Testing the Waters

Rabbi's Message - October 5, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Noach, is a familiar one.  Dismayed with humankind, God decided to start over.  God instructed Noah and his family to build an ark before God flooded the earth.  With a sampling of each species of animal upon the earth, Noah closed the doors of the ark behind him.  In our minds’ eyes, we can picture the head of the giraffe peaking out of the window at the top of the ark, together with my personal favorite creature, the “yonah,” or dove.  

After much time had passed, Noah sent the dove away from the ark three times to determine whether or not the waters had subsided.  The first time it returned quickly, having found no place to land.  The second time, it returned to Noah with an olive branch, indicating that the waters had decreased.  The third time, the dove did not return, as it was able to make its home on the earth again.

When reading this section last year, I was struck by how patient Noah’s family was.  After the “Stay at Home” orders of 2020, we all had an inkling of what that must have been like - stuck in a limited space with close family and pets for weeks at a time!  We related to the anxiety of not knowing when the world would be habitable again.  

Like Noah, we sent out a dove to “test the waters.” It quickly returned because it wasn’t time yet.  We would need to wait.  Eventually we tried again.  The dove returned with a hopeful twig in its bill.  Cautiously, we prepared ourselves for how different things would be.  Finally, the dove flew away and never returned.  One unsteady foot at a time, we ventured back onto the dry land ready to navigate our new normal.  

Starting over carried a huge weight of responsibility for Noah.  He was a good, decent man, but righteous only in his generation.  With God’s promise never to destroy the world again, Noah and the generations to follow knew they needed to make the best choices they could.  

This story teaches us many important, and relevant, lessons:

  1. Individual choices and behavior greatly impact the lives of others.  Many innocent people were lost in the flood. 
  2. None of us is perfect.  Despite good intentions, we will make mistakes. (And that's okay.)
  3. When we sin, there are consequences for our actions.  We must take responsibility and complete teshuvah.  The rainbow taught us that destroying life is not an acceptable solution.
  4. We are all in this together.  Patience must also guide us in how we relate to others in the proverbial “same boat.” 
  5. It is wise to emerge slowly from a tenuous situation.  Danger does not disappear overnight and weathering the storm takes patience.  Use caution and take things one day at a time.
  6. Don’t lose hope.  The sun will eventually shine and dry the water on our cheeks.

Starting over is hard.  Admitting we make mistakes is sometimes even more difficult.  Can we fully emerge from the boat?  What will happen if we can't find dry land or make the wrong choices moving forward?  Whether you are still testing the waters or have jumped back on land with two feet, give yourself the chance to reflect and explore this new world. Open your mind to fresh perspectives and new possibilities.  

Posted in Featured News, News.