The Return of Captain Noah

[By Rabbi Phyllis Berman & Rabbi Arthur Waskow from their book TALES OF TIKKUN: NEW JEWISH STORIES TO HEAL THE WOUNDED WORLD]

Scorching heat poured down outside the cave. The air wavered as it rose from baking rock. Within the cave, carved deep into the Ararat mountainside, all was as cool as it had been when Noah and Na’amah took apart the great Ark and packed it away, spar by spar and plank by plank.

The Voice filled the cave. “Sleepers, awake! Noah, Na’amah — I need you once again!”

From within the cave came groans and yawns and wails. What looked like blankets tossed into a heap began to stir. “Be quiet,” a voice muttered; “You promised us five thousand years of sleep.”

“You’ve already had that time, and many years beside. I need you. The earth is threatened with a Flood once more.”

“What! How can You? You promised You would never . . .”

“First of all, it isn’t Me apart from you, or Me apart from all your human children. The children of the children of your children ...

. . . are bringing this upon themselves.

“And secondly, it’s not a Flood of water this time.”

“What a quibbler! — always taking each word and letter with such care, as if you could hang an entire holocaust upon a hair of meaning! So what exactly is the danger this time?”

“See, you know it already, even when you do not know you know it! The danger is a holocaust, the burning of all things, a Flood of Fire. You say the very word even when you do not know what you are saying! You say “holocaust” ?— Even in your dreams you must have felt the flames.

“The children of the children of your children — they are obsessed with fire! Within them are burning great fires of ambition, and fire has become their symbol not of Spirit but of Action. Not of Being but of Doing. Making. The forge. The steam engine. Internal combustion, coal, oil — it is their own innards they are burning.

“And My innards too: My great forests they are burning. — They are making engines that burn up the coal and gasoline that long ago I wove into the earth — burn it and burn it until it chokes My air, My very Breath, with smoke and gases. — When the cities turn so hot they cannot bear it, they cool the air by using chemicals that burn great holes into My sphere of ozone. — And in their fury, they have turned whole cities into storms of fire.

“The flames they light will consume them. They have already created the first tidal waves of Smoke and Fire; soon these waves will overcome them. Yet they show no sign of stopping. Their own actions are bringing on themselves and on all living beings the Flood of Smoke and Fire.

“Awake! For you must build a safe and holy place beyond this Fire. For you, and of course for all the other life-forms.

“When the Flood of Water came, I gave you detailed instructions of how to build and enter a floating wooden Teva, the Ark of refuge. This time I call you to another sort of Teva: the Word. I bid you enter all the knowledge of the world, and I bid all that knowledge to enter within you. Take to heart all the truths that your children have discovered during your long restfulness: truths of power, energy, and science. Those truths have given so much power to your children that they can bring disaster on the earth; yet in those truths may also be the tools for you to save the bearers of all life.

“Be quiet now, and I will give you all the knowledge that has grown while you were resting. ”

The Voice halted, as suddenly as it had begun. Na’amah gasped:

“Wait! Wait! Hear us out before You ...”

But the Voice was not just silent. Stillness echoed through the cave, a quiet so deep that both Noah and Na’amah knew: They were on their own. And in that silence their minds were flooded with all the history and science of the last five thousand years. Behind their shut eyelids, the whole procession of human knowledge unfolded.

At last, gasping, groaning, they opened their eyes and looked at each other face to face. Na’amah shook Noah’s shoulder: “Come on,” she said, “I know your name means ‘Restful One’ but there’s a limit to your resting this time! I’m not just talking sleeptime here; I am not willing to sit passively, at rest, while this Flood of Fire burns the earth and billions of the living die. It is not enough to save just a few, as we did last time. Wake up — all the way up! We need to plan!”

“All right,” said Noah, finally. “But we can’t plan alone. Too much has changed. It’s far more complicated now. Even last time, do you remember how hard it was to care for the animals? Like the time the elephant tried to stamp out those red ants and stamped a hole in the Ark? How we had to beg the spiders to spin web upon cross-web to seal the hole? And nowadays — are the computers alive? Do we have to save them too? And what about the ozone layer? We need advice.”

