Parashat Noach 2017
No one was more surprised than Noah to discover that the world had not been destroyed. When he was in the ark, full of people and animals and stink, with neither oars nor sails, swept out to the horizonless sea, it had felt like all was lost. It felt that way, but it wasn't so.
They had built the ark slowly, Noah and his family, thinking it would never be needed. But then the rain had started to fall. They began to gather animals, as they had discussed at their dinner-time preparedness meetings. They escorted creatures of every size and description onto the boat, still not believing this was happening. But the rain came harder and the water began to rise and soon the boat was afloat while the houses around them slowly disappeared under the surface. Noah and his family had crow's nest view of this destruction.
The rain lasted 40 days. And then came the many months of drifting on a sea of blue water and endless sky. Utterly alone, but for the squawking and braying and trumpeting pouring forth from`every deck.
It was half a year before the waters began to recede. Noah and his family spotted mountain tops they hadn't seen before. Then came the day that the boat's hull settled onto land with a thud and a tremor. And there they remained, perched, for month of worry before earth was revealed. And that was when they heard voices calling to them, telling them to come down out of the ark, that they were safe.
"Hello, can you hear us? You are on Mt. Ararat. Don't move, we will help you," said the people who had come from the other side of the mountain, from a plateau protected by high peaks.
Noah and his wife Na'amah looked at each other and cried. They gathered their children and grandchildren and kissed them all, rejoicing at their deliverance.
The Urartians, for so they were called, brought timbers to stabilize the precarious vessel. Noah and Na'amah threw open the doors and stepped out onto dry land. They fell to the earth and kissed it. When they rose, their legs still felt unsteady. They thanked the Urartians and they offered thanks to God, which they continued to do with every breath for a very long time.
The Urartians welcomed them as sea-tossed wayfarers, as refugees, as evacuees. They had experienced the rain too, and had seen that over the Mountain a great flood was occurring. But they had largely been out of harm's way.
They were compassionate people, the Urartians, and they split up Noah's family, welcoming them into several households. They cooked for them: warm Urartian food, which Noah and his family had never eaten, and it tasted good but unfamiliar. Not soothing in quite the way they were used to food being soothing.
The Urartians who had land took the animals, and began to feed them and care for them. Many of these were animals they had never seen before. Noah and Na'amah and their children ran from pen to pen and pasture to pasture giving advice, sometimes needed, sometimes not, mostly just out of habit. Eventually they let go, and allowed the Urartians to create a zoo to hold the most exotic of the species, the most famous zoo of the ancient world.
Noah and Na'amah bounced from house to house for some time. They weren't always easy to host. They would wake loudly from bad dreams; they were alternately controlling and passive, overjoyed and immobile. The Urartians didn't know whether they should ask details of what Noah and family had experienced, or whether they should keep a polite silence. And Noah, after a while, didn't want to tell it. After all, no one else could ever really understand what they had been through. It became a story mostly discussed inside the family, and periodically presented as a special event for school children.
Slowly Noah and Na'amah and their children and grandchildren became comfortable again, accustomed to their safety. Their bodies stopped anticipating danger in every moment. The Urartians gave them warm clothes and gift cards and helped dismantle the timbers of the the ark to build houses.
And in time the new houses felt like, well, home. They knew it wasn't where they'd started, and they thanked God it wasn't the ark. But this was a good home for Noah and Na'amah – comfortable and pleasant.
As months and years passed, Noah and Na'amah became interested in their neighbors, and the qualities of the new land began to catch their attention. They turned their backs to the Sea and planted a vineyard in the Earth. With advice from the locals, they made a go of it. The vineyard flourished alongside the other vineyards, and the flanks of Mt. Ararat came to be known in Asia Minor as Wine Country.
Sometimes, when large rain clouds would loom on the horizon or sail overhead, Noah and Na'amah would grow serious, or begin fidgeting. But the people understood, and gave them wide berth.
Years later, Noah and Na'amah received word that some of their old neighbors had survived, some in boats, some by fast thinking and fierce journeying. Noah and Na'amah sent them messages of joy and greeting. But they didn't go back. There was no going back. Ararat was now their home.
And they had plenty of years to enjoy it. Noah had been 600 at the time of the flood, and he lived to be 950. The world sped on past him to a point where he couldn't identify or even count his descendants anymore. He probably never heard of Abraham and Sarah, even though he was their 8th degree great-grandfather and even though they walked the earth at the same time.
Noah and Na'amah, now in their very, very old age, never speak of the flood anymore. Sometimes after a rain they will walk the rows of their vineyard together, tying up the vines. While one inspects the clusters of grapes the other will inevitably check the sky. And seeing a rainbow, they will point it out to the other. They will both look at it for a long moment. Then they turn to each other with love and meaning, and they laugh.
Dedicated to Rita and Terry Rowan.