Just last week I talked about the blessings of beginning again. We had read parashat Bereisheet and I was thinking about the miraculous sparks of holiness embedded in each aspect of creation. Now, just a week later, here we are with Noah. The sparks of holiness seem to have dimmed and God has decided humanity is a lost cause. It is time to begin again. This time God chooses Noah a righteous man, blameless in his age, a man who walked with God. God tells Noah of the plan to “blot out from the earth the men whom I created—men together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them.” And Noah is silent. He follow’s God’s instructions, builds the Ark, loads it up with animals and food, his wife, his sons and their wives and waits for the rain to begin.
I have to admit when it comes to this time of year there’s not very much that I like about Halloween. The costumes, the candy, the decorations and the knocking on the doors of strangers, it all just rubs me the wrong way. The only part of Halloween I’ve come to look forward to are the videos that parents send to Jimmy Kimmel. I’m not sure if you’ve seen them. The morning after Halloween parents tell their children that all of the candy they collected the previous night is gone because the parents have eaten it. Children from toddlers to teenagers have complete and utter breakdowns because their candy is gone. They are outraged by this betrayal. Utterly furious because their candy is gone.
This year it struck me that the children in these videos show more emotion about their missing candy than Noah did about the news that the entire world and every living thing in it was going to be destroyed. Really, Noah had nothing to say. I was so struck by this that I went back and reread the parasha again just to be sure I hadn’t missed some dialogue between Noah and God. There’s nothing there. No outrage. No pleading with God to save just a few more people. No attempt on Noah’s part to change the world’s destiny. Only God’s words. For much of the parasha God is the only speaker.
It is said that the blank spaces between the letters and words written in the Torah hold as much meaning as the words themselves. In other words, what is not said is as important as what is said. I wonder what Noah’s silence is meant to teach us. It’s possible that Noah knew of the story of Adam and Eve and their banishment from the Garden of Eden resulting from their disobedience of God. And so he chose to be silent. It’s also possible that Noah lived at a time when the world was so young that no paradigm for arguing with God existed. And so he had no other choice but to be silent. Or possibly Noah was indeed a righteous man, blameless in his age, in other words possibly the best of the worst. And so he counted his blessings and was silent.
But maybe Noah’s silence actually speaks volumes. Maybe it is meant to teach us that there are times when it is appropriate to be silent and there are times when it is appropriate to speak. As the events of the coming week begin to unfold may we all learn from Noah’s silence and choose our words wisely. May we be righteous in our own time and may we support others in doing the same. Whatever the news we face next Tuesday may we allow ourselves the gift of time and space and silence as we adjust, as we surely will, to the new reality we will face.