Union for Reform Judaism Member Congregation

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There’s a piece of music that’s been circulating on social media this week and probably a lot leading up to this week, but it just got to my circles now. It’s a piece that is being created on the spot by a couple, the Bengsons, Abigail and Shaun, who have been singing new songs, kind of like prayers, into this different kind of space we are living in now. And their opening piece, is called “The Keep Going On Song.” Here’s the link to the song (small warning—it has one curse word in it). “The Keep Going On Song” is a song they make up as they’re singing it and it’s about what it takes to just…keep going on. In the middle of a pandemic. Isolating from our people. Trying to make it through all of whatever this is. It’s about what they hope for us and for themselves, it’s about how this virus took them by surprise. And it’s about finding big moments of grounding and small moments of relief, making room for joy and rage and grief. It’s about how hard this all is. They say: “I hope you have enough good company or enough good memory to last you a long time.” It’s about connecting to one another through this time and it’s about making it up as we go along. And maybe—maybe—having the strength to keep going on. I haven’t done it justice here, but I commend it to you to listen to it if you feel so moved. I am compelled by the simplicity of this focus—what it takes to keep going on.

And this week in Torah, (and maybe this week in real life, but we’ll get there), this week in Torah, I think we find ourselves right there—in this snapshot of what it feels like to know you have to keep going on, but maybe wondering if you’re able.

There’s this guy, Noah, and there’s this world full of people who have gone too far with their violence and their greed and their indifference.

And there’s this God who tells Noah there’s gonna be a flood. And to build an ark. And suddenly Noah, this guy just living his life, finds himself in an apocalyptic version of the world he once knew. He becomes responsible not just for himself and his wife and his kids, but also responsible for sustaining life in a post-diluvian world, to bring two animals of each kind and seeds of each kind, into the ark so that after all is destroyed by this fed-up God, Noah can repopulate the earth with his body and these animals and these plants and start over.

This story we often tell through children’s books leaves Noah with the trauma of a person who’s gone through quite a lot more than he thought maybe he ever would or thought maybe he ever could. He builds an ark and one part of our tradition teaches that the reason he took so long to build that ark was to purposely slow the project down so he could try to coax others onto it, to save themselves, too! But he fails at that and enters the ark only with his family and the animals. He watches 40 days and nights of rain pummel the earth he knew, his home, his neighborhood—he imagined the destruction of distant lands, as well—consuming everything familiar and leaving an ocean of loss where he once had known joy and comfort. He is on the ark for months after the rains stop while the waters wash life from the earth.

And while we might picture these months as a cartoon menagerie, the rabbis described them as relentless. Some animals needed to be fed at night, they explain, and some in the morning, at every hour, so that no one in Noah’s family ever slept once during that year.

And then a moment in Torah comes. It’s a quiet moment—it is a moment that happens between the words, not with them. The ark has come to rest on dry land. The waters have receded and the flood is over. And Noah takes a beat. We hear God say to Noah—tzei min hateivah—Noah, leave the ark. It would be easy to gloss over. But the rabbis wonder—why did God have to say this? After a year on the ark—why wasn’t Noah packed and waiting at the door, ready to leave. One rabbi even says—if it had been me, I would have busted that door open as soon as I could. But Noah hesitates. Until God urges him forward. Tzei—Noah—tzei min ha’teivah. Let’s go, there are things to do and next steps to take, and a world to rebuild.

And I think in that second of hesitation, we learn a universe of things. What Noah has lived through—all of the unexpected turns his life has taken for him and his children, his friends who are now gone—this deluge has flooded his entire life. He hasn’t slept in months. And the thing is—the story isn’t nearly over yet. It’s been so hard and the hard part seems still ahead.

And in this tiny silence before he presses on, I think we can hear Noah wondering if he’s got it in him to keep going on. To do tomorrow and the day after and the day after that, too. And if any of this feels familiar, I hear you.

Seven months of a pandemic deluge. Our homes, and neighborhoods, and far off distant lands have been saturated, flooded, transformed into places we don’t entirely recognize. Our jobs and responsibilities have changed. We have lost neighbors who died in this flood. We have spent sleepless nights worried about our kids and our parents—feeding our proverbial animals all night and day. Anxious with the unknowns and what we are responsible for now and might be responsible for tomorrow.

And each morning, maybe we also hear or need to hear a gentle voice—tzei min hateivah. Leave the ark now. Wake up. Sign in to work or shower or make breakfast. Check in on kids or parents or self. How’s my body? How’s my soul? Make an appointment. Wash the dishes again. And the masks again. Celebrate a small joy; linger on a small loss. Remember a birthday, remember to plan for a trip that might happen beyond the COVID horizon. Review—who is your company and how are your memories holding up? Keep on going. Even though the work ahead is still hard. Take one step and then the next and then the next—tzei min hateivah—go out from the ark.

It’s not a given. It’s why the Bengsons are singing about it. It’s why the commentators pick up on Noah’s hesitation. It’s why the silence in Noah’s pause before proceeding resonates so deeply with the resilience it takes to keep slogging through our own flood and floods. Floods of emotion. Floods into hospitals. Floods of anxiety or grief or rage or hopelessness. Floods even sometimes of joy or memory or gratitude or forward-looking hope. Because it all takes a proactive decision to keep going on. To whatever is ahead. And it’s okay to hesitate and wonder if we’re able.

Noah does goes on. He leaves the ark. He prays to God with gratitude. He plants a vineyard in the barrenness. He nurtures it and grows his grapes and then he turns them into wine and drinks until he is drunk because in his going on, he also tries to numb himself from his trauma. He has his ups and his downs like we do. He is greeted by a rainbow and a blessing. He is rewarded with generations that come after him because his resilience did permit him to keep going on—even when it was so damn hard.

So we take stock. Because every morning, maybe, we feel like we are standing just inside the ark door and we’ve gotta face the sunlight again, so we reflect together: What is making you hesitate and wonder if you can keep going on today, tomorrow? And what heavenly voice or inner strength is allowing you to put your hand on the ark door and push it open again tomorrow? We have it somewhere in us, both the pause and the push. What is making you hesitate? What is allowing you to press on?

As our flood rages on and dries up and calls us to face what is next, may we draw from Noah’s hesitation to understand our own, and draw from Noah’s continuation to know we’ve got that in us, too. And may we find meaning, resilience, and strength, as we keep going on to face whatever is next.