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“How to Build an Ark,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

October 28, 2022 | 3 Cheshvan 5783

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

We are storytellers, all of us, raconteurs of experiences and episode. We tell stories to explain what we understand but also what we don’t understand. Religious traditions are founded on the search for truths buried deep in ancient layers.

Take the story of Noah, which we read this week. From childhood on up, we have been told of the flood, the ark, the animals, the rain, the Divine and the dove, not to mention the rainbow as a sign of the covenant. From Mesopotamia to the Americas to Polynesia and India, the story of a flood has seeped its way into origin and catastrophe myths. They not only intrigue us but also bring comfort as we seek to understand our past and be informed by it.

Often in these tales, there is a character, such as Noah or Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh or Manu the Indian king. They face cataclysmic consequence if they do not react to the devastating news of impending destruction.

In the story in the Torah, the instruction to Noah, has particular significance in its grammatical form. God assessed humanity’s injustice and ordered Noah to build an ark, Aseh lecha teivet, Build for yourself an ark. (Genesis 6:14) In essence, you have to do it yourself, but it won’t be just for yourself!

None of these characters in the flood narratives are passive participants. They become proactive actors in the story of their own and others’ salvation. And yet, they are also recipients to the circumstances in which they lived. Make for yourself an ark or a boat or a ship. It won’t appear by itself.

These are ancient myths projected into the future with a message for all of us, too.

We are often passive recipients to the circumstances in which we live. Injustice, racism, and bigotry float through our streets. In many ways, they are embedded in the DNA of the establishment of our nation from the “three/fifths” compromise at the 1787 Constitutional convention as a ruse by the southern states to increase their power on the backs of their slaves to the method of the quota system for immigration long ago and today to redlining as an unfortunate yet accepted scheme to deny opportunities.

And yet, we are also agents of change. Divine intervention manifests itself through human interaction, a humane proactive direction. Aseh lecha teivet, build for yourself that ark, a container of redemption and salvation. As the rain comes down and the flood waters rise up,  we situate ourselves in that space of opportunity in the middle where we build a world fashioned with justice, kindness, wisdom, knowledge, and love. The place where heaven and earth touch is a place of great holiness.

The world roars with fury caused sometimes by natural cataclysmic events but also surely caused by ignorance, hubris, and unfettered hate. Our ancient stories, sacred myths of insight, carried through time call to all of us to use our strength and courage for good and goodness. We take this calling upon ourselves, held up by one another, to go forth to build that metaphorical ark so that the world we occupy may fill with love, acceptance, and opportunity.

Shabbat Shalom!

  • If you are in town, come join us for indoor Qabbalat Shabbat with plenty of singing, learning, praying, thinking, and some treats to eat and drink. If you’re unable to join onsite, please join on Zoom, on Facebook Live, or stream on our website. Let’s celebrate together.
  • Tot Rock Shabbat gathers online at 5:00 p.m.
  • Riverway Project Shabbat dinner will be held in Somerville at 7:00 p.m. Please register soon because space is limited!
  • A delightful Torah Study begins at 9:00 a.m. onsite and online! We begin with a short service and Torah reading and then jump into a provocative discussion. To join the conversation online interactively, access Zoom. You can also watch on Temple Israel’s website or Facebook page.
  • Gather online for Havdalah at 8:00 p.m. Our weekly Havdalah ritual is a lay-led experience. Stop by, say hello, catch up from the week, and say goodbye to Shabbat together. Join on Zoom.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher