Parashah Ponderings

Thank God for the Ark

Parashat Noach / פרשת נח
Torah Portion: Genesis 6:9 – 11:32

All the fountains of the great deep burst apart,
And the floodgates of the sky broke open.
Genesis: 7:11

This past Memorial Day my family’s apartment in Houston got flooded. Four months later and well-settled into a second floor apartment in the same complex, rain water started to come into our house from the ceiling! In May, “the fountains of the great deep” had burst apart, causing water to rise in our home from the floor up. In September, “the floodgates of the sky broke open,” and the waters came in from on high. Oy!

The analogy of our misfortune to Noah’s flood is, I admit, imperfect. There can be no comparing our loss of property to the destruction of all humanity, save one family. To equate the two would be crass. Rather, I am struck simply by the idea that in both the Noah story and in our experience, destruction seemed to come from both above and below: what an appropriate metaphor for those times when so much seems to go wrong.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who hasn’t on occasion had to face more hardship than one person should have to handle. Thus, the old saying: “God doesn’t give us more than we can bear.” That saying may feel true for most people, but to victims of the Shoah or the Inquisition or the Crusades or severe depression or terminal illness, nothing could be further from the truth. For many, catastrophe in extreme measure is too much to bear, and the suggestion that God causes such suffering is obscene.

Theological issues and unbearable suffering aside, however, there is much we can learn from the Noah story about dealing with life’s painful contingencies.

God gave Noah notice that God would send a flood that would wipe out all of creation. With that notice, God also instructed Noah to build an ark so that he and his family and the remnants of the animal kingdom that accompanied them on board could survive and repopulate the world once the waters subsided. In the end, Noah was well-equipped to survive the deluge.

It’s important to note that it was Noah who built the ark, not God. Noah was commanded by God, or perhaps, inspired by God, to build the ark. But it was Noah who created the means for his own survival. That is a crucial point.

Many times in our lives, we are Noah. We are faced with misery akin to 40 days of rain and over 300 days cooped up in an ark with loud, smelly livestock, birds, and other creatures. We just want to the misery to end, but we are blessed to have the means to ride out the storm.

We all have our own arks. They are the networks of friends and family that support us. They are the diversions that take our mind off our concerns. They are the inner reserves we’ve cultivated to take what life doles out without breaking under the weight. If we’re smart, we’ve spent a lifetime building our arks before the crises hit, not knowing, of course, when they will hit.

True, not everyone has a support network or diversions or even the inner reserves. To them, we offer our prayers. At the very least, they can take solace knowing they live in a world where someone remembers that people suffer immensely, who don’t have an ark to shelter them. Let’s not forget them. Let’s be their ark.

As we read about the tragedy that befalls early humankind, as we imagine flood waters rising from below and rain falling ceaselessly from the heavens, we imagine ourselves aboard the ark, an ark that we built with our own hands. Let us take pride in our craftsmanship and be grateful to God for all the resources at our disposal — people and things and our own internal gifts – that make up the ark, in which we weather life’s storms.