Noah: Israel's Leaky Ark

Here in Sderot, where many residents either are, or are descended from, immigrants forced to flee from elsewhere, my Shabbat lunch host told me, “Tell American Jews to move to Israel now, with their money – before they must leave without it!”  

My hostess immediately chided him, saying “No, he shouldn’t tell them that; they should come because they want to -- because this is the Jewish home, their home.” 

This week, we read in the Torah about Noah’s ark.  And this week, we also read in the news about the manifestations of hatred of Jews within Israel by its Arab citizens (physical attacks) and even by Arab Knesset members (verbal attacks).  The mood on the streets of Jerusalem this past Sunday-Tuesday, while I was visiting, was somber and anxious.  It has surely worsened since then. 

Is there an analogy to be made between Noah’s ark and Israel?

Noah’s world was filled with "Hamas" – a word meaning violence or (per Rashi) “robbery” in Hebrew.  Noah and his family, although not Jewish, were forced to flee the violence of their world.  I think it fair to say that my host regards Israel as the “Jewish ark” in a world of actual, or potential, threat to all Jews, not excluding America.  After all, haven’t Jews felt completely safe in many lands, only to discover that they had to flee?  While not discounting that reality, my hostess’s argument might be called the “milk and honey” reason for Israel’s existence.  Only here can we truly feel and be at home. 

Israel is the Jewish “ark” for all Jews needing or wishing a haven. Despite past, current, and inevitable future violence here, Thank G-d, Israelis do not need to seek another haven.  But also very importantly, they do not wish to do so. 

Israel’s Declaration of Independence reflects both “ark” and “milk and honey” reasons for the existence of the State – but not in that order.  

It begins by recounting our long history here, the land of our birth as a people, where our spiritual, religious, and political identity was shaped. During two exiles, Jews dreamt and prayed to return, and began doing so in successive waves starting in the 1880s (though there was a continuous, though small, Jewish presence here at all times).  The moral imperative of this return was recognized by the 1917 Balfour Declaration and affirmed by the League of Nations, decades before the Shoah (Holocaust) and UN Resolution supporting establishment of a Jewish state.   Here is the“Milk and Honey” argument.  

But then the Declaration acknowledges the Shoah as another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of the Jewish people’s homelessness by re-establishing the Jewish state in Israel for every Jew. Here is the “Ark” argument.       

Noah’s ark probably leaked.  So far as I know, all wooden boats do, despite their builders’ best efforts to coat the wood and caulk the seams. The ark held two animals of every kind -- including those who attacked wood, such as termites and woodpeckers, so damage from them was likely.  Worse – the wooden beams of ships flex in waves, admitting water, and the Torah depicts the flood as a terrible tempest, describing the waters as “exceedingly forceful.” [Gen 7:19].  Surely such a large wooden vessel must have leaked terribly.  Noah and his family had no automatic pumps, so they must have had to continuously and laboriously work to deep the potentially fatal water out, or at least down to manageable levels.

This week, the Jewish people’ Israel-ark is also leaking – not water, but blood.  So, our attention is naturally and necessarily focused upon “manning the pumps.”  

Even so, we can’t lose sight of the equally important other reason that Israel exists, the one named first in the Declaration.  The “Milk and Honey” reason.  
Here is where the Jewish people was born and obtained our unique character. Here is where the Jewish people continues to live, grow, and develop our culture as the Jewish people, a sovereign majority only here. Here is where we continue to read, think about, and try to live Torah, even as we are physically attacked for doing so, in the broadest sense.  

Just as the Ark was Noah’s home, this is ours.  But Noah’s home was intended to be a temporary refuge, only until the violence was eradicated and the waters receded. We intend Israel to be our permanent home, despite storms and leaks.  We must have the courage, strength, and “seamanship” wisdom to hold it. 

Years ago, when I was a sailor (hence, my consciousness of leaky boats!), I had a little wall hanging that read, "Ships are safe in the harbor...but that's not what ships are for."   As I've suggested, Israel is, in important part, an Ark for the Jewish people.  We can and should hope, and pray, and work for peace here.  But so long as there is hatred in the world, with Jew-hatred being one of the world's oldest and most persistent manifestations of it, can we ever really expect peace? 

Shabbat shalom from Sderot, Israel.  



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A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will not return.
Jewish Proverb