by Tamar Rabinowitz, Dean of Jewish Studies and Hebrew 

Last week, we read the words “When God began to create heaven and earth— the earth was chaos, unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and the spirit of God hovered over the waters”. And then we read the six days of creation where God brought order to that chaos. 

Our world right now seems to be like creation in reverse. Chaos has been unleashed and the darkness threatens to overtake.  We find ourselves in what feels like an abyss of grief, fear, and uncertainty. And that is indeed exactly what we see in this week’s Torah portion, Noach. 

God, observing the violence ten generations after Adam, decides to “put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them”. Our text tells us that God chose to spare Noach and his family to be the start of a new world. He tells Noach to build an ark that will act as a haven amidst the devastation that will unfold. 

And then God unleashes the flood. God chooses to destroy the earth, in the same order that God created it. And after 40 days and 40 nights, all that remains is an ark hovering over the waters and we have seemingly returned to that primordial state. The text then tells us that God told Noach to leave the ark. The Midrash, picking up on the request, states: “Noah said to himself, “Since I only entered the Ark with permission (from God), shall I leave without permission?” The Holy One blessed be He said to him: “Are you looking for permission? In that case, I give you permission.” Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the Ark.” 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks taught that this Midrash is telling us that we do not need permission to rebuild our shattered world. God expects us to start rebuilding. This might explain why God tells Avraham to “Walk ahead of me” (Genesis 17:1) and not “walk with God” as Noach is described. To walk ahead means to pioneer, to imagine a new world, to bravely venture forth. This is what Avraham and Sarah would do, what our people have done for millennia. 

We can see that pioneering spirit embodied by Israelis and Jews alike these past few days, who have been trying to create light amidst the chaos.  Civilians immediately began organizing everything from support and supplies for soldiers to food and toys for evacuated families, to arranging shiva support, to donating blood and digging graves, to babysitting and visiting elders whose loved ones have been called up or killed. While we are living in a moment of tohu and vohu, unfathomable chaos, and deep darkness. We will need to recreate everything from scratch. We will rebuild. Right now,  many of us feel like we have no words. Trust that just like creation, the words will come and with them, the beginning of clarity to help us to bring light to the darkness.