“After the Flood” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings
Friday, October 8, 2021
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we draw near to Shabbat.
The person of Noah we meet before the flood in this week’s Torah portion is a different person after the flood has ended when Noah can finally walk on dry land. What happened?
Thus they…entered…as God had commanded him. And God shut him in.
Aviva Zornberg calls it “an ambiguous slam of the door, protecting, imprisoning. Claustrophobia sets in…all flesh enclosed with Noah for 12 months…But how does Noah deal with claustrophobia?” (pg. 63, Beginning of Desire)
Noah is the primary caretaker who must keep all the contents of the ark alive for there to be survival on earth. It is an awesome responsibility and a great burden to carry.
And while he was shut in the ark, with the water rising even above the highest mountain beneath
…all flesh that stirred on earth perished—birds, cattle, beasts, and all the things that swarmed upon the earth, and all humankind. All in whose nostrils was the merest breath of life, all that was on dry land, died. All existence on earth was blotted out—humans, cattle, creeping things, and birds of the sky; they were blotted out from the earth.
Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. (Gen. 7:16-24)
We don’t need to have lived then to imagine the traumatic and stressful experience of the death and destruction Noah had to confront all the while caring for the needs of those shut in with him.
When Noah emerged with his sons from the ark, Noah turned to the ground beneath him.
Noah, the tiller of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.
Notice that he did not plant seeds for food but rather for wine. Why?
He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.
Many commentators note that the psychological trauma and stress led him to this place of self-destruction and loathing. His family was in turmoil. (Gen. 9: 18-24)
We don’t need to harken back to ancient times to witness the impact of threats to our physical wellbeing. We actually don’t need the mythic stories to know the shock and sadness of losing a multitude of souls to a disaster or being shut in. Depression and anxiety are a predictable presence for so many.
But we do need this narrative in the Torah to remind us and to stir us to attention that the mental suffering and anguish after a disaster like a flood or a never ending pandemic is real.
And like this story, the presence of kindness and compassion of caring for another is one way we can move forward together.
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