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How Do We Start Anew?

10/05/2021 03:22:28 PM


Rabbi Sam Trief

This week, we read one of the most well-known Torah Portions of all, the story of Noah’s Ark. This torah portion’s iconic images are hung on nursery walls, depicted on stained glass windows, and are framed in museums,  all across the world. The story of Noah is one that I think about all the time, so much so that we chose the name “Noah” as Rafi’s middle name. 

While there are many powerful parts of this story, the one that is most striking to me is the unfathomable experience Noah had to endure. According to the story, on the seventeenth day of the second month...Rain fell for forty days and forty nights and the water covering the earth rose higher and higher. Every living thing died. Amid this terrible scene of ruin and devastation, a lone ark floated Noah and his many diverse companions to safety.

Wasn’t he scared? Wasn’t he bored? What did he do as the days trickled by? How did he cope with all this? Seems pretty traumatic, if you ask me.

As we study the portion, we learn that Noah and his children prayed constantly, and at last, the rain stopped. Gradually the water subsided, and on the first day of the tenth month, the peaks of the mountains could be seen again. 

Each year I read the story of Noah anew and apply its rich lessons to my life. What interests me this year is not the disaster itself, but rather what comes after the disaster? How do we handle the aftermath of traumatic events in our life?  And who can we lean on and turn to help us when the storms we are confronted with “blow over” and we are left to start anew?

The generations before the flood had been interested only in themselves; each one lived as an island, only in it for him or herself alone; they used violence and deceit against their weaker neighbors. In doing so, they sealed their own fate. 

Initially, this new post-flood generation, however, was different. The individual was not out for herself but rather for the greater good of the community. It was a constructive path on which they found themselves, things were going well - and had they kept driving in this direction - all might have remained well. But they overdid it - they became arrogant and proud. 

And thus they stood when they arrived at the second great construction project of this parshah, building the Tower of Babel. Standing upright, able to speak the same language as everyone else, they decided to build a tower which was to reach the heavens, and encroach on God’s territory. They wanted to make themselves equal to God. 

Upset with their arrogance, God confounded their ability to understand one another. God confused them by splitting them up into seventy different nations and tribes, each with a language of its own. 

The grand project of the Tower of Babel failed. Their plans thwarted, their ambitions frustrated, the various groups migrated away and settled in the four corners of the Earth. The Tower itself was partially burned and swallowed by the earth. 

We apply these lessons internally and we ask the question: what are we going to do when the metaphorical “floods'' of our lives are over? If we look at the pandemic:  how will we internalize the lessons learned during this Pandemic, and apply them to our future selves, to future generations? Will we become selfish and arrogant like the generations after the flood? Or will we work to heal, learn and grow. As we think about the storms we are confronted within our own lives, whether our storm ends at day 375 or shorter or longer, we ask the question: What did I learn from all this? 

Never has the lesson of the Tower of Babel been more relevant to us than it is now. We, too, will be a generation struggling to make sense of loss and destruction. I pray that we do not repeat the mistakes of the builders of Babel. Rebuild we must, but our objectives need not be in vain.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wed, December 1 2021 27 Kislev 5782