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October 23, 2020
5 Cheshvan 5781
Parashat Noach
Genesis 6:9 - 11:32

Dear Friends,

Here we are at Parshat Noah, the second parsha of the Torah.  In this parsha, Noah builds an ark in response to the world in chaos, filled with what we are told are people behaving badly. We are never told what that means exactly, which leaves a great deal of room for our imaginations. Noah manages to survive along with his immediate family tucked away on an enormous ark filled with animals of every kind. Although Noah is characterized as a righteous man, we never hear of him interacting with anyone around him besides his family and God. Noah is a man, using our current lens, who creates a pod and never really goes beyond it.

When the pandemic began, I looked to this story as a way of getting through our experience. Looking back, my approach was incremental, first looking at the days when there was torrential rain, then looking at when the rain ceased. But it was not until this week that I carefully examined how many days that Noah and company were on the ark in total. They were on the ark for a year -- 370 days if we are to go by a lunar calendar.

We all know that this is a story about an event that probably happened in Mesopotamia long before the Torah was composed. So why get into the length of time that they were on the ark? How can it be a source of support for us during these most challenging of days? When looking at this story, aside from Noah’s behavior while building the ark, what comes through is a sense of hope for the future. The rainbow at the end of the story (when they finally get off the ark) is a sign that for the world to function we all have to be in this together. It is a lesson that both Noah and God learn.

There are an unbelievable number of children’s books written about this story. Some approach it at a very basic level; others teach important values through it. It is striking how this story provides such a potent gateway to teaching core values, when they are not immediately obvious in the text.

A recent favorite of mine is called “Naamah and the Ark at Night." It tells the story of how Mrs. Noah, named as Naamah (pleasant) in the book (but nameless in the Torah), spends her time singing to all the passengers on the ark to bring them comfort. It is a lovely book and highlights how music and kindness are a healing combination when one is stressed and fearful. It is a beautiful midrash. 

In thinking about where we are in the course of the journey we are on, this story about music and caring for others struck me as a tale about the things that make our community so powerful -- quiet acts of kindness and caring and the way in which music is a source of comfort and joy. May we all continue to be a source of comfort and music from the soul for one another as we wait for the doors of the ark to open and the real work to begin.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, April 13 2021 1 Iyyar 5781