The First Quarantine
Noah and his family stuck in the ark for one year and one week is the first recorded quarantine. I suspect that he was tired of the restrictions, but he had no option but to remain in what was a floating menagerie.
We too have tired of the pandemic. The seemingly endless quarantines, the masks, the social distancing are all burdens. We no longer want to hear the daily litany of the number of infections and deaths. We have learned to use Zoom as the medium of our contact with others, but we long to again enjoy “four eye” conversations and the joy of physical contact with family and friends. We are also understandably skeptical of claims that we are rounding the corner
God, tiring of human transgression, and of the social orders filled with violence, regrets having created Adam and Eve. Yet God is not quite ready to give up on humanity. He selects Noah, his three sons and their wives to survive the great flood in the Ark for which they were ultimately to exit and begin rebuilding the world.
The raging rains lasted for 40 days and 40 nights. It then took many months until the waters abated and the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. Noah exits with God’s charge ringing in his ears: you are to rebuild the world and create a new and moral social order. These were no small tasks, no minor challenges. For Noah and his family rebuilding the totally devastated world was undoubtedly a daunting and virtually impossible task.
It’s very much what we will be facing once the pandemic is defeated. Hopefully the vaccines will be effective, and we will emerge out of our quarantines and isolation to pick up our pre-Coved lives. Children who have lost many many months of classroom education, the small business owners who have to rebuild, their employees, far too many of whom have been reduced to poverty, symbolize the daunting challenges facing us. Rebuilding economies and healing our many physical and social wounds will not be easy. It will require fortitude and patience.
Hopefully our response will not emulate Noah’s. Faced with the monumental challenge of rebuilding, he plants a vineyard, makes wine, and falls into a drunken stupor. It’s not an unusual response when facing a seemingly impossible challenge. We all know the feeling of being overwhelmed and the desire to find an outlet that deflects, but for a moment or longer, the task before us.
Yet the Biblical account of Noah and the flood should give us hope. It required a great deal of patience to get through that year in the ark. The story ends with Noah’s family ultimately exiting and despite Noah’s negligence, to begin rebuilding the world and propagating humanity. Fortunately God has resigned himself to human failings and promises to have more patience with us. We are both energized and confident by His vow never again to destroy or to endanger all of humanity, and we are here today to tell and retell this amazing story.
I have no way of knowing when we will reach our proverbial Mount Ararat, and we can emerge from the quarantines to pick up the pieces and move forward. The moral of Noah and the great flood is not to abandon hope, and when the time comes to successfully rebuild and refashion our world.
May we be blessed to soon enjoy the end of the restrictions and limitations imposed upon us by the pandemic. Let us have the fortitude and determination to emerge from this difficult and seemingly endless trial to make tomorrow a far better day.
From the holy city of Jerusalem, my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and blessing.
Rabbi Arnold M Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar