Since ancient times, a ritually prescribed Torah reading—a parasha— has been known by a title taken from the prescribed opening biblical verse. In addition to its conventional designation, some sages have given us the precedent of calling a parasha by a name that draws the eye and ear to an inner theme.
The parasha called, “Noah,” might resonate more deeply today if we were to name it parashat Come Into The Ark (Genesis 7: 1).
All generations share the outer name, the name that puts us on the same communal page. The inner name invites personal experience and imagination into the story. For example, parashat Noah, the second Torah reading in Genesis, is deeply, invitingly, reflectively relevant to those living in the generation of a pandemic; a generation in need of living shut tight within the ark.
The Torah offers only a rough blueprint of the Ark’s outer dimensions. But our challenge is to go into the ark by exploring, appreciating, and elaborating its inner space. Two second century teachers were curious enough to go through the door and explore the undescribed interior of the Ark, treating parashat Noah as though it were parashat Come Into The Ark.
Inside the Ark, Rabbi Yehuda found two rows of stalls along the length of the Ark that were separated by a single corridor. His colleague, Rabbi Nehemiah, saw three rows of pens with two corridors. Neither sage offered any argument or biblical proof in support of his vision. Each teacher entered, as do we, because the outer story gives us entrée and the inner life gives us need and imagination. And, parashat Noah in the scroll shows us precisely where to find the door. Thanks to parashat Come Into The Ark, we are moved to enter and to learn about the Ark, which is our own, that shapes and is shaped by each of us.
Everyone shares the image of the Ark’s door. Each of us inhabits the interior space that is shut against violent and viral seas. In addition, we might say, there are Arks within Arks—houses and bodies that bring one another to life. Parashat Come Into The Ark invites us to explore the vessels that keep us afloat—and alone—together.
My own body-ark is now at sea in the treatment of recently discovered cancer. Consequently, our house-ark is now refitted with a bathroom anticipating my body-ark’s falling and rising on seas of regular chemotherapy. I find myself stocking the house-ark with stores of books and music—more than enough for a lifetime. Between seas of pandemic virus and personal disease, mortality is a snugger fit, at the very least. Perhaps books and music are life preservers, waving, floating, and pulsing me forward. In any event, I feel secure and energetic; one ark within another lovingly supported by family and community.
I imagine that Noah, flesh and blood, fearful and hopeful exemplar, certainly must have made accommodations for personal and family needs in the Ark. It must be true since the Torah has told him and us to shut ourselves within and we have entered—each of us—with experience, hope, and imagination.
Parashat Come Into the Ark allows me to see the interior of the ark for myself while seeing the ark that is my own self. Just as for Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Nehemiah, that inner space is made from my own experience and imagination; it needs no proof or confirmation by an outside verse. I am—we are—the text. The Torah is the commentary.