After the Flood, A Choice
By Rabbi Stephanie Kolin
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 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. 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.
“What now?” he must have wondered. “Do we start over? Pretend it never happened? How do we survivors relate to one another? Who will we be now…after the flood?”
Sometimes we read this text with the lightheartedness of the “floody floody”, but Noah’s story is one of profound trauma. Noah and his family go through something that cracks their world wide open, creates rifts in the land, and in their hearts. And now Noah needs to figure out what he’s going to do.
We are, right now, living in that moment, in the hours after the flood. No matter who you voted for, or rooted against, we have witnessed waves of hatred and deep discord in the past many months. Like Noah, we, too, have unearthed deep cracks in our foundation. 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 great fracture between people of color and white folks, between the wealthy and the poor, between immigrants and born citizens, between those in the middle 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 pervasive nature of sexual assault on women and girls who are finding the strength to come forward?
And what should we do with the crack that revealed unmitigated hate once hidden by the anonymity of the Internet – racism, Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia– now appearing as acceptable mainstream speech?
November 8th was a big day, but on November 9th, after the flood, we have to decide who we will be as people of faith and what we will do about these cracks that have been revealed. The Book of Genesis tells us what Noah decides: “Noah, a man of the land, began to plant a vineyard.” Noah plants. He doesn’t cover over the barrenness, 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 and neatly packaged answer. But it doesn’t. The very next verse says: “Noah drank of the wine from his vineyard and became drunk.” In his trauma, Noah drinks himself into a stupor so that he can forget. He does run, trying to escape from all the ugliness that has been unearthed.
And so this story offers us two paths for after the flood:
We can let the media cycle run out and let that which was once in the shadows return there; pretend the rifts between people were a passing dilemma and drink from our vineyards until we forget.
OR. We can acknowledge our deep cracks, take our trauma and the discord between people, and plant something. Till it. Tend it. Rather than turn away from it. Rather than deny the ire that has emerged between us, we can decide to see one another. As hard or unlikely as this sounds, imagine what it might be like to ask, with genuine curiosity and compassion, why someone different from you believes what he believes and what experiences have shaped him? To listen, as best we can, then share our own answer to that question. We can honor each other by believing each other’s stories, and not allowing sexual assault to lurk in the shadows anymore. For the pure hate that has emerged, we can deny it a microphone, wherever we see vile language or action legitimized.
November 9th will be a defining moment of our nation’s character for many generations to come. May the vineyard we plant after the flood yield wine that sanctifies rather than causes us to forget. May we acknowledge rupture and address it with love, patience and empathy. May we commit to being Repairers of the Breaches that have emerged, choosing a sacred, albeit wobbly, path toward healing, as we step off the ark with dignity and courage.
Rabbi Stephanie Kolin is Senior Fellow at Auburn Seminary.