Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Birds of Noach

This week we read in the Torah the parsha of Noach. The reading tells the story of the Deluge, the destruction of the world a mere ten generations after its creation. Further it tells the story of Noach and of the new world he founded after the Flood. It is a compelling story, one that captures the imagination.

On reading the story this year I found myself struck by a seeming small anomaly.
Noach is in the ark for about a year, a long time. He is challenged to make a life there with his family and to care for all the variety of animals he brought with him on the Ark. Its reasonable to assume that Noach had a many meaningful events occur for him and his family during that trying year, many vignettes we could learn from.
Truth is that for most of us the most meaningful moments of our lives often happen at times when we are in transition. Yet the Torah shares no Ark story. It gives us not a single experience from the journey. The only story we are given is a peculiar one. We are told that after the rains stopped and the Ark rested Noach sent out the birds, first a raven and then a dove, the later three times, to see if the waters dried and it was safe to disembark.

The Torah goes into great detail to describe Noach's testing of his environment.
It tells us how the process took near a month to complete and involved sending the raven and then the doves again and again, to finally determine it was time to emerge from the Ark.

Why I asked? Why does the Torah give us this singular story of Noach's odyssey?
What meaning does it have for us, for our life journeys? Why is it important?

I mentioned last week that I was away backpacking in the North of Israel for a few days. Something happened on that trip that helped me understand what the Torah is teaching us in the Noach's bird story or at least what I am meant to learn from it this year.
My friend and I were climbing from the Banias to the Nimrod Fortress, in the middle of a hot day with a burning sun. The Nimrod Fortress is on a high rise above the Banias, which is in the valley. I am no youngster, and the climb, especially with a 30lb weight on my back was exhausting. It took me some two hours. My friend is much younger than me, and more fit. When I struggled to get moving he would exhort me with words of encouragement. He would say, "Look up, see, Nimrod is so much closer now!"

I pushed myself and pushed myself, to get to the top. Then Avi, who was always a bit ahead of me called to me, " We are here!" Of course, he was. I was not yet!
But I was within 20 yards of the top. And suddenly it was like I could go no further.
I saw the end. It was right in front of me. Yet I found it near impossible to move.
I had to almost crawl the last few yards. Yet it made no sense. I had sufficient energy to push myself when I was at a distance from the goal and now when the goal is in reach I am immobile! How does that make any sense?

And yet on reflection I know the experience I had at Nimrod is one that has occurred many times in my life and not just for me. So often I work to achieve something, a project a task, one that takes effort and time, and just before completion, after working so hard, I lose the motivation. It never gets done.

It is a known fact that men and women who are nearly finished there probation for a crime committed, are more likely to reoffend. The hardest thing to do is not to begin, but rather to finish. When we get closest to our goal is when we are most vulnerable to relapse, failure, and surrender.

This is what the story of the birds of Noach is teaching me. Noach surmounted every obstacle put in his path. He overcame the scorn of a generation of sinners as he built his ship. He handled who knows what kind of adversity on the year-long journey at sea and with his cargo. Yet Noach's greatest challenge was to complete the journey even so near to its end. He had to have patience. He had to send the birds out four times and over the period of a month, week after week and not get frustrated. He needed to persevere and wait for the right time to take off the ark cover and disembark. No job Noach ever did was more difficult.

It is this story the Torah wants us to take to heart. It is this story we need to learn from. Beginning projects is hard.
Staying with them when the goal seems far away is challenging.
But what we most need our resolve for is to finish.
To finish what we began, particularly when the goal is in reach, requires the greatest of inner strength.

Chazak V'ematz! Be of strength! Find the resolve to finish!

Shabbat Shalom

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