“Good thinking, Noah. Let’s see . . . Last time, God gave us seven days after we had entered the Ark before the rain began to fall. I remember how frightening those seven days were, because the sun rose in the west and set in the east. Lamekh next door wept that the whole order of creation had gone into reverse — and indeed, it seemed to me a warning that God was about to “decreate” the universe, unwind the spiral of Creation. But the neighbors just wailed; they didn’t use the seven days to change their ways.

“As for us, we spent the time setting the Ark to rights and finding homes aboard for all the animals. We didn’t try to change our neighbors or to heal the world before disaster. This time, let us take the next seven days to seek a healing — by heeding the wisdom of seven different forms of life.”

“Good thinking, Na’amah. Where shall we begin? Last time, the sea creatures were safe; the ruination that humans had brought upon the earth escaped them, and God spared them: they just lived on in the waters deep beneath the Flood. Perhaps today as well, since they are hidden in the deepest reaches of Deep Ocean, they are still of all earth’s creatures the least scarred by what the humans now are doing. Safe from fire. So perhaps they have one kind of wisdom — the wisdom of those who are least frightened, least wounded.

“Let’s build a canoe from these remnants of the Ark, and make our way to the Ocean Deeps to ask them.”

And so Noah and Na’amah trudged down the mountainside to the nearest river, carrying planks and spars from the Ark. They canoed through whitewater rapids and floated to the sea, and then to the shores of the nearest ocean.

There Noah raised a sail, and Na’amah navigated toward the deepest deep. “You Who are the Breath of Life,” they chanted, “This is Day One, and You have told us that the time is short. If You wish to save the earth then speed us onward.”

And all the winds of the world, it seemed, propelled them skimming just above the waves. They quickly reached the Marianas Trench. And there they raised two conch shells, relics of the Ark, and blew ten notes of danger: three notes of alarm, long calls to rouse all beings from their torpor; three notes of wailing outcry from their memories of the Flood of Water; and three notes of broken sobbing. Then Na’amah’s breath ran out, but Noah blew one long last note: “Awaaaakening!” They settled down to wait.

Three hours later, a dolphin surfaced near their boat. “I have a message from the deeps below us,” she whistled and gurgled. “They say to tell you they heard your cry for help, and they ask me to carry them your message.”

Said Na’amah,

“The Earth is threatened with a Flood of Smoke and Fire.

“The air is thickening, the ice is melting, the seas are rising.

“Bless us with life;

“Teach us toward a healing!”

The dolphin pirouetted, and vanished into the waves.

Three hours later, the dolphin broke from the water, rising high in a great dancing leap into the misty air. “It was hard to dive so deep,” she whistled, “but when I got there I saw that everyone was dancing. The seabed is full of fantasies of life. Many of them tiny, but so different from each other! This is what they taught me —

”Dark beneath the water’s shadow,

Flashing colors no one eyes.

Sheer love, overflowing joy

Dance us into many life-forms


This is our teaching: “No barriers define us or keep us from each other, yet we multiply in our distinctiveness. If you wish to heal the earth, let love pour forth like the many flows and currents of the waters beneath waters.”

Hearing this message from beneath the waves, Noah felt giddy. “Love,” he laughed. “Abundance. Overflow. I see how that could save us . . . ” Smiling, he stood to turn the canoe back toward shore. Smiling, he walked straight off the side of the boat, falling headfirst into the ocean.

The dolphin swam to look Noah in the face, and gurgling began to swim in circles ‘round him. Every third circle, she touched her bottle nose to Noah’s bald spot. He laughed and sputtered, sputtered and laughed as she hummed and strummed, splashed and leaped. Still laughing, Noah dipped beneath the waves; arose for a moment, gasping yet giggling; went under . . .

