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Sermon: Parshat Noach, 11/1/19

11/05/2019 08:33:34 AM


Rabbi Charlie

Shabbat Shalom! I am not a fan of the idea that Noah and the Ark is a little kid’s story. If you go online and do a search for Noah’s Ark, the first thing that comes up is the Noah’s Ark experience near Cincinnati. Someone actually built a life-sized Noah’s Ark museum that you can tour and walk through. Not a joke – and there’s a zip line… it’s not far from a creation museum… it’s a real thing.

The second thing that your search will reveal is some kind of happy Noah’s Ark kids’ picture. There’s the rainbow and all the happy animals in the ark. What they don’t show all the little kids is that all the rest of life on earth was wiped out. This is not a story for little kids.

To prove this point – after the rain stops and the covenant is made, what comes next for Noah? The only other thing that Torah says about Noah is that he plants a vineyard, gets drunk, and embarrasses himself. Our rabbis are unsympathetic. Rashi said that he profaned himself. Sforno implies that he was flawed from the start. Many see it as a cautionary tale against excessive intoxication. They were not familiar with modern psychology, so it’s not surprising that they didn’t understanding Noah’s reaction as a common response to unresolved trauma.

Genesis 7:23 describes the experience: “All existence on earth was blotted out -- man, cattle, creeping things, and birds of the sky; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.” It paints a picture of absolute loneliness. There’s no tears, no outward signs of morning, but Noah bears witness to nothing less than the destruction of the world.

In today’s world, it’s not hard to view Noah’s drunkenness as a complicating factor after experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. He experienced unfathomable trauma – he self-medicated with alcohol. He’s not the only one who experiences trauma in Torah. Some Jewish commentators have taught that Isaac experienced PTSD after his father almost killed him – finding clues of anxiety and depression in the text. Nothing is written about Jacob and Leah’s daughter, Dina, after she is raped. We don’t know of her suffering or her resilience. She is silenced, like so many women have been silenced after terrible and traumatic experiences.

Trauma is a part of Torah because it’s a part of life. Many thanks to the Mayo Clinic and Veterans Affairs for the following basic information. It’s important to note that trauma is common. About 6 of every 10 men and 5 of every 10 women experience at least one trauma in their lives. Fear, anxiety, anger, depression, guilt are all common reactions to trauma. Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better.

PTSD can result when symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, or uncontrollable thoughts of the event get worse, persist for months or years, or continue to interfere with day-to-day functioning. This happens for about ten percent of all women over the course of one’s life or four percent of all men. At any given time, the VA estimates that eight million people are experiencing PTSD, which can lead to other mental health challenges, such as depression, issues with drugs or alcohol, eating disorders, or suicidal thoughts or actions. And this is only PTSD. There are many more forms of mental health challenges.

In response to Noah’s drunkenness, Noah has a family member embarrass him by making a difficult moment public. Unfortunately, such occurrences remain far too common today – especially when it’s so easy to publicize private moments. People are made fun of or not taken seriously due to mental health issues. PTSD, like most mental health issues, is not the fault of the individual. It’s not a sign of weakness. Which is why, like most mental health issues, it’s important to get support and help. It’s important to get help for people experiencing PTSD and often times, it’s important to get help for people trying to support their loved ones and friends who are experiencing PTSD.

The Jordan Harris Foundation encourages us to Bring Light to the Conversation around suicide and depression and the same can be said for PTSD and any mental health issue. Erase the stigma so we can be more open, more understanding, and do better for our friends and family and community members who need love and support. Bring Light to the Conversation!

Shabbat Shalom!


And yes, while I want to encourage everyone to participate in the Peace Together Walk tomorrow, I also want to encourage you to join me for the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation luncheon on November 13 from noon to 1pm. You can register at Talk to me for more information.


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Thu, July 9 2020 17 Tammuz 5780