Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Parashat Noach: Realizing Your Importance


Gam mei’oaf hashamayim shiv’ah shiv’ah zachar un’keivah l’chayot zera al p’nei khol ha’aretz.
Also of the birds of the sky, seven and seven, male and female, to keep seed alive on the face of the earth. (Breishit 7:3)
Noach, one of the few righteous in the world at his time, is instructed to build an ark to save a remnant of humanity and animal life from God’s destructive power. With him, he brings his wife, his three sons, and his sons’ wives. From these eight people human life would begin again. In the parasha, only Noach and his sons are named. The women are anonymous. Mrs. Noach beyond a name, she has no personality. She does nothing. She is lost to history. It’s odd. Breishit is filled with strong women:
  • Eve, who chose Adam and partnership over paradise
  • Sara, challenger of Avraham saying, God will choose between us.
  • Hagar, who made her own way in the world, and rose above her station
  • Rivka, who ensured God’s prophecy that Jacob would gain the inheritance
  • Leah, the mother of a nation through her own determination
  • Rachel, a symbol of strength in the face of infertility
  • Devorah, Rivka’s nurse, important enough for her death to be cited
  • Tamar, who refused to stand idly by and be taken advantage of
and there are many more. Yet, the women of parashat Noach, these women who helped ensure the existence of humanity, have no names, no history, no legacy. Traditionally, the Rabbis had great difficulty with anonymity. Both apocrypha and midrash give them names. Breishit Rabba tells us, ‘Naamah was Noach’s wife. Why was she called Naamah? Because her deeds were pleasing (neimim).’ Other texts, outside the Jewish canon, give names to these women. The Book of Jubilees, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and considered holy by the Bete Yisrael (Ethiopian Jews) and some Christian denominations, gives Mrs. Noach the name Emzerah, Mother of Seed. Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso takes up the mantle of Midrash, combining it with the name from Jubilees. In her book A Prayer for the Earth, Rabbi Sasso creates a legacy for Naamah.
Then God called out to Naamah, ‘Walk across the land and gather the seeds of all the flowers and all the trees. Take two of every living plant and bring each one onto the ark... Naamah tied an apron of many pockets around her waist and walked through all the earth’s fields and gardens… She journeyed into the forest… She placed them in the cool deep pockets of her apron, away from the light of the sun... from acacia to ziziphus… from amaryllis to zinnia… from apples to zucchini… God saw all that Naamah had planted and God said, “Because of your great love for the earth, I will make you a guardian of all living plants, and I will call you Emzerah, Mother of Seed… She saw how the seeds were carried great distances, and how they landed safely on the soft ground. As God had promised, the dandelions were everywhere…trees grew tall… Flowers sprinkled yellow, peach and lilac over the fields.
Most of us live lives that will not be mentioned in the great texts that will last through time. However, like Naamah, whose name, history, and legacy are missing from our history, each one of us, like Noach or Naamah, can make a significant impact in the world. As William Shakespeare wrote, “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary World.” Each of us has the opportunity to be that candle