Plant-Based Torah: Parashat Noach – When Creation Goes Wrong

October 6th, 2021

ALEX WEISZ

“The LORD saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth… and the LORD regretted having created humanity on earth, and God’s heart was saddened…The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness.” – Genesis 6:5-6, 11 

Last week’s parsha saw the world created, while this week’s parsha the world is destroyed – for the most part. Ten generations of humanity’s cruelty had disappointed God, and it was time to start over by washing away all of humanity and the other land animals. Noah is selected to restart the human race, thus he is instructed by God to build an ark to save himself, his family, and representatives from all of the land and air animals. This is a fitting job for the new first man, as the Torah is unambiguous of humanity’s foundational purpose as the caretakers of the world.

Though there is much to say about this parsha as it pertains to animals and the world, I found myself fixated this week on God’s rationale for the flood: the wickedness, corruption, and injustice of God’s creation. Certainly many are alarmed by how quickly God resorts to nearly destroying all life on earth – however, perhaps there is some Divine Wisdom to be imparted to us in our time.

Having been made in God’s image, humans have been given the capacity for creation. Through our ingenuity, our race can make incredible things happen by finding creative solutions to the problems that plague our world. Unfortunately on the flip side, that same ingenuity can be used in the ways lamented by God just before this parsha, that “every plan devised by [people’s] mind[s] was nothing but evil” (Genesis 6:5). Though this week’s portion includes God’s promise to never destroy humanity again, we can use our own inner divinity to determine when some of our own creations are too wicked, corrupt, and unjust to continue. Even well-intentioned human creations may eventually run their course and need to be terminated entirely! Though we are blessed with the gift of ideas does not mean that this blessing always leads to good.

From factory farming to plastics, to fossil fuels, various human-made creations that were meant to improve society can be unintentionally toxic. Though humans have the capacity for wisdom1 , long-term consequences can be difficult to predict. I was very fortunate to visit my family in Southern California last Shabbat, and all 3 of these industries have led to my home state trashed and aflame. Nevertheless, it is my hometown’s claim to fame that is making headlines for its cruelty & negligence – and after a century of injustice, wickedness, and corruption, it is clearly time to shut down our civic icon. 

I grew up in sunny Arcadia, California, a beautiful suburb located in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles, in the shadow of the Santa Anita Racetrack. One of only a dozen or so Jewish families in the entire town, some of my earliest memories of my Jewish life are driving past the racetrack on our way to synagogue. I spent many long summer days at the neighboring mall; I used to skateboard with my best friend Ali in its parking lot; all of my siblings and cousins graduated from Arcadia High School at the race track; I attended many bar mitzvah parties and weddings in its luxurious suites. In addition to our residential peacocks and the legendary Arcadia High School Marching Band, Santa Anita was about as iconically Arcadian as it gets.

That nostalgic image was first punctured in 7th grade history class during our unit on city history. Ours is a predominantly Asian community and learning that the Santa Anita’s stables were converted into Japanese Internment camps during World War II was a harrowing realization. I had learned all about the camps built by the Nazis in Europe, so to find out that Japanese people had been forced into camps in my own neighborhood was chilling. However, it was portrayed to be as the darkest underbelly of the city, an outlier of evil in the innocent history of the racetrack. Though movies and television made references to horse racing’s inhumane disposal of injured thoroughbreds, it took many years for the thought to cross my mind that these industry standards were implemented in my hometown.

In 2019 alone, 36 horses have been euthanized following injuries sustained racing and training at Santa Anita. According to the California Horse Racing Board’s own reporting, in the 2017-18 season, Santa Anita saw 44 horse deaths. In 2016-17 it saw 65. Despite the recent news coverage, the rate of horse euthanizations following non-fatal injuries is not suddenly higher – in the last decade, Santa Anita has reported 545 euthanized horses. Many of these injuries are sustained on their light front legs, bred by humans for speed, but too small to handle the heavy weight of these powerful animals. These injuries are easily sustained, but not easily fixed, especially not in a way that would lead to a return to the track – rendering even legendary horses worthless financial investments for their owners. Rather than continuing to pay for stables & food, euthanasia is the industry standard for minor, common injuries.

These are living beings, disposed of needlessly in the name of financial gain of their owners. Imagine if your average NFL or NBA player was slaughtered for a torn ligament or a twisted ankle. As an Arcadia transplant to Las Vegas, I know very well the mighty corruption of the gambling industries – but slot machines and craps tables are children’s games in comparison to the carnage brought forth by thoroughbred racing.

At 17 I led the Arcadia High School Marching Band & Colorguard from the Santa Anita Racetrack down Baldwin Avenue as the Drum Major, an extremely prestigious leadership position. In front of my entire community, I led our 400-piece army of musicians, the pride of our city, past the iconic racetrack, as my family, including my uncle, the mayor at the time, looked on. Standing alone in my all-white uniform in front of a sea of red ones, I had never been so proud of my hometown. 

Now I just wonder how many horses were slaughtered that day.

I truly understand the sadness in God’s heart, the disappointment in something so near and dear. I am revolted by my hometown’s willful blindness to these crimes. Though I cannot know if it will take place, I know for sure that it is far past due for Santa Anita’s century of wickedness, corruption, and injustice to be permanently ended. This human creation’s existence can no longer be justified.

Update 10/05/2021:  Alex wrote this in 2019 so we did some research…The Santa Anita Horse Track continues to race horses.  Despite regulations to improve safety, horses are still dying and euthanized.  Two horses were euthanized just last week.  You can follow @horseracingwrongs to learn more.

Please consider signing this petition to end horseracing euthanasia.

You can reach the California Horse Racing Board at (800) 805-7223.
You can reach Arcadia Mayor Sho Tay at ShoTayforArcadia@gmail.com
You can reach Arcadia’s Congresswoman, Judy Chu, at (202) 225-5464
You can reach Arcadia’s State Senator, Susan Rubio, at (916) 651-4022
You can reach the Santa Anita Race Track at 626-574-7223.

Shabbat Shalom.

Alex Weisz Arcadia High School, Class of 2014

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