What can we learn from a disaster?
October 8, 2021
By Harvey Sanders

A global disaster.  Being told we have to quarantine and being reluctant to do so.  Having to stay there for too long.  Making mistakes when we finally come out.  This all seems so familiar to us who have lived the past year and a half.  But it is also the story of this week’s Torah reading – Noah.

We all know the story of Noah taking his family and the animals into the Ark and surviving a flood that covered the world.  It was only when Noah sent out a dove and it returned with an olive branch, that they left the ark.  After Noah built an altar and made a sacrifice, G-d made the rainbow as a promise there would never be a flood like that again.

Just as we saw COVID spread around the world before it arrived in WNY, a midrash (commentary) suggests that it took years for Noah to build the ark and yet everyone around refused to believe what was coming.  Another midrash says even Noah did not enter the ark until the water reached his ankles.  It can be so difficult to know what to do and when, but we need to look around and listen to those who are wise.

We all remember it rained forty days and nights, but Noah was in the ark for much longer – it was more than a year in the ark.  Again, we look to a midrash that says Noah and his family had a tough time in the ark taking care of the animals and never got any sleep.  Many of us went more than a little stir-crazy during COVID.  But there are also touching stories about people taking care of neighbors and others.  When they came out of the Ark and Noah sacrificed animals on the altar, I wonder whether he selected the ones that had given him the most trouble.  None of us expected to quarantine as long as we did and we need to consider the mental health issues that arose from being cooped up together (or being alone) for so long.

When Noah left the ark, he planted a vineyard, made wine and got drunk.  One of his sons, Ham, disrespected and mocked his father.  While alcohol consumption has increased during COVID (with consequences), we also saw in our eagerness to resume normal life after COVID, that we had issues with masks and large gatherings.  Our behavior post-COVID is a lesson about both avoiding mistakes and how we treat those who make mistakes (and about concern for illnesses, like alcoholism).

We think of the olive branch as a sign of peace to this day.  But remember that olive leaves are bitter.  Peace does not always mean you get what you want.  Compromise can leave a little bit of a bad taste in your mouth.  But the things you can make with a little bit of olive oil.  Ah!

One final note is to invite all of you to join me for an in-person gathering as a community (livestream also available) on Election Night.  On November 2nd at 7 pm, the next Made In Buffalo event will feature Buffalo born and bred Gary Ginsberg who will be talking about his book, First Friends: The Powerful, Unsung (And Unelected) People Who Shaped Our Presidents at Temple Beth Tzedek.  It is a story of leadership and friendship and an event not to be missed.  Click HERE to register today!

Harvey Sanders is a partner at Sanders & Sanders, a law firm specializing in employment law.  He is a Past President of Temple Beth Tzedek and currently serves on the Federation’s Board of Governors.

What can we learn from a disaster? - Jewish thought of the week graphic