vayeira in the section after today’s portion explains that Avraham did indeed argue with God. Over S’dom and Amorah. He bargained God down so that the cities would not be destroyed if just a handful of righteous people could be found. But the cities were destroyed regardless – telling us exactly what God thought of them. I won’t go into detail about the sin of S’dom but many interpretations say that actually it was the failure to do good deeds, the treatment of the poor and the environment that was the final straw. So, Avraham at least now has the confidence to start to argue with God, demonstrating that we have free will, and morality and are now getting to a point where we are capable of receiving the rest of Torah.

So, what does this mean for us today? I can’t believe that God wants us to allow the planet to be destroyed as Maimonides seemed to think in our study passage (P558 in the Siddur). We have intelligence, capability of thought and argument – both amongst ourselves and with God. We see very clearly that we can’t carry on simply ignoring the fact that our decisions are reaping havoc. Maimonides seemed to think the solution was to leave home or build higher. A little like what Prince William said that Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are doing by seeking populate other planets. I’m not so sure of that. Watching William Shatner and his fellow astronauts go to the edge of space and hearing Shatner’s immediate impressions of just how small and fragile Earth is, I believe will have left a profound memory, and I want to hope that this will help achieve the objectives of COP26. I also think discovery is important. We have no idea what advances space exploration will bring – just as no-one could have guessed that the accidental growth of penicillium would lead to the treatment of meningitis. So, I think we need both, and would certainly challenge Prince William. Of course, we need to reverse climate change. We need to be far better with carbon use and greenhouse gas emissions. We need to stop wasting the planet’s resources, get better at recycling, use sustainable fuel methods, eat more wisely, and drive and fly less. And yes, it actually was this meat eating, international travelling individual who said the last two things on the list. But we also need genius. We need science to help us with the unpredictable. Like Covid vaccines. We need to explore as well. Including beyond this planet. Our achievements although not always planned are what has enabled some of the great achievements here on earth.

I don’t think God intended us to stop exploring. This omnipotent God did not destroy the world at the end of Parashat Noach when the Tower of Babel was built. God simply slowed us down by making communication harder. I think God just felt we were not ready. So, let’s prove we are, by using our genius to reverse climate change. We all have a role.