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Drash on Noach 2023

Rabbi Nicole Roberts

North Shore Temple Emanuel

Last week, before 7 October, I wrote a d’rash on parashat Noach for this column.  I have since disposed of that d’rash, having revisited it post 7 October and found my words now irrelevant.  After watching footage of young hostages being driven off to dangers unknown, after hearing the anguished pleas of their parents, after reading the WhatsApp communications of terrified families in “safe rooms,” many things have lost relevance.  Here are a few: any podcast that isn’t about Israel; any facebook post that isn’t about Israel; most news stories that aren’t about Israel.  This is just where I am at the moment.

Meanwhile, other things have gained new relevance.  For instance, in our services last Shabbat, prayers I’ve read a million times all seemed to have new meaning, felt more powerful, brought more tears. “Blessed is God, who frees the captive”; “Blessed is God, who girds Israel with strength”; “Act for Your own sake… so that Your loved ones may be rescued.  Save with Your power, and answer me”; “Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu v’al kol Yisrael—May the One who makes peace on high make peace upon us, and upon all Israel.”  Amen.

It so happened, that a few weeks before the terrorist invasion and massacre in Southern Israel, I had picked up a volume of the Zohar that someone had given to me and started reading, gleaning what I could of its wisdom, if only at a (very) surface level.  And while I don’t know that I’m interpreting its words correctly, I do know that its ideas feel somehow relevant, at this time of shifting relevancies.

One idea concerns separation.  It seems there is an upper world, which is the realm of the Divine, and a lower world, in which humanity dwells.  The upper realm is a place of unification, but the lower, earthly realm is a place of separation.  A prime example given is none other than the rainbow, like the one that appeared to Noach in this week’s parasha as a symbol of God’s covenant.  In the upper realm, all colours are unified, gathered into one.  It is only in the earthly realm—in the human experience—that colours are distinguished from one another, forming (what we humans see as) a rainbow.

This idea makes the earthly realm, in my view, both beautiful and tragic all at once.  Beautiful, because I like rainbows, and they remind me of the Divine.  Beautiful, because there’s comfort in thinking that we see what God sees—just differently.  Beautiful, because of the Jewish mystical idea that God had to contract Godself to create a liveable space for humanity, and seeing things differently feels like a biproduct of this generous act of space-making.  So why also tragic?  Because not all separations here in the lower realm are beautiful ones like the rainbow.  Some are devastating, like the abduction of Israeli children from their land and family.  Like the anguished mother sending her child off to army service.  Like the separation of one side of a security barrier from another, as a plough breached the wall that kept our people safe.  Like the agonising separation felt by those who waited hours in a “safe room” for help to come, for answers to their cries and prayers.  Like our separation from the illusion of safety and impenetrability after witnessing a pogrom in our own land, the Jewish safe haven.  Like the separation between pre October 7th and post October 7th and the Israel that will endure but may never be the same.

Most people of conscience would give up rainbows and other beautiful separations, if it meant an end to the horrifying separations we endure here in the earthly, human realm.  But it seems that isn’t a choice available to humanity.  Our only alternative is to make choices that help ease the pain of those suffering the worst kinds of separations.  We can choose to send funds.  We can send care packages.  We can send our expressions of love and thanks.  We can light up our buildings in blue and white, and insist that our diaspora governments “never forget.”

And we can pray.  Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu, v’al kol Yisrael, v’al kol yoshvei tevel—May the One who makes peace, or wholeness, on high make peace upon us, upon all Israel, and upon all who dwell in the earthly realm.  Amen.

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