How many of us have experienced times when things we created or desired were upended or destroyed through calamity or nefarious forces? Think for a moment how that felt. Then imagine the Creator’s experience knowing that the “good” world (yetzer ha tov) introduced in B’reishit was corrupted by “evil” (yetzer ha ra) forces in the form of aberrant human behavior.
Some Torah commentators have reflected upon God’s disappointment and anger expressed within a transactional relationship between God and disobedient human beings.
But what if God were in pain? What if that pain were unbearable? God would cry more than a river. It would be enough to generate a deluge. This deluge of tears would purify the contaminated world and create a new and improved order of things.
Here a second creation story will be revealed along with the promise of new beginnings.
If you don’t like the painting you created, you paint over it or begin again on a new surface. You don’t like aspects of your job so you find another one. You have a conflict with a friend and you “unfriend” them. There are some circumstances where we have control of outcomes.
However, there are other circumstances where we are forced into a mode of re-creation that we do not want. That can be especially challenging. Fires, hurricanes, COVID-19 and other forms of chaos are among us. Their unwelcome repercussions have infiltrated our lives and tested our individual and collective metal. Indeed, many people have cried over losses and difficulties, over many months.
Like many of you, I have been wondering where God and salvation are hiding. As we read Parshah Noach this week, there are various avenues for reflection. One is noting that God, the Omnipotent, unilaterally initiated a “do-over.” As part of that enterprise, a template was provided to a man who was identified as a righteous one of his day.
Exactly what made Noah so righteous and worthy of salvation while others were not, is up for discussion. According to Jewish literary history, righteousness is understood in different ways: legal, moral, responsible, fair, benevolent, pure, innocent.
Fortunately for him and those close to him, Noah was divinely selected and presented with a time sensitive task to save aspects of Creation. He was directed, step by step, how to accomplish this task. God provided him with detailed instructions for the design and assembly of a floating devise that enabled the survival of all within it.
Demonstrating optimal compliance, Noah followed through and created the famous ark. The plan worked perfectly and a rainbow appeared punctuating the first Covenant.
Congruent with the meaning of his name (bringer of rest, and by extension, comfort), Parshah Noach reminds us that hope endures in the midst of a storm, through the perpetuation of life. But in life, tears have endured too.
According to the Talmud, God listens to tears of authentic pain and suffering.
What if tears had a superpower and during moments of difficulty we could see with enhanced clarity? What would happen if our tears became a magnifying glass that revealed the unmistakable template of our own ark? There salvation could be seen along with Divine Presence. Although our society privileges expressions of false positivity, there can be wisdom in our authentic discontent, our suffering.
While we journey with Noah through turbulent seas, let’s stay the course. It is time to honor our tears as opportunities for purification and re-creation. This Shabbat, we can imagine that God’s tears, born of real pain and sadness, created the first great mikvah and the opportunity to do better next time. Therefore, we inherited the blessed ability to try again. With aspirations restored, we are afloat with hope. JN
Rabbi Mindie Snyder serves as the rabbi and chaplain for Sun Health Communities.