Last week at this time we were bracing for a blizzard. It came as advertised, big snow and dangerous winds all Shabbat. Beth El cancelled Shabbat services for the first time ever, or at least in my 30+ years, and it was the right decision.
The storm provided much quality time in the house. I am trying to downsize my library and everything else about my life except my knee brace collection, and the snow helped. One book in the maybe pile is “The Bible According to Mark Twain” (edited by Baetzhold and McCullough.) Besides learning that Twain loved the Finger Lakes, as I have for a long time beginning last summer, and despite learning that he was pretty irreverent (“there is no evidence that God is any of these things – just, charitable, kindly, gentle, merciful, compassionate”), I found his Bible “interpretations” to be quite creative and fun. He is not considered a great satirist for nothing. Let me share part of a piece about Noah.
“We (Adam and Eve) spoke to Noah about [dinosaurs being absent from the Ark]; he colored and changed the subject. Being brought back to it – and pressed a little – he confessed that in the matter of stocking the Ark the stipulations had not been carried out with absolute strictness… There were some irregularities. He says the boys [Shem Ham Yafeth] were to blame for this – the boys mainly, his own fatherly indulgence partly. They were in the giddy heyday of their youth at the time, the happy springtime of life, their hundred years sat upon them lightly, and so… well, they did things they shouldn’t have done, and he – to be candid, he winked. But on the whole they did pretty faithful work, considering their age. They collected and stowed a good share of the really useful animals; and also, when Noah was not watching, a multitude of useless ones, such as flies, mosquitoes, snakes, and so on, but they did certainly leave ashore a good many creatures which might possibly have had value some time or other in the course of time. Mainly these were vast saurians [large reptiles] a hundred feet long, and monstrous mammals… and there was really some excuse for leaving them behind, for two reasons: 1) it was manifest that some time or other they would be needed as fossils for museums; and 2) there had been a miscalculation, the Ark was smaller than it should have been, and so there wasn’t room for those creatures. As for the dinosaur, Noah’s conscience was easy; it was not named in his cargo-list and the boys were not aware that there was such creature. He said he could not blame himself for not knowing about the dinosaur, because it was an American animal, and America had not then been discovered.”
And so on, including the difficulties of getting non salty drinking water to the elephants in the bottom level where they served for ballast, and bemoaning the prize animals who died but of course they didn’t lose a single locust or grasshopper or rat or cholera-germ. Twain was so clever, and now we understand everything about the Flood.
Mark Twain, though a Presbyterian, so fits the Beth El theme of human creativity and this reading sort of fits the storm we are still bailing out from here in D.C. Almost a week after the blizzard, I am thankful the power remained on and I wish for all locals that you have patience in the one traffic lane that used to be two. Best, Bill Rudolph