Yom Rivii, 18 Elul 5779
Wednesday, 18 September 2019
Parashat Noach 2013

Parashat Noach
Rabbi Tanya Sakhnovich

4 October 2013

Last weekend on the way back from our trip to Liverpool my car broke down. The second person I spoke to from the breakdown company was friendly and ·empathetic. He asked me how many people were in the car. I said two adults and a child - and after a few moments hesitation added “and a dog and a guinea-pig”.· Rob, the man on the other end of the phone responded with a laugh saying: “Is it like a Noah’s Ark or something.”· I repeated his question and we all in the car burst out laughing. It did feel a bit like a Noah’s Ark as we got stuck on the A50 with no lights, surrounded by darkness and rain.

The important differences between us and the inhabitants of Noah’s Ark were the waiting time (only 1 hour for us -Hooray) and the size of the premises - did the Ark also feel· too small a place at times to it’s inhabitants?! We also were lucky with the glass windows in the car so we could see the lights of the passing cars.

Did Noah’s Ark have windows? It must have had some sort of windows, or holes, but I am not entirely sure. Richard Friedman in his commentaries on the Torah says that according to the measurements given for it in the text the Ark is rectangular, a box. The only other place in the Torah where the Hebrew word tevah is used is to identify the box in which the baby Moses is placed by his mother in Exodus 2:3.

So, Noah’s Ark is a box, which floats on water.· I’m not sure I would like to swap places with either Noah or with any of the occupants of the box. Can you imagine being bottled in such a vessel?! · Just imagine casting about in the waters without any control over their fate, humans and animals together, utterly helpless. · No flood breakdown team to come to their rescue, not a single living creature - just water everywhere and “this helpless box of life tossed about in a violent universe that is breaking at its seams.”

Noah is an ordinary man, who was chosen by God for being tzaddik and tamim –virtuous and unblemished “in his generations.” Many of the Torah commentators tried to expand on Noah’s virtues as it is puzzling how such a virtuous man accepted God’s will for the destruction of the whole of humanity without even trying to challenge God’s decision, as did both Abraham in the episode of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:23-32) and Moses in the account of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:31-32). Perhaps Noah was chosen not for his sense of social justice, which is so important to us Liberal Jews, but for other important aspects of his character.

It may be that patience and faith were two of Noah’s most important virtues.

Did Noah ever wonder whether the waters would ever sink? Did he ever fear that God would forget him and all the occupants, human and animal? How did it feel to be enclosed in the floating and vulnerable box at the moment of the biggest cosmic disaster?·

One might wonder how the occupants coped with the sense of uncertainty, not knowing when the end of their confinement would come.

However, the box - or the “Ark” as we call it - was the safest, in fact the only safe, place for these few survivors of the Flood, who waited with patience and faith until the very moment when the dove would return with the freshly plucked olive branch in her beak.

It is not easy for any of us to be closed in a box, waiting while our world is stormed by catastrophe or setback, whether it is a flood of a relationship broken, a job lost, a book unwritten, an essay unfinished, a goal not achieved.

But with patience and faith we will reach the dry land.