Many of us have read the story of Noah and the Flood. In Genesis Chapter 8, we read that there was a flood, Noah built an ark, Noah took the animals two by two alongside his family into the ark and then there was a flood that decimated the city. While this series of events unfolds, seldom do we pay close attention to how the story ends.
We make the assumption that Noah was looking for land to get off the ark, but is that assumption correct? At the end of the story, we read in Genesis Chapter 8, verse 15, that God tells Noah to “Come out of the ark, together with your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives.” Why does God have to tell Noah to get out of the ark? Why doesn’t he just leave? You would think after 40 days and 40 nights with the same people, food, nightly rituals, that for Noah, it would have been enough (dayenu).
When this pandemic is all said and done, are we going to willingly “get off the ark” and re-enter the world that we once knew? In the past year, our lives were upended, and for many, this has not subsided. We are confined to our “arks,” restricted from many activities we enjoyed. Many people have and still are suffering immense pain and loss. This experience has changed us.
In my ark, I have learned that I no longer view settings in which human interactions occur in a binary manner, in which in-person experiences are “good” and online experiences are “bad.” Rather, I think about which platforms provide us “opportunities” and which ones offer “challenges.” In my ark, I have learned to adopt a family-centered approach—no longer prioritizing lavish parties or Broadway shows. I put my family’s health and needs first. In my ark, I have found time to think not just about what show to watch next, but to ponder life’s big questions: Who am I? How can I make a difference in this world? In my ark, I have given familiar words a new meaning. I define “traveling” as a walk to the bakery, “adventure” as talking with an old friend I haven’t spoken to in years, and “community” as a chevruta (Jewish study partner) learning session over Zoom.
When it is finally time to leave and re-enter society, will we be ready? At this moment, it might be easy to say yes; yearning for a hug from a loved one and witnessing a live concert among thousands of other people might be some of the experiences we crave. I wonder if these moments will feel the same once we leave our respective arks. Will the only way to show appreciation for a musical artist be to physically show up for them in a crowded arena? Will we still need a hug from someone to know how much we are loved by them? If the answer is “no” to such questions, then maybe it’s more than our preferences that have changed, it’s our values.
Noah is not ready to disembark even when he sees that the land is dry and plants are growing. These symbols of renewal give us hope for a future that feels bright, and yet, Noah remains tethered to his newfound place of comfort. When we are experiencing our own symbols of renewal that could come in the form of a vaccine or herd immunity (and, some could argue, plain old sunshine), will we be bold enough to enter a changed world? I wonder if the anxiety of leaving will overwhelm us, or the death and destruction we witnessed will discourage us from re-entering society.
This time in the ark has been exhausting, unfamiliar and foreign at times because it has forced us into a deeper relationship with ourselves. Before this experience, I would have been the first person to tell you that I know myself, my quirks, and, most importantly, the qualities I strive to embody. My time in the ark has tested my patience, and at times even my sanity, but has also revealed qualities I now deem essential to the person I want to become. Instead of eyeing perfection, I strive to be more nimble; instead of silencing emotions, I find time and space to acknowledge and explore them. I am learning to deploy empathy, center gratitude and institute rest as part of my daily routine. These qualities we have learned are the same ones that we will need to walk off the ark. As we look towards the future, may we not wait for God to call us outside, but find the strength to leave on our own with courage, dignity and renewed spirit.
Jodie Goldberg is a teen-engagement consultant at The Jewish Education Project. She holds a dual master’s degree in Jewish education and Hebrew Bible from the Jewish Theological Seminary.