Stephanie D. Kolin | November 4, 2016
Noah lifts the cover from the ark for the first time in months. He blinks in the glare of the sunlight, feels it warm his cheeks in a way he didn’t realize how much he missed. He breathes deeply – maybe this whole mess is finally over. Maybe the terror of the flood really is behind them now. He takes a step off the ark – he’s so wobbly, on his sea legs. He drops to his knees – it’s been so long since the world stood still for him. Everyone is gone, but his family and those animals that boarded the ark with him when this all began. There is death all around him. There’s a rainbow in the sky and his God is promising that this will never happen again, but Noah is exhausted and overwhelmed and broken. It’s been a long bunch of months.
So what now?, he must have wondered. Do we just start over? Pretend it never happened? How do we relate to one another, we survivors? Do we forget everyone and everything from before? Who will we be now ... after the flood?
Sometimes this Torah portion affords us the joy of singing about the floody floody, but sometimes, we are gripped by the realization that this is a story of profound trauma. And that Noah and his family go through something that cracked his world wide open, that created rifts in the land and in his heart. And now he needs to figure out what he’s going to do.
The past many months for our country have been very painful. No matter who you are voting for, or rooting for, we have witnessed waves of hatred and deep discord. What happens on November 8th is, of course, critically important. But perhaps more so, is what happens on November 9th. For Noah, in the days after the Flood, there was devastation all around him. The land destroyed, his heart broken.
We, too, have unearthed deep cracks in our foundation which were previously in the shadows, but now live out here in the light of day. And, like Noah, out of our trauma, we also need to figure out – what do we do now?
What should we do with the crack out of which has emerged a great fracture between people – between people of color and white folks, between the wealthy and the poor, between immigrants and born citizens, between those in the middle of our country and those on the coasts? Laid bare, these fractures seethe with anger, suspicion, and blame for the ills of our society.
And what should we do with the crack that has revealed the ubiquitous nature of sexual assault on women and girls who have more and more begun to find the strength to come forward and talk about their experiences?
And what should we do with the crack that revealed unmitigated hate once hidden by the anonymity of the internet – Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia – now appearing as acceptable mainstream speech.
November 8th is a big day, but November 9th, after the flood, we have to decide who we will be as people of faith and what we will do, what should we do, about these cracks that have been revealed.
Our text says: vayachel Noach ish ha’adamah, vayita karem – Noah, a man of the land, began to plant a vineyard. After the flood, Noah plants. He sows his seeds and puts the shoots of the grapevine into the earth. He uses the barrenness to create something beautiful. He doesn’t cover over it, or run from it, or stamp it out – he waters it, nurtures it, and tries to make something grow from it.
If our text stopped there, we’d have a beautiful packaged answer. But it doesn’t, and we don’t. The very next verse says: vayesht min hayayin vayishkar. Noah drank of the wine from his vineyard and became drunk. It goes on to describe a Noah who, in the trauma of his experience, drinks himself into a stupor so he can forget it all. Here, he does run from it, paints over the cracks, tries to escape from all the ugliness that has been unearthed.
And so our tradition offers us two paths for how to be after the flood.
We could drown out the pains that have come to light. Let the media cycles run out and go dark. Because we know they will. They always do. We could let that which was once in the shadows return there and pretend that the rifts between people were a passing dilemma – drink from our vineyards until we also forget.
OR… we can acknowledge the cracks that have emerged and admit that we have deep fractures in our society. We could take our trauma and the discord between people, and plant something there. Till it. Tend it. Heal it. Not pretend it never happened.
For the ire that has emerged between people who will vote differently in just a few days – instead of turning away – we can decide to see one another. As hard or unlikely as this sounds, imagine what it would be like to ask, with curiosity and compassion, why they believe what they believe or what has been the experience or hurt or fear that has shaped them. To listen as best we can – and then to share our own answer to that question. For the women in our lives, we can honor their bravery by believing their stories, and not allowing sexual assault to lurk in the shadows anymore. For the destructive hate that has emerged – we can deny it a microphone wherever we here such vile language or action legitimized.
By the end of November 8th, there will be winners and losers, people who look joyfully with hope to our future and people who feel our new president will make decisions that will directly hurt their family. There is deep healing that needs to be done and November 9th will be a defining moment of our nation’s character for many generations to come.
May the vineyard we plant lead us toward a wine that sanctifies rather than causes us to forget. May our actions acknowledge rupture and address it with love, patience, and empathy. May we commit to being repairers of the breaches that have emerged. And may we choose a path toward healing, as we step off the ark with dignity and courage.
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