Imagine Noach in his teivah.
Stuck in a structure for an entire year.
Imagine how claustrophobic he must have felt. The screams of the animals. The stench.
I wonder if he missed his neighbors, his cousins, his parents. All dead.
Imagine his dream at night – if he slept at all. The hellish nightmares that surely woke him up in a cold sweat.
If you look at the back wall of the shul, you will see the faces of a hundred people who know exactly how Noach felt.
If these men, women, and children, ranging from the age of 3 to their 80’s are even alive, they are most certainly feeling claustrophobic right now.
They are surrounded by people speaking a language they don’t understand. They hear missiles falling, sirens, and screams.
They may have just witnessed their family members or friends murdered in front of their eyes. Or worse, they have no idea what happened to their loved ones.
I can’t imagine they are getting any accurate reports.
And the nightmares. With no one to soothe them. To hold them. To tell them it’s going to be okay.
Not to compare in any way because to do so is an insult to the horrific experience these hostages are experiencing right now – but in our own way, we are all feeling claustrophobic right now. We’re all feeling boxed in, suffocated. Someone bumped into me quite physically at the subway station the other day. Was it a mistake or was it deliberate? Are people looking at us different or is it just our imagination?
You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think the world is out to get us right now. Did you read what our “best and brightest” signed on to at Harvard and Penn?! Our future doctors, lawyers, and judges. Our future leaders?!
Have you seen the protests across the country where the thin veil of anti-Zionism has been dropped and antisemitism is on full display?
Like Noach, we’re all feeling short of breath; walls moving in; trapped.
The Torah describes the dimensions of the teivah and then adds an intriguing detail. “Tzohar taaseh lateivah, a tzohar should be made for the ark.” The Medrash relates a debate as to the meaning of this word. Rabbi Abba bar Kahana suggests that it is a window. Rabbi Levi suggests that it is a special stone that gave off light. On face value, they are debating where the light of the teivah came from, a rather technical architectural question. The first opinion suggesting that the light came from outside, whereas the second opinion arguing that there is no light outside during a vicious storm, and therefore it must have come from this special shiny stone.
But perhaps there is more at play. Perhaps Rabbi Abba bar Kahana is teaching us a relevant and personal lesson. Perhaps the window of the teivah is meant to teach us that when one feels lost and alone, when one feels like they are locked away from the rest of society and begins to give up hope – look out the window! There is always more than meets the eye. There are always people out there who can help you. As Mr. Rogers would say, “Look for the helpers.”
As dark and lonely and depressing as it is to be a Jew right now, there is also a lot of light outside. For example, the vast majority ofAmerican political leaders who are strongly supporting the Jewish People. Or the French government who attempted to outlaw supporting Hamas. Or the leadership of Germany and England who made solidarity trips to Israel. And of course, President Biden’s historic trip to Israel, lending Israel’s fight against Hamas international legitimacy, and providing all forms of needed aid to the citizens of Israel and the IDF.
As claustrophobic as we all feel, there is a lot of light shining through.
But Rabbi Levi reminds us that there isn’t always light coming in from outside. Imagine once again those many hostages who are all alone, hidden in some bunker in Gaza. They don’t know that much of the international community is cheering them on. They have no clue that President Biden just visited the region. They’re probably being fed lies day and night. They’re probably being told that Israel is losing the battle, that Hamas is winning the war.
Says Rav Levi, even when there is no light coming in from the outside, even when you are enveloped in darkness, there is a tzohar, a precious stone, that can give off light. It is possible to find hope in the midst of a terrible storm.
In the sixth century BCE, Jerusalem was surrounded by the Assyrian forces. The Assyrian army was the mightiest in the region, wreaking havoc and devastation everywhere they turned. These were the same Assyrians who conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and obliterated the ten tribes who lived there. Chizkiyahu, the king of Judea, was given the opportunity to surrender, but he chose not to. “I have a tradition from my great-grandfather, King David,” he proclaimed. “Afilu cherevchuda al tzavarecha, even with a sharp sword on your throat, we do not despair.” (Talmud, Berachos)
No nation provided any military support to King Chizkiyahu. And yet, the Judean Kingdom survived. All those nations who didn’t come to the aid of King Chizkiyahu, the Babylonians, the Edomites, the Moabites, they are gone. The Assyrian army is a relic of history. And yet, the Jewish People are still here.
I hope and I pray that those 203 hostages who have no window to the outside world, can draw upon that inner hope that has shined for us for so many years. I hope and pray that those 203 hostages who have no window can find their own tzohar, something to keep them going, as they face unimaginable horrors.
But you and I, as claustrophobic as we may feel, we are not stuck. You and I can do something for those trapped inside. And we must.
Do you remember how the Jewish world was turned upside down a few years ago when the three teenagers were kidnapped? Remember what we did and said for 3 people? There are now 203 who have been kidnapped!! 203 sets of mothers and fathers and children crying their eyes out!! I imagine we are all just so overwhelmed by all the news that we haven’t let it sink in that 203 men, women, and children, who are being held by people who a few days ago, violated, decapitated, burned and destroyed entire families.
There was some discussion among the shul leadership before putting those signs up in the back of the shul. We wondered if it’s too intense.
But we decided to go ahead with it, precisely because it is so intense; we cannot afford to lose sight of what these 203 hostages are going through.
So we will look into their eyes, we will read their names, we will be shocked at their ages. And now we have to ask ourselves, what can we do? I’d like to share 3 suggestions:
G-d willing, we will have a chance to one day meet one of these 203 hostages. And we will be able to look him or her in the eye and say, I did not give up. I thought of you, I prayed for, I fought for you.
May we see that day bimheira v’yamenu, speedily in our days.