Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
There was no ark and no one chosen to survive the flood that devastated New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The heavy toll on life, livelihood and wellbeing came with no voice from Heaven. And no rainbow appeared afterward, promising that such terror would never be revisited. The flood was not the “Waters of Noah.”
But as we commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the storm that tore through so many lives, I think now about these very words that were read last week from the prophet Isaiah
“For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that no more will I so rebuke you in anger”
The Sages ask why the flood waters were named for Noah. Weren’t they G*d’s? Their answer seems incredible: Because Noah did not try to save the world, the waters bear his name! How could Noah have done anything to stop a flood? But the Sages’ answer goes to the heart of the fragile mystery of what it means to stand in the face of the deadly force of nature: On one hand, we are powerless, terrified, reduced to being no more able to resist than anything else that stands in the way of the storm’s wrath. On the other hand, however, human beings can respond to disaster with profound responsibility and a deep well of kindness.
The mystical Zohar teaches that Noah indeed was upset that G*d had chosen to undo Creation even though he and his family were to be saved. After the flood, he offered a sweet aroma of sacrifice but also, according to this version, a formal protest. But G*d asks where was this passionate defense before the flood? Why did Noah remain silent and just build for himself the ark, if he was so moved against G*d’s plan? Ultimately, while Noah may not have been able to save the world, his silence is his culpability and thus, the waters are called “The Waters of Noah.” Still, even after the fact his protest to G*d is regarded as “a sweeter aroma than the sacrifice itself.”
For us, 10 years after the waters have subsided, may we both respect the power that is beyond our ability to resist and own the responsibility to make sure that we are never silent, never inactive, never complacent in the face of the Waters of Noah.
Pronounced: ark, Origin: English, the place in the synagogue where the Torah scrolls are stored, also known as the aron kodesh, or holy cabinet.