(singing) God said to Noah, we’re going to build an arky arky God said to Noah we’re going to build an arky arky. Build it out of gopher barky barky, Children of the Lord.
The story of Noah and Noah’s ark is a beloved fable. In Hebrew Schools across the world, children draw pictures of Noah, make animal cookies and sing about the flood, the rainbow and the dove. This parsha is a fun story of adventure and excitement. It's a perfect children's story.
But wait a minute … God destroys the world, killing every single human being except for Noah and his family. Additionally, God kills every animal except for those on the ark and the fish in the sea. And what does Noah do upon finally reaching dry land 40 days after the onset of the storm? Noah … well, he gets drunk.
As we look for relevant teaching in this story, we have to look at the etymology of Noah's name. Noach means comfort or rest. 10 generations after God creates Adam and Eve, God creates Noah and his family. A familiar teaching suggests that Noah brings comfort to us because he followed God's instructions so that he could start humanity 2.0. Noah is our father.
Let's talk about comfort for a bit. Comfort is good, right? We want the air in the sanctuary to be at just the right temperature. Is it too cold right now?
We like nice hotels, relaxing vacations, massages, pedicures, manicures. We want big-screen TV's and the latest smartphones. We crave convenience and instant gratification. But amongst all of this, is it possible that there can be too much comfort? Judaism teaches that comfort is a neighbor to apathy.
God tells Noah, Build a boat. Because out of every human being on the entire planet, I’m only saving you, your wife and your children. And how does Noah respond to God?
Noah doesn't wonder why God is destroying the world. Noah expresses no regret for the unfathomable loss of life. Noah simply builds his ark according to God's specifications.
The Torah uses Abraham as a huge contrast to Noah: Because ten generations after Noah, God informs Abraham that God is going to wipe out the cities of Sodom and Gemmorah. And instead of simply saying, Ok, Abraham argues with God!
But here we have Noah, relaxing with the knowledge that he will be safe from God's wrath. Noah rests. Noah rests comfortably in the safe confines of his arky army.
Noah has much to teach us. Noah was quiet when pervasive turmoil surrounded him. He sheltered himself from it. He was silent. He was complacent. He was Noach, comfortable. Too comfortable. As a matter of fact, I think that the Torah's authors do not want us to look favorably upon Noah. The very first verse of the passage gives us a hint, when we are taught that Noah was a righteous man in his generation. We don't hear that Noah was a righteous man. The text needs to be amended with the caveat that he was a righteous man, but only in his generation. The rest of humanity was so bad, that Noah could only be considered righteous in his age. The symmetry between Adam, Noah and Abraham is telling. Noah rests, Abraham acts. It's no wonder that Abraham was the first Jew.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be part of a college class on diversity. I was part of a panel that consisted of a Zen Buddhist, a Muslim and myself. One poignant question asked us to reflect on the role of suffering in our respective religions. I mentioned that Judaism does not try to eliminate suffering from our lives: When a new home is built, one is supposed to leave a corner of a room unfinished to remember the Temple's Destruction. When the groom steps on the glass at a wedding ceremony, we remember the brokenness of the world. During our celebratory Passover seder, we purposefully call to mind the bitterness of the slaves as well as the suffering of the Egyptians. No, we are a tradition that does not shy away from pain. A professor mine often remarked: Comfort is not a Jewish value.
As Genesis moves from Noah to Abraham, we learn that a holy life is not one of comfort, but one of meaning. We should not yearn for a life of bliss, but rather a life of responsibility.
Noah teaches us that when we build an ark, we must get everyone aboard. Only then can we be comfortable. But until that time, let us have the strength to swim in the storming seas rather than sheltering ourselves from their waves. Our lives lie not in the safety of the ensconced ark. We are truly alive only when we eschew some comfort and dive head first into the unpredictable waters of our lives.