One of my favorite musicals is “Children of Eden”, by Stephen Schwartz. It is a rarely performed show; in fact, it’s never actually been on Broadway. Schwartz is well known for writing the music and lyrics for such hits as “Godspell”, “Pippin”, and most recently, “Wicked”. I am a huge fan of “Children of Eden”, and for those of you who know me, for me to actually pick out a “favorite” musical is saying something!
Back to “Children of Eden”. It’s one long midrash; the first act is Creation, and the second act is Noah. As Noah and his family prepare to board the Ark, God (portrayed throughout the show as “Father”) reflects that he has “watched and waited since the time of Seth, and hoped as each new generation drew its breath, I’ve hoped forever now may My earth be filled with good and grateful children. I’ve hoped in vain, cruel, greedy, violent….” . The God character continues, “This is the last time I will hope. This is the last chance I will give…” Clearly, the creation has disappointed the Creator.
I don’t know how much Torah or midrash Stephen Schwartz studied, but he’s quite in line the Sages. At the end of last week’s portion, (Gen 6:6) still in the Creation story, God sees how bad things have gotten on earth, and it makes God “heartsick”. God regrets having made human beings, and decides to wipe them all out….except for Noah and his family. In the Talmud, R. Joshua ben Levi said that before the flood, God mourned for seven days for what was about to happen. It was like a “shiva” week in advance. (Shiva comes from the same word for “seven”, and is the traditional week of mourning right after a death.)
It’s interesting that so soon after the High Holidays, which focused on our own moments of regret , we read that God has regrets, too: the very act of human Creation. Weeks ago, we read in the liturgy of Yom Kippur that prayer, repentance and generosity cancelled our “stern decree” . Does God engage in the same kinds of practices upon such Divine regret of having created the world ? Well, if prayer is reflection, repentance is returning to an earlier time, and tzedakah is showing generosity, then the answer would have to be, “Yes”. God reflects on what is about to happen, feeling “heartsick” about the state of affairs on Earth. God wants to return to the way things were, before humans had become so evil and corrupt. And instead of destroying absolutely everything, God figures out a way to establish a future for humans and animals.
Just like our human atonement, after reflection and repentance, God promises to do better. God’s “bow in the sky”, the rainbow, is a sign, a covenant, a promise never to destroy the earth again. The Jewish people in particular will have other covenants and signs in the times to come, but this one is universal. It is the Creator-God demonstrating to Noah that perhaps the real Divine regret wasn’t the creation of humankind, but rather the attempt to destroy it.
Schwartz’s God character sings, “There is no journey gone so far, so far we cannot stop and change direction…no doom is written in the stars” and Noah’s family continues, “we cannot know what will occur, just make our journey worth the taking, and pray we’re wiser than we were…in the beginning, it’s the beginning, now we begin.”
We are at the beginning. We face the year ahead with the gifts we’ve been given: We have the free will which was breathed into us in Eden, along with life itself, and the knowledge that, although we may have experienced near-drowning in our own corruption and cruelty, we have the power to change the direction of our lives. The entire cast sings at the end of the show, “our hearts can choose to stop the hating.” They look to the future with more tolerance and hope in their hearts than they’ve had before. That’s a choice that no one would regret.