Come Out of Your Ark

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The story of Noah is familiar to all of us. Yet, in all the years that I have studied this parsha and pored over the details, there is one curious fact that is often overlooked and teaches a crucial lesson.

Once the rain stops and the water subsides, the ark comes to a rest and the mountaintops appear. Noah first sends the raven and then the dove three times until it does not return. Noah knows that the ground was dry, and here is where the curious detail is revealed. Noah does not leave the ark right away. Instead, he waits for God to tell him to do so. As we read in the ensuing verses: “God spoke to Noah, saying, ‘Come out of the ark, together with your wife, your sons and your sons’ wives’” (15-16).

Many commentators explain that Noah did not want to leave the ark and that God’s instructions were necessary in order to coax him out. One Midrashic account goes so far as to say that even after hearing this command Noah did not want to leave.

After spending so much time on the ark in a confined space, caring for all the animals, why would Noah not want to leave at the first opportunity? The Midrash offers the following parable: “It is compared to a leader who must leave on a trip and places someone else in charge [in his absence]; when [the leader] returns he says ‘leave your place.’”

In other words, while on the ark, Noah was in charge. Literally the entire world — at least the part that was not being destroyed by the flood — was totally dependent on him. Noah was on a major power trip and he did not want it to end.

If we were to apply this to our times, we might compare the ark to Noah’s personal echo chamber. He did not want to imagine a world in which he was not in complete control, or where he might have to contend with differing opinions. He could not imagine anything different than the artificial reality in which he was immersed.

In the intense politicized environment in which we live, we too get stuck in our own symbolic arks where we shut out the rest of the world. We have lost the capacity to have honest and meaningful interactions with people whose politics, philosophies or religious observance differ from ours. We too must heed God’s words to Noah and “come out of the ark.”

Rabbi Elliot Kaplowitz is spiritual leader at Congregation Netivot Shalom.

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