They've done it again. The meteorologists have diagnosed a La Nina going strong in the Pacific Ocean. Colder than normal water in the Pacific Ocean spells only one outlook for those of us in the Pacific Northwest: a wetter than normal winter. Frankly, I can't imagine that this year could possibly hold more rain than last year. But can anyone anywhere else in the country really understand the ramifications of such a prophecy? Let me spell it out for you: Noach.
Alright, so maybe it isn't quite the same as a floating zoo and small quarters. But as I ponder whether Noach was the first Seattleite and if the mayim (waters) and the shamayim (heavens) are setting up to merge where I live, I recall my secret remedy to manage the grey, the rain and being indoors: chocolate. For those who aren't aware of how chocolate comes to be, it starts out growing on a cacao tree in large pods about six inches long and three inches wide. Inside each pod is a gooey white pulp in which thirty to forty cacao seeds or "beans" hide within. Once these pods are harvested and the seeds are exposed to air, a chemical process begins and they start to change into what we know as chocolate. And what does this have to do with Noach? Just as a cacao pod holds the seed that will make the beautiful, necessary chocolate to bring a Seattleite through a rainy winter, so too does Noach's Ark house seeds of hope, seeds of restoration, and seeds of the future to bring a second chance to humanity and all of creation.
Rain, Rain, Go Away
One can imagine Noach thinking this just a few times as he heard the torrential rains fall upon his humble Ark. But the very fact that Hashem assigned him to the Ark during this tumultuous time was out of love not only for him, but for all creation. This pod was resilient enough to handle the world physically being created a second time. Not only did it have to be robust enough to protect him, his family and all the animals, it also had to be impervious enough to hold back the waters so that every drop of water would mikvah the land completely. The sin of man had grown so great that only the convergence of the heavens and the earth would be sufficient to drown out the sin of mankind and restore the land and humankind to purity.
Just as a pod nurtures the seeds inside so they may be planted and continue the cycle, so also did Noach spend many days and nights in the refuge of his Ark, tending to his animals. As the waters surged around them, they were in a state of emergency. Their refuge was only meant to keep them alive, not to be a home. Therefore, the Sages say that not only did Noach and his wife hold off from being fruitful and multiplying, but the animals did so as well. The purification outside of Noach's cocoon was to be swift and vast; there would be no cause for celebration inside. As if inside a womb waiting to be birthed, they merely sustained life and did not propagate any of the species.
To Begin Again
As we read through the account of the flood, it is amazing how it mirrors the first account of creation that we read in parasha Bereishis. As the waters started to descend from the heavens, it says that the "Ark was lifted above the earth" (Bereishis 7:17). While that can simply mean that the rising waters caused the Ark to float, it could also symbolically mean that the Ark and all its inhabitants were drawn up so as to be above the carnage. The souls within were temporarily suspended in the heavens, as seeds for the future, in order to be protected and brought down at the right time to start anew.
As we enter chapter eight, we see the creation story begin to unfold as a reflection of the first creation's daily account in the beginning of Bereishis:.
One can even contend that the sacrifices that Noach brought upon leaving the Ark were the first sacrifices for the first Shabbat so long ago. Embodied in Noach's name is the meaning "comfort." How fitting that the covenant of Shabbat, which would bring comfort to all of Israel in the future, would be mirrored in Noach and his name through the establishment of the covenant of the rainbow. While both covenants have a different nature, they are everlasting and those around us are able to see the sign manifest: be it in the Heavens or in the weekly observance of the Shabbat. While the Shabbat celebrates rest from creating and destroying, the rainbow reminds of a newly created world never to be destroyed by water. The rainbow was a prelude of Shabbat to come - a pod of time that would house the seeds of salvation, the seeds of Mashiach.
So how does all this mesh with our lives and our retreat indoors during winter? As the rains, the snow, and the cooler weather blanket the northern hemisphere, we have the opportunity to find respite for a time after the hectic pace of summer and the fall holidays. We are given a period to tend to the "animals" or things within that need tending. We find refuge by the warmth of a fire, a warm beverage and retreat into our quiet spaces of study, thought and contemplation. The weather outside renews the land around us while inside our homes we store up energy - fully anticipating the new life and sap of Tu B'Shevat. When we arrive at that point, nature will again commence the cycle being "fruitful and multiplying" and waken us from our dormant period.
So whether we go from one bean to another - a cup of Joe or a piece of chocolate - to cope with the light deprivation and weather, it is vital to remember that we are all like pods, like a mighty Ark. Inside each one of us are seeds of potential fruitfulness. By floating upon the seas of winter and creating ourselves anew, we will be to the world like the sap in the trees: slowly, yet faithfully rising ever upwards, nurturing the buds on our branches, and producing fruit to share with a multitude. This is truly how to be fruitful and multiply, and bring comfort to the world around us.
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