Quarantined in the Noah’s Ark!
God told Noah, “Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch” (Genesis 6:14). God then told Noah how to make the ark, and Noah built it according to God’s specifications. He built it because he understood a crisis was at hand and before there was any obvious evidence that it would be needed. He simply trusted God.
Two weeks ago, I came back from visiting my uncle in Canada. As soon as I arrived home, I started to turn my house into an ark— a beautiful, comfortable, and dynamic ark. I asked myself:
Is my ark consistent with God’s commands? Do I listen to God’s wisdom when filling my refrigerator and stocking my shelves? Do I welcome Jesus into my ark? Jesus reminds us, “It is written: ‘humans shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). God speaks through creation, history, and art. Do I make room in my ark for the wisdom found in history and art? Am I making room for reflecting on God’s creation, on who I am, and where I should go?
“For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away…Therefore, keep watch,” Jesus said to the arrogant civilization of Israel (Matthew 24:38-40). Noah built the ark in faith, not knowing its purpose but simply obeying God’s command. We heard about the virus in China but we only shrugged our shoulders. Sometimes we stare so hard at what we want to see that we are blinded to the critical realities. We are very proud of our strengths, modern science, and modern technology. This pride blinds us to the danger of drowning in the shallows of routine life. Therefore, we should stay awake.
“Go into the ark with your whole family,” God said to Noah (Genesis 7:1). Good people tell us every day, “Go home, and stay with your family.” Noah went to the ark with his family but I, like many others, am alone. I am reminded of the days that I spent in solitary confinement because of the columns that I published in an Iranian newspaper. I was in a small cell for 65 days. As I recall those days, I remember that I made an ark inside my mind. Every day, I woke up and imagined my walk from my apartment to my office. In my cell, I counted my steps, imagined all the places I would see normally, and waved my hands to my neighbors. Later in the day, I closed my eyes again and, in my mind, walked to a park that was close to my office and recited all the prayers and poems that I remembered. Then, I traveled in my mind to my apartment and turned on the radio and danced to its music until supper time. If the supper was delivered by one of my interrogators, it meant it was time for another painful interrogation.
Like those long, difficult days in prison, these are anxious times. How many will get sick? Who will die? How long will the quarantine last? How long must I remain in my ark? It’s scary and frustrating, Isn’t it? I realize that I need help. I need to listen to the Apostle Paul. He was in prison for a long time and was tortured. He knows the pain of isolation. He can help me to cope with my anxious thoughts. Paul says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12-13).
Good people have given us good advice: stay home and avoid contact with others. Do not go to work or school. Do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares. Keep your distance from others about 6 feet. I will stay in my ark. No, I won’t go out. I need to repeat it over and over. I meditate on Romans 12:12 again. I am joyful in hope. I am patient in affliction. I am faithful in prayer.
“In Noah’s six hundred first year, on the first day of the first month, the waters dried up from the earth. Noah removed the ark’s hatch and saw that the surface of the fertile land had dried up. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day, the earth was dry. God spoke to Noah, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives with you.” Then the rainbow appeared and its joy entered into their hearts. It was time to barbecue, picnic and party. Oh, I can’t wait for it. I see the light at the end of tunnel. Have you heard the recent news about Wuhan?
The city of Wuhan, which was subject to the most aggressive quarantine in China after the coronavirus first emerged there late last year, is slowly returning to normal with the lockdown imposed at the end of January expected to be completely lifted on April 8. At its peak, some 56 million people in the city and the surrounding province of Hubei were forced to stay at home, and all travel was suspended. But the nightmare is over, and life slowly is returning to normal.
All this reminds me of a poem by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, an American author, political activist, and rabbi associated with the Jewish Renewal movement.
Haftarah Noah: Rainbow Covenant
“You, My people, burnt in fire,
still staring blinded
by the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
You, My people,
Battered by the earthquakes
of a planet in convulsion;
You, My people,
Drowning in the flood of words and images
That beckon you to eat and eat,
to drink and drink,
to fill and overfill
at the tables of
the gods of wealth and power;
You, My people,
Drowning in the flood of words and images
That -- poured unceasing on your eyes and ears --
drown out My words of Torah,
My visions of the earth made whole;
I have for you a mission full of joy.
I call you to a task of celebration.
I call you to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
But the light in which all beings see each other fully.
All bearing One Spark.
I call you to light a flame to see more clearly
That the earth and all who live as part of it
Are not for burning:
A flame to see
in the many-colored faces
of all life.
I call you:
I, the Breath of Life,
Within you and beyond,
Among you and beyond,
That One Who breathes from redwood into grizzly,
That One Who breathes from human into swampgrass,
That One Who breathes the great pulsations of the galaxies.
In every breath you breathe Me,
In every breath I breathe you.
I call you --
In every croak of every frog I call you,
In every rustle of each leaf,
I call you,
In the wailings of the wounded earth
I call you.
I call you to a peoplehood renewed:
I call you to reweave the fabric of your folk
and so to join in healing
the weave of life upon your planet.
I call you to a journey of seven generations.
For seven generations past,
the earth has not been able to make Shabbos.
And so in your own generation
You tremble on the verge of Flood.
Your air is filled with poison.
The rain, the seas, with poison.
The earth hides arsenals of poisonous fire,
Seeds of light surcharged with fatal darkness.
The ice is melting,
The seas are rising,
The air is dark with smoke and rising heat.
And so -- I call you to carry to all peoples
the teaching that for seven generations
the earth and all her earthlings learn to rest.
I call you once again
To speak for Me,
To speak for Me because I have no voice,
To speak the Name of the One who has no Name,
To speak for all the Voiceless of the planet.
Who speaks for the redwood and the rock,
the lion and the beetle?
My Breath I blow through you into a voicing:
Speak for the redwood and the rock,
the lion and the beetle.
I call you to a task of joy:
For seven generations,
this is what I call for you to do:
To make once more the seasons of your joy
into celebrations of the seasons of the earth;
To welcome with your candles the dark of moon and sun,
To bless with careful chewing
the fruits of every tree
For when you meet to bless
the rising juice of life
in every tree trunk --
I am the Tree of Life.
To live seven days in the open, windy huts,
And call out truth to all who live beside you --
You are part of the weave and breath of life,
You cannot make walls to wall it out.
I call you to a covenant between the generations:
That when you gather for a blessing of your children
as they take on the tasks of new tomorrows,
You say to them, they say to you,
That you are all My prophet
Come to turn the hearts of parents
and of children toward each other,
Lest my earth be smashed in utter desolation.
I call you
To eat what
Food that springs from an earth you do not poison,
Oil that flows from an earth you do not drain,
Paper that comes from an earth you do not slash,
Air that comes from an earth you do not choke.
I call you to speak
to all the peoples,
all the rulers.
I call you to walk forth before all nations,
to pour out water that is free of poison
and call them all to clean and clarify the rains of winter.
I call you to beat your willows on the earth
and shout its healing to all peoples.
I call on you to call on all the peoples
to cleanse My Breath, My air,
from all the gases
that turn My earth into a furnace.
I call you to light the colors of the Rainbow,
To raise once more before all eyes
That banner of the covenant between Me,
and all the children of Noah and Naamah,
and all that lives and breathes upon the Earth --
all the days of the earth, shall
sowing and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
I call you to love the Breath of Life --
For love is the fire
That blazes in the Rainbow.”