Na’amah had been smiling. But as she watched she blinked, crouched, reached carefully out with a pole of acacia wood. As Noah bobbed above the waves, he caught hold of the pole as if it were a game. He yanked. His first tug almost upended Na’amah; but she braced herself and hauled him in, arm over arm, as if she had caught some unusually smart and funny beardfish. She eased him over the edge and he lay, gasping and guffawing, on the bottom. Na’amah turned to look at the dolphin. She was dancing in the water. Na’amah watched, delighted, and then knelt to slap a farewell into the water. “Love, abundance, overflow. and laughter,” she chanted: “Fare you well.” The dolphin slapped her tail and vanished.

Noah was still giggling in the bottom of the boat. “Unhinged!” Na’amah murmured. “The doors of his soul have been lifted off their hinges, and all the passageways are left wide open. Rapture of the deep.”

She knelt to hold his head, kissed his eyes and ears and then his lips. “Eyes!” she whispered: “Be screens as well as openings, choose what may enter. Ears! — Be screens as well as openings, choose what may enter. Lips! — Be screens as well as openings, choose what may enter.” Noah wakened, shook his head clear, blinked and breathed and listened. He smiled at her.

Noah said, “I learned that we should treasure the overflowing energy of many forms of life. All those beings at the bottom of the sea! They are not tools for us; we did not even know that they were there. Just how many and how rich they were, that was the lesson.”

Na’amah chuckled. “And how joyful. Something about the sheer liveliness made you laugh and laugh, even when you lost all boundaries and fell out of the boat. You would have fallen all the way to the bottom if I hadn’t saved you!”

“I felt playful,” Noah said. “Playing in the water was so much fun, I couldn’t pay attention to where the water stopped or started. We humans have forgotten to be playful, to laugh along with life just for the pleasure of its being.”

“We learned the lesson of Overflowing Love,” Na’amah said. “Overflowing love can give us overflowing life, and save the earth if we open our arms to its abundance; and Overflowing Love can drown our selves.

“So this is the teaching of Day One.Where shall we go to learn our second lesson? ”

Na’amah spun in a slow circle to gaze upon the circling world. The entire circle of the Pacific Rim came clear before her eyes. “I love it all, but love is not enough, ” she muttered. “Choose!” She turned the bowsprit toward the Andes Mountains.

Noah and Na’amah held hands, and once again they chanted:

“You Who are the Breath of Life: This is the Second Day, and You have told us that the time is short. If You wish to save the earth, then speed us onward.”

And again the winds gathered and sped them, skimming above the waves. Swiftly there rose before them an awesome chain of snow-capped mountains, rising it seemed almost directly from the ocean.

Once again, Noah and Na’amah raised the conch shells to their lips and blew ten notes of warning. “Mountains,” they called out,

“The Earth is threatened with a Flood of Smoke and Fire.

“The air is thickening, the ice is melting, the seas are rising.

“Bless us with life;

“Teach us toward a healing!”

“Teach us!”

Suddenly the sea around them began to swell, and wave after wave pushed them toward the shore. The canoe touched bottom, and they walked up the sand until they stood on solid rock. The mountains towered like a great wall above them. They turned around to look back at the ocean, but suddenly the mountains seemed to close around them in an enormous stony circle.

The earth beneath them began to vibrate, and their legs began to shake. To keep themselves from falling, they sat down. Deep in their chests they began to feel words forming, slowly, one by one:













Na’amah sat. She turned herself to look down toward the earth, her face just a few inches from the rock, staring intently . Noah watched her with a puzzled frown, and he reached a hand to touch her. She shook her shoulder impatiently, said “You stay there.” Minute after minute passed, and Noah saw a shimmering band of light surround her. Still more silence, and then Noah heard her murmur:

“We do too much.

We say too much.

We make too much,

we break too much,

we take too much.”

Her body curled into a ball. Noah waited for hours, but she seemed locked inside herself. He touched her face; it was cold and stiff. Finally he picked her up and carried her back to the boat. He set sail westward. When they passed the Isles of Spice, Na’amah breathed deeper, sneezed and sneezed again, stirred and awoke. “I need to rest here for a moment and think about what I have just been learning,” she said.

