We Must Be the Ark

Posted on October 20, 2023 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck

The deluge is coming. As in the days of Noah, there will be a flood whose purpose is to eradicate evil. Israel has no choice. Before October 7 — Simchat Torah 5784 — one could speculate about the atrocities that Hamas would commit if given the chance. Now we know with a certainty that they would slaughter every Jewish man, woman, and child without hesitation, and in the most brutal and horrific ways possible. Now, there can be no doubt that, if given another chance, they will do it again and again on whatever scale they can.

They have sown the wind, and they must reap the whirlwind. The dark clouds have gathered, and the rain has begun to fall. Only one critical task remains before the onslaught begins: there must be an ark to rescue the innocent — multiple arks, in fact.

One ark must rescue the innocent Israeli children, women, men, and elderly held hostage in Gaza. This is a sacred duty grounded in the mitzvah of pidyon sh’vuyim, the redemption of captives. For Israelis, this is an essential part of the social contract that enables them to serve, secure in the knowledge that none will be left behind, that no stone will be left unturned to bring them home should they fall into the hands of the enemy.

In the past, Israel has paid dearly to fulfill this obligation — several years ago, more than a thousand terrorists were released from prison to secure the freedom of one Israeli held by Hamas, Gilad Shalit — and it must do so again. Nearly two weeks have passed, and time is running out.

Another ark must carry the Israelis who have become refugees in their own country. Those displaced from their destroyed homes in the south, and those who have fled their threatened homes in the north. Many of them left with nothing but the shirts on their backs. Many are survivors of the slaughter. All are grieving the loss of loved ones and friends. Some are desperately worrying about the fate of loved ones and friends in captivity.

And there must be a third ark to bring relief supplies into Gaza to care for the innocent Palestinians and keep them safe from harm. We must remember that they, too, are victims of Hamas’s evil reign of terror. They have been used as human shields with total disregard for their lives. We must provide for their basic welfare because our Jewish and human values demand it of us. As my teacher Yehuda Kurtzer has written, “…Israel is fighting a just war based on a just cause… and it must fight in adherence to the ethics of war.” This, ultimately, is what distinguishes us from them.

We need a fleet of arks to navigate a sea of grief, and we need modern-day Noahs to build and deploy them. Who will do this?

A commentary on God’s command to Noah provides an answer. “Aseh l’cha teivah, Make yourself an ark,” says God to Noah, and the midrash understands the word l’cha to mean, “make of yourself an ark.” Be the ark. Be the vehicle of deliverance and succor. Be the force for good that will take the tempest tossed and bring them safely to shore.

Many have already risen to this challenge. Israelis have put their recent differences aside and are displaying unparalleled support and solidarity for one another. Myriads have volunteered and donated to help the cause.

So, too, Jews around the world have stepped up. Not since the Yom Kippur War has there been such generosity toward and solidarity with Israel. American Jewry alone is well on its way to raising $500 million, much of which is already being used to provide relief where it is needed.

Many non-Jews have responded with generosity and compassion, and none more than President Biden. He reminds us that the heart has multiple chambers, and so can hold more than one love at a time. No American president has shown greater support for Israel, while also committing to provide humanitarian aid for the innocents of Gaza. Biden is the first American president to visit Israel in wartime, and while he was there, he demonstrated his commitment to give Israel more than arms. He also gave hugs. Many hugs. And Israelis are grateful beyond words.

Many of us have watched with agony as the events have unfolded over the last two weeks, and have felt isolated, lonely, and helpless. Our anguish is justified. But there are things we can do.

Each of us can be an ark that provides succor to those whose lives have been shattered or disrupted by this war. We can contact our elected officials and demand that the safe return of those held hostage by Hamas be top priority. We can insist that our government use every channel of diplomacy available to secure their freedom, and we can also ask them to provide arms for Israel and humanitarian relief for Israel and the Palestinians. We can donate money to support Israel, and though we can’t send arms, we can send hugs.

The deluge has begun, and millions are adrift. Let us be modern-day Noahs, who build arks to provide safety, security, love, and compassion to all who need our help. And let us pray that when the storm passes, the evil of Hamas will be gone and the vision of the prophet will be fulfilled, that all “will sit under their vines and fig trees, and none shall make them afraid.”

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Gluck