This week’s portion, Noah, contains enough great drama and text to keep us busy for months. In truth, it has continued to occupy commentators for centuries. The symabolism of the stories, from the flood to the concluding story of the Tower of Babel, are rich fields for contemplation. This week, I would like to point out one aspect of the portion that often gets overlooked. The scene takes place in Genesis 9:20-28. Noah, having completed his mission, plants his vineyard and partakes of the fruit. He has just finished this life altering event and he gets drunk and falls asleep. One of his sons sees his dad, who had fallen asleep naked. He tells his brothers and they other two sons take a cloak, back in to the tent where their dad is asleep so as not to see their father’s nakedness.
This rather interesting story harkens to issues of modesty, parent-child relationships and sexual taboos. There is another take on this story that I think relates to what many in our generation have or are going through. This interpretation was the subject of a discussion at a Torah study class I participate in at a local JCC. We turned to this story and looked at the symbolsm of seeing the “nakedness” of one’s parent. What could that mean? It is symbolic, I suggest, of that moment when we are caring for our elderly parent and, perhaps helping them out of a car, or assisting them in walking, that we become aware that they are frail and depending on us, just as we depended on them. This moment can be very profound. It can be a spiritual moment in which we understand, on a primal level, that roles have shifted. This realization can be frightening. It is one of those moments in car-giving that mark a shift in roles and perceptions. It is amoment when the words of the 5th Commandment, to honor and respect our parents, become real.
This nakedness is part of the cycle of life. If we are fortunate enough to experience this moment, it is worthy of a blesssing. It is a moment where we acknowledge this not so subtle transition in realtionships as well as the reality fo mortality. We often rish to “cover it up” because, in many ways, this reality is disturbing. However, we know that it is true. It is another aspect of the “mitzvah” of care-giving, a life stage that now impacts so many of us.
Rabbi Richard F Address