Noah– the pg13 version

Thie KICKS Dvar Torah was written by Rabbi Rachel SIlverman on 10/4/13

Four years ago, when my best friend gave birth to a baby boy, I knew what I had to do. She had already called the mohel. Her mother-in-law already had an order placed with the caterer. And her husband had already confirmed the location of the bris. MY job was to pick up the third in our trio of friends, drive to the Natick iParty, and pick out the perfect decorations for a gorgeous little boy.

We rejected the sports themed paper-goods, as well as the pastel blue ones, because we felt that there was no need to reinforce stereotypes at 8 days old. We hemmed and hawed – clearly this was an important decision!We finally settled on these:

Adorable, no? We bought plates, table clothes, centerpieces, and a few stuffed animals, all in the theme of Noah’s Ark. And then we patted ourselves on the back for having found kid-friendly, educational, Biblical decorations.

Looking back on that decision, I have no idea what we were thinking! Moreover, I have NO IDEA why this is a children’s story!? Here’s a recap of the story, in the adult form, not sugar-coated for kids:

  • The world was corrupt and filled with violence.
  • There was this one man, named Noah, who caught God’s eye. He is described as “righteous for his generation”. I usually read that to mean that everyone else was awful, and he was just bad – but last night, Adam Solomon pointed out how challenging it is to go against the rest of your
  • culture, so perhaps being “righteous in his generation” is actually huge. Either way, no one is saying that he was AMAZING – perhaps he had potential to be great, but he also wasn’t terrible.
  • God tells Noah that He’s going to destroy the world with a flood. God gives Noah instructions for building the ark, for bringing the animals onto it, and for the covenant that God was going to make with Noah afterwards.
  • Without saying a word, Noah does what God tells him to do.
  • And then sits on the ark, with his wife, his sons, his sons’ wives, 2 of every kind of non-Kosher animals, and 7 of every kind of Kosher animals….and waits.
  • He WAITS FOR SEVEN DAYS.
  • And then the flood gates open, literally, and it begins to rain.

It is those 7 days that I want to focus on.

What must it have been like for Noah to know that God was going to destroy the world, that everyone that he knew (outside of his family) was going to die, and to feel powerless to stop it?

As he sat on the boat, surrounded by livestock and extended family, was he questioning God? Wondering if he should try to save some more (any?) people? Thinking about the consequences of listening to a God that killed off an entire world?

The story gives us a few clues to indicate just how traumatic this experience is for Noah. Linguistically, the definite ה before the word מבול – indicates that המבול , THE flood, was not any flood, but a specific event in history. For Noah, The Flood is a marking point of time. There was a generation before the flood and then there are generations after the flood.

Behaviorally, Noah does two things that shed light on his reaction to the trauma. When it is over, his first instinct is to build an offer and make a sacrifice to God. This is a reaction we can relate to. When we’ve come through a traumatic event, we seek out God for reassurance, for comfort, and to offer thanks.

The second thing Noah does is tries to get on with his life. He leaves the ark with a covenant from God, spreads out over the world, begins the process of rebuilding, and plants a vineyard. But getting on with his life is harder than just going through the motions and here is where he stumbles. In modern language, we see him self-medicate his PTSD by drinking the wine he made and getting drunk.

This is no longer a kids story.

The thing is, I don’t fault Noah one little bit for getting drunk. He has witnessed far more than anyone should ever have to experience. He watched the world destroyed and was helpless to do anything about it.

And we’ve turned it into a kids story about animals and boats.

I’d like to offer a few thoughts on why we’ve done that. It tells us a lot about human nature, our collective historical response to tragedy, and our deep need to not make God into a villain.

We sanitize this story because we’ve just come off of the High Holy Days. Today is Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan. We’ve spent the past 2 months getting closer and closer to God. The Talmud tell us that we celebrate Shmini Atzeret because God said, “ קשה פרידתכם עלי ’ – your leaving is difficult for Me.” We elongate our leaving the holiday period because it is hard to leave God. It is hard to leave this closeness that we feel with God.

And then here we are, faced with a story of God’s greatest act of distancing from humanity. It’s hard to handle, so we ignore the challenging parts and focus on the cuteness that is a boat full of animal pairs.

I want to leave you with the question of what we can learn from not sugar-coating and sanitizing the story. Over the course of the next few months, we’re going to watch God change and grow throughout our weekly Torah portions. God is not going to destroy the world again, and is, in fact, going to grow into a different God than the one we see in the Noah story.

If we allow ourselves to live with the discomfort of God’s behavior in this story, we also allow ourselves the possibility to grow and change ourselves. And THAT is the kind of challenge that we need coming off of our holiday season.

Shabbat Shalom.

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