by Cantor David E. Reinwald
There’s a level of comfort finding ourselves returning at the beginning of the year to the familiar stories in the Torah. The story of Noah and the Ark is one we all grow up with, and it is hard not to have some nostalgia returning to this portion. Be it in a picture book we read, a toy set of the ark and its animals, or that bouncy song “Rise and Shine.” One of our preschoolers loves the song so much that I’m often asked to sing it throughout the entire year.
Because of the fabled nature of this story, which seems so grand in its scheme, I think to us as adults, we recognize pretty quickly that it is a story begging us to derive its moral. Ultimately, I think this is why this story finds itself read so early on in the Torah cycle and next to other fabled stories– those of Adam, Eve, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the troubling sinister actions of Cain against Abel. I called these fables not to deny their existence, but to say that each of these characters in these stories represent an archetype of personality, and we are drawn to inspect their character driving their actions and their words. We can feel a personal connection to them in their human struggle, yet the situations which surround them are almost supernatural. Not only do we see the test of human willpower, but the drama of the situation alone causes us to want to revisit these powerful stories again and again.
I cannot say that I always had the perspective on these stories that I have mentioned. When I was a teenager, I went through some sort of crisis of faith for a couple of years. Among my sorting of a confused relationship with tradition was foremost my questioning that some of the events in the Tanakh may have never happened in the way they were described. I couldn’t relate to the idea of the Red Sea splitting or to this week’s portion, as if Noah was the only man who could save the world. Devoid in my path was the fact that I was never taught at a younger age that we didn’t need to know for sure whether all these things happened or not, because we can always take away something from the overall moral of the story. How many times have you been moved by a book, movie, or play that was clearly fictional? In this suspended reality, we can and indeed do open our minds to new revelations about ourselves and the present world we live in. We often connect with these characters as if they are real. They become our friends and teach us to uncover insights. We need to be dreamers sometimes and extend beyond the reality of day to day life.
A musical aside: I just heard the great Hawaiian ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro in concert and he played his gorgeous composition “Blue Roses Falling.” He told the story of its creation, in that he played at the bedside of his friend’s dying grandmother. She had been having visions of blue roses above her bed, and in each vision, the petals would fall upon her. This vision was so beautiful to him that he composed the piece as its musical testament. (Hear it here on Spotify: JakeShimabukuro – BlueRosesFalling) It is amazing to me how one moment can translate into another, carrying forward the momentum of its impact to those who even had no connection to the first.
“Chazzan” — the word for “cantor” in Hebrew has little to do with music and actually translates as “visionary.” And, yet, we all are visionaries in our own unique ways. How amazing is it that we like, Noah, can end up with a rainbow from a flood? We can dream a thousand dreams, and even if they are not real, we can fancy them to be, and sometimes that is all we need.