I listened to the Torah being read earlier today. It was the second portion in the Torah: Noah. It is interesting that this is probably the most often told and illustrated Torah story in children’s books. Perhaps that is because of something we sense about children’s natural affinity to animals and/or their intuitive sense of the connectedness between us and them, between our fate and theirs. Perhaps there are also other reasons…
In any case, as I listened to the story again today, some beautiful imagery came to me. First, there was this beautiful way in which the ark was readied to be sent off on its journey: After Noah assembled his family inside, “They came to Noah into the Ark, two by two of all flesh in which there was a breath of life. Thus they that came, came male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him. And God shut it on his behalf.”
If I try to see this from Noah’s point of view, what I see is the total destruction of his world, but also safe passage (along with other designated passengers) to a new world somehow cleansed of the ills that led to the destruction of the first one. We know that the new world which all of the Ark’s passengers eventually reach is different because God tells us explicitly of the new, cleansed world, “I will never again strike down all life as I have just done. Continuously, all the days of the earth, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” So in the new world, balance has been restored and this will continue, without interruption.
Seen from Noah’s point of view (as I imagine it), the entire sequence of events seems like an analogy for life, death, and continuation. In this analogy, the destruction of Noah’s world is like a person’s death. The animals that accompany Noah represent a person’s deeds while he was alive. (In this analogy, the matched pair of male and female creatures perhaps represent, respectively, the revealed and concealed aspects of a person's actions.) These come to him, along with his family. God then seals the Ark door shut to provide safe passage to the future, insulating all within from the destruction all around. After the necessary cleansing is complete, all aboard go out into the new world to live on. So, in my analogy, the person who has died has his deeds and his family live on in a world that will continue and not be destroyed. What I’m saying is the person dies, but his deeds live on and he lives on through them. (Noah also reached the new world alive.)
This is consonant with an idea expressed by Thich Naht Hahn in his book “Fear - Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm” (a subtitle well-suited to this topic!):
- “Think of a plum tree. In each plum on the tree there is a pit. That pit contains the plum tree and all previous generations of plum trees…Inside the pit is an intelligence, a wisdom that knows how to become a plum tree…It cannot do this on its own. It can do this only because it has received the experience and adaptations of so many generations of ancestors. You are the same. You possess the wisdom and intelligence to become a full human being because you have inherited an eternity of wisdom, not only from your blood ancestors but from your spiritual ancestors too.”
Might this be another reason that children are so naturally drawn to the story of Noah and the Ark? When a child is born, she is pure inheritance, with no other element. As time goes on, we become amalgams of our nurturing, the world around us, and how we react to all of that. The birthing process is also a destruction of a watery world in favor of another, with more light, more challenges, and one which will require much more effort. After some time, children begin to feel more at home in the new world, but they are still (relatively) close to their own experience of transition from world to world - from whatever world they inhabited prior to conception, to the “Ark” of their mother’s womb, to this world, which we all currently share. So maybe the story of Noah and the Ark resonates more with them.
We are the continuation of what came before us. But we also have our own mission here. And then, when that is done, we will pass on all that we have given and all that we have become to the future generations. None of it is lost. All of it survives, in a new place, and in a new form.
After God says he will not destroy all life again, He then guarantees this decree with a sign: The rainbow, a beautiful expression itself of harmony and balance in the world. Light is broken out into its component parts and spread out against the heavens. We are made up of many colors that have come through many storms. They are there so that they can shine in this world. And the next.
Pass it on.