What an experience poor Noah had. Imagine the trauma of those days and nights when water slapped against the ark, the rain pounding on the roof with the power of 400 sledgehammers. Noah and his family were cramped inside with all of those animals, suffocating under the stench, and the cacophony of sounds and the dank heat. And yet for Noah, this floating ark became his home, the most familiar and steady place on earth, and therefore the most difficult place to leave.
Even when the flood waters had stopped, Noah was hesitant to emerge from the ark. The famous dove with the olive branch flew beyond the horizon; its disappearance was a sign that it was safe to walk on solid ground again. Another man might have leapt from that damp ark, dancing off the plank and onto dry earth. But not Noah. He remained in the dark, overcrowded quarters, too scared to step forward and build a new life. Perhaps he would have remained inside for all the rest of his days, but God finally instructed Noah to go away, tsai min hateivah, God says, “Leave this ark.” Thanks to God’s commandment, Noah realized that it was time to go outside and get to work, sowing the seeds of an independent life for himself.
As a parent of a young child, I have sympathy for how difficult this moment must have been for God. Just as Noah wanted to stay in the comfort of his haven, safe from the horrors of a world he knew could wreak havoc, so, too, God must have wanted to embrace him, giving in to the temptation to shelter Noah from all harm. During my pregnancy I used to joke that those were the best days of my motherhood, because I knew exactly where my daughter was and that she was safe and eating well.
Yet to care for a living being does not mean to always keep it safeguarded. There is a time for holding on, and there is a time for sending forth. By urging Noah out of the ark, God demonstrates how our deepest love is sometimes shown by letting go. We, too, can emulate God in our care for the next generation. Every young person needs to be equipped with arks to weather life’s storms; but even more importantly, each young person needs assistance to cultivate the courage, once the flood has subsided, to go out and reap new life from the rain-soaked and verdant world of possibility.
This is a role for parents, yes, but it is not just for biological parents. The Talmud teaches that every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it, and whispers, “Grow, grow.” All children need their own angels – friends, teachers, and other members of their community – who urge them to develop strong, independent spirits. Our tradition takes that task seriously, believing everyone contributes to the progress of all of our children, no matter who they are.
To all of our children, we say as a community, “grow, grow,” knowing that within them the promise of our future will flower. This is our b’rit with them, reflecting the covenant of another time, when God guided humanity to rebuild life in a world renewed.