This week we read Parashat Noah which is a classic biblical story familiar to many of us. It is a tale of how a broken world full of broken people was destroyed with a flood by God and that Noah, the righteous man of his generation was spared along with his family and animals; and then there is a moment of a dove and of course a rainbow, indicating a covenant of peace.
The story is one that is quite frightening and it always amazed me that so many of us consider it a children’s story (it must be the animals?) When re-reading the text this week I find myself struck by a particular verse and it’s beauty:
“In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month – on that day – all the springs of the great deep burst apart, and the floodgates of the heavens broke open.”(Genesis 7:11)
The imagery captures my heart- pierces something open inside of me and my eyes well up with their flood wetting the pages of my text. I am struck that with this moment of terror there is also something magical and incredible- because the text does not just say that the rain and flood occurred, but rather, this verse shares that before the flood, the entire world- the Tahom the depth and the heavens had to burst open.
I wonder: are we living in the beginning moments of birthing our second flood? I don’t mean literally, but metaphorically; in our day which is one of tension, the polarization of inequity and inequity no longer blindly acceptable- is it possible that the world- our depths and our heavens are desperate to burst open?
Every generation is called to action; to make this world evolve and shift in ways that we often can’t quite comprehend until years later and it occurs to me that in this moment of history we may be called to open the floodgates and to do this somehow while not destroying our precious world. We are called to live through a change- one that we may not be able to imagine what the other side might look like. This can be scary, uncomfortable and painful. And, maybe necessary?
What do we do? How do we exist through this? I want to offer that the word Noah has significance for us. The literal meaning is to rest or to pause. Like many things in our Torah, this seems deliberate – that during this great unknown; the flood, Noah represented the pause and rest that the world needed to revive itself- to live and to thrive. This is a valuable lesson- one that we in our generation desperately need more than ever and one that we are invited to participate in every week with Shabbat. I believe that in our current rumble of a flood this lesson of pausing and resting is imperative.
Noah also comes from the world Chen which means grace. In the moment of a flood, although counterintuitive, we ought to internalize a sense of kindness and decency towards one another. Our text is teaching us that in order to survive the flood, we must do our best to move through the world with compassion and love. This is challenging, especially amidst such a challenge as this week, but it seems that even in a flood there is an excellent power in leaning into our graceful selves.
The third lesson departs from our tale slightly. Noa is the female version of Noah and instead of meaning pause and rest, it means movement or motion. I wonder what our story might be if Noah was Noa? Would she have taken more people on the ark? Asked God not to open the floodgates? Would she have resisted? Would she have tried to change the course of action? Would the men in her life have listened? There is another character in our Torah named Noa. She is one of the daughters of Zelophehad in the Book of Numbers. Noa and her sisters bravely ban together to demand their equal allowance after their father’s death, essentially demanding equal rights for women. Noa represents the movement we must cultivate to battle our flood bearing world- as it is not enough to rest and to pause, but actually to rest and break while moving forward with courage.
There is a sense of distance between divine presence and the world in this story and so amidst my internal strife of our current society, I sought out someway to see where God might have been. There is a beautiful story in just last weeks Parsha where God clothed Adam and Eve after banishing them from the Garden of Eden when they are mostly broken and vulnerable, with garments of skin. Legend has it, however, that what God clothed them with are garments of light- both words are “Or” but spelled differently and with the flip of a letter, the meaning is entirely new. The tradition shares that these garments of light were passed down from generation to generation and Noah and his family had these garments of bright light on their ark protecting them, making them feel safe and warm and loved.
At a moment when the floodgates are nearly bursting open and we are beset with considerable uncertainty, we are tasked to learn from our parashah. We must take note of how to rest, to resist, do so with grace and to also see the garments of light that are surely in our world ready to protect us. Our generation is tasked to envelop ourselves in this light- to feel it’s comfort while doing our best to navigate the potential flood. Perhaps if we do this, we will avoid destruction and rewrite new ending; one that we cannot even imagine- maybe even a world with Noa leading us to try to contain the destruction while paving a way for a brave new world. After all, it is about time.