It is difficult to read the weekly Torah portion of Noah as we watch and listen to the news of the devastation caused by the winds and storm surge of Hurricane Michael. The images are close to home and all too real.
This morning I heard a news commentator ask one of the officials in charge of rescue operations what message they thought should be delivered to folks now that we begin to take in the extent of the destruction that has occurred, particularly as regards the need to heed evacuation orders in the future.
Interestingly, the first response of the official was not about the future. Instead, the official responded that what we must do now is let people know that first and foremost, neighbor should help neighbor! Then, he added that rescue workers would do whatever they could do to bring relief to as many of the hurricane victims as possible, as quickly as possible.
Only after that did the official reference the need for folks to heed evacuation orders that may be issued in similar circumstances in the future.
When we read the weekly Torah portion of Noah, we might at first be caught up in discussion such questions as “Why did God let the flood happen?” or “Why did God include the animals in the flood?” But, perhaps we should be focusing on another aspect of the flood story which appears in our parsha. Perhaps, in telling us the story of Noah, the Torah is telling us to pay attention to what happened to Noah after the flood.
Our Sages debate the extent of Noah’s righteousness. The Torah tells us that Noah was righteous and that he walked in God’s ways. But, our Sages ponder…. Was Noah righteous only in comparison with those around him? Was he as righteous as Abraham or as Moses? These questions are left unanswered in our tradition.
What we do know is that, according to the Biblical story, even though Noah and his family lived through the flood, Noah was deeply affected by the vast destruction of the flood. In fact, the Torah tells us that, in the aftermath of the flood, Noah planted a vineyard and drank himself into oblivion.
With news of Hurricane Michael on my mind, I read our Torah portion in a new light. I see that in telling us the story of Noah, the Torah is suggesting that our first response in the wake of the hurricane should be to alleviate the suffering of the survivors, no matter where we imagine that they fall on our human scale of righteousness, or lack thereof. The Torah is reminding us that our response should, first and foremost, be guided by sensitivity and by compassion.
May we see brighter days, magnificent rainbows, and many signs of blessing and of healing in the days to come.
Rabbi Gilah Dror