Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Noach
Many of us know the old saying, “When doors close, windows open.” We usually think about this phrase as we face/battle with some trauma or “closure” in life: losing family or friends, losing a job or financial insecurity, battling an illness, etc. Amidst pain, loss, or quandary, we look for hope. I would argue that we are prisoners of hope. If there is a way to change the baggage of what is into something better, people of faith have a built-in DNA link enabling us to do just that. It’s part of our story; resiliency and faith.
Our sacred texts teem with examples depicting the “phoenix rising out of the ashes,” and we accept, as a default, that there will be a tomorrow. Even in a conversation of the Messianic Age, we teach that the Messiah covenants on Tisha B’Av, the day when the worst destructions in Jewish history took place. Years apart, but on the same day, enemies destroyed both Jerusalem Temples, the edicts expelling Jews from England and Spain, and NAZI Germany’s announcement of their “final solution.” For thousands of years, the Rabbis teach that it will also be on this day that we will witness the birth of the “Age of Peace.” Even as the world is crashing around us, we still have a window that breaks through the horrors that give us a glimmer of hope.
Shabbat serves the same purpose. Even as the world gets crazier around us, as hate-mongering fills the news, we get a respite every seven days. As Rabbi Heschel put it, Shabbat is a day to stop pursuing things and start appreciating being. We have always seen Shabbat as a taste of the world of peace to come. It is a window that lets us see past the everyday mess.
This week, we see another such teaching in the story of Noah. The world has gone horribly astray from our intended kind ways. The Torah does not tell us precisely what we did, but it must have been awful. God plans to destroy the earth and start over again. Whether or not this act would be Godly is for another conversation. For now, we accept that the decision for destruction … is.
God doesn’t want to destroy everything, though. God wants to maintain building blocks on which to effect re-creation. So, God speaks to the best of the horrible generation, a man named Noah. Noah ish tzaddik tamim b’dorotov – Noah was a righteous man, the best of his generation.” Of course, the best of an age that deserves destruction is not much of an endorsement.
God instructs him to build an ark. Rain will fall for 40 days and nights, flooding the earth. Noah will fill the ark with his family and a sampling of animals and seal the ark until the floodwaters recede. Well, seal the ark, except for God’s mandate to build a window into the ark wall. Even as the storms ravage the world, destroying all life upon it, Noah gets a glimpse of the outside world. Why? Implicit in God’s instruction is that he will be the first to see the end of the storm, the calming of the waters, the beauty of re-creation, and ultimately, dry land to reinhabit. At that point, Noah knows that there will be a restored tomorrow.
Over almost 35 years as a lawyer, Rabbi, and chaplain, and 61 plus years of life experience, I have lived through and/or heard tomes of stories where grief turned to renewal, nightmare to blessing, and anguish back into joy. The Torah tells us, “Uv’charta b’chayim – Always choose life.” We experience moves to a new area having to start all over again, losing loved ones whose earthly course ended, divorces and separations in business, love, and community, and many other sources of pain that turn our worlds upside down. Faith reminds us that we still have work to do, blessings to share, and blessings to garner in the days moving forward. We wake up the next day and live. For this reason, every day, I remind myself that I am blessed. I pray that in awakening to this realization, we will want to help celebrate each other’s blessings and help those in need. We will not change the world by uttering words of prayer but only in becoming prayer – the prayer that makes real each other’s hope for renewal.