“Parsha and Purpose” – Noach 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“How Will the World Remember COVID?”

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“How Will the World Remember COVID?”

How many lines will COVID-19 take up in human history?

Will it be a line or two? A paragraph? A chapter? Or a full book?  

I think it depends on one crucial idea that we find in Parshat Noach.

In Chapter 9 of the Book of Bereshiet, we learn that in the aftermath of the flood, Noach planted a vineyard. Genesis 9:20 

He drank the wine of these grapes, became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. Genesis 9:21

Noach’s son, Cham, saw his father’s nakedness and shared the news with his two brothers, Shem and Yefet. Genesis 9:22 

Out of respect for their father, Shem and Yefet covered their father, walking backwards into his tent with the cloth draped from their backs so as not to shame him. Genesis 9:23

Then, in verse 24, we read that when Noach woke up from his wine-induced sleep, he learned what his youngest son had done to him. Genesis 9:24

This verse is SO critical. 

You see, Noach is unhappy. 

He is depressed because of the loneliness that he experiences all around him. 

The loss of family and friends, the loss of camaraderie and community, all casualties of the flood. 

His depression causes his drunkenness, which is an attempt to escape his sorrow. 

But at this point Noach realizes what his depression has caused. 

He wakes up from his drunkenness, from his depression over the flood – “and learns what has happened”.  

Will we learn from COVID-19?

Will we learn how to have a true relationship with God? 

One that is concerned not only with ritual but also with the larger messages of the Torah, such as the responsibility to make sure that our conduct allows for all of humankind to be safe and secure… 

Religious experiences where ritual does not become an end in itself, but is a means to an end to ensure sacred moments in time with God.

Will we spend our time frivolously searching for religious reasons to explain why COVID-19 is happening, 

Reasons that are predicated on our subjective suppositions on how society should be organized – using the pandemic to reinforce our pre-existing notions?

Or will we allow the pandemic to awaken us from our spiritually drunken stupor to recognize that we cannot take family and friends for granted?

To realize it is not about explaining why tragedy befalls society, 

When such challenges arise, focusing on how we can engage to make a difference in the lives of the people around us?

How we recover from this pandemic will define how transformational this challenge has been.

Noach’s righteousness is predicated not on the fact that he does not sin, but rather on his capacity to learn from his mistakes.

Similarly, the role that COVID-19 will play in human history depends on what we learn from it, and how those teachings inspire us to transform society and enhance our personal lives.

Shabbat Shalom


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