This week we return to Noah, that righteous man of his generation, which, given what was about to happen to his generation, may not be saying much! The story of Noah and the Ark, so famous to all of us, contains a wealth of interesting images and ideas. After all, is God admitting that God made a mistake in creating mankind? And if so, weren’t we taught that God is beyond mistakes? And it seems that, with the rainbow, God decides that these creations may be better off left to their own devices!
For history buffs, of course, this portion of Torah is rich. The Sumerian myth of Gilgamesh that predates our story, contains many similarities to our tale; from the building of a boat, to the sending of birds to the offering of a sacrifice to gods as the waters recede. Indeed, other Biblical scholars have noted that so many cultures have some sort of primordial flood story that carries with it similar themes as Genesis. It is a rich mine of history and interpretation.
For our generation, however, the thought occurred to me that this story can also be about second chances. One of my students in our weekly Torah class remarked on just this point. It seems, she said, that this is about “second chances”. She was not bothered about God’s changing of mind. Rather, said this student, it seemed to her that a lesson was that we are often offered a second chance at life.
Think about that. The symbolism of the Ark, the idea that, at certain times in life, we need to gather our resources, our strengths and courage and “sail” through troubled waters in the hope that we can land in a new and safe spot. And we often say, “thank God”. It may be a disease, or a life change such as divorce or death, a risk we take in changing jobs of careers; all of which involve a type of faith. Could our portion of this week, Noah, be really about that challenge of knowing that we always have the choice of change? Could it be telling us that we need to be open to the “new” and that , if we choose to see it, we often have a second chance at changing who we are and how we see the world?
If life is filled with second chances, if we can learn from our past experiences, we can continue to evolve grow and celebrate our own voyage of life. It takes faith, faith in our self and faith in a future. Are we all, in our own way, Noah?
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.