“The mountains taught me about boundaries. Nowadays the human race is always slopping over, poking into everyplace. Poking holes in the ozone layer, burning up the forests. We never stop, we never rest, we never look ourselves in the face. We are always running off to somewhere else, fleeing our families and our neighborhoods. And our selves.

”What I got from those enormous mountains was amazing. They were so strong, and they weren’t going anywhere. They spend thousands of years learning who they are. Suddenly I felt how strong it was to say — No further! To put a shield around myself. It gave me a stronger sense of my own depth, of what is possible inside me.”

“But you went rigid, silent, icy cold. That really scared me,” said Noah.

“I’m beginning to realize — our two lessons so far, each one was powerful but also carried a danger. From the ocean of Overflowing Love you almost drowned. From the mountains of Strong Boundaries I almost froze, I almost turned to stone myself.

“I’m glad you woke me,” said Na’amah, putting a hand on Noah’s arm. “Now where shall we go for our next lesson?”

They turned and held each other, warmed by the sun, stirred by the perfume of the Spicy Islands, quietly listening to the beating of their hearts. From deep in Noah’s chest came a tickling, a hum, a purr, a gentle growling. “Yes,” said Na’amah, “I hear them too: the great black bears of Wyoming.”

Noah and Na’amah held hands, and once again they chanted:

“You Who are the Breath of Life: This is the Third Day, and You have told us that the time is short. If You wish to save the earth, then speed us onward.”

So their sail filled with strong new-risen winds, and swiftly they moved toward the coast of North America. When they arrived, Noah whistled and warbled in the Eagle tongue until six great bald eagles plummeted to earth. A few conversations later, Na’amah and Noah stripped down their boat, wove some grasses of the California coast into a basket large enough to hold them both, and were off into the sky — carried by the eagles over woods and deserts, lakes and mountains, until they landed in the wild Wyoming.

The eagles flew in a great circle of salute above them and thundered off.

Na’amah and Noah walked into the forest till they found a prickly patch of blackberry bushes. They gathered berries, piled them high in the woven basket of their journey, and searched the forest for the trail of bears. Then they found a clearing, placed the berries in an eight-point circle, stood in the center, and called out together in a chorus:


“The Earth is threatened with a Flood of Smoke and Fire.

“The air is thickening, the ice is melting, the seas are rising.

“Bless us with life;

“Teach us toward a healing!”

And they sat, cross-legged on the ground, to wait. One hour later, a bear ambled from the forest, munched some berries, and came to sit a proper distance from the couple, in the center of the circle.

“Rest,” he said. And thoughtfully chewed some more.

Noah blinked. “Rest of what?”

“Not ‘rest of’ anything, grunted the bear. “Just ‘Rest,’ like ‘resting.’ I thought you’d understand because you were the restful one. In my tribe there are stories handed down two hundred generations of how you were always napping aboard the Ark.”

Noah blushed. “I ... I ...” he stuttered.

“‘Aye aye?’ That’s sailor’s language, right? I wouldn’t know myself, I’ve never sailed a ship, but the stories of the Ark — they have those salty words. ‘Aye aye.’” He licked his lips. “I love something salty with these berries.

“Just rest. You people need a restful rhythm. Like me. I rest all winter. You need to set aside some time for resting. Not doing. Not making. Not using. Not breaking. Resting. Dreaming. Remembering. Reflecting.

“That’s what I do all winter. I go into a cave — that part’s important, it feels warm and loving. Open to thought, open to feeling, closed to enemies and frenzy. In the cave I know I can’t do everything. Or anything. I don’t even grow. In fact, I get thinner. But my heart-mind grows from dreaming. And when I wake up in the spring — my legs are full of new paths, my eyes are full of new visions, my guts are ready to sow new seed, even my grrrowlll has new timbre. Or is it ‘timber’?” And he rose on his hind legs, grasped a slim birch tree, grrrowllled ‘Timber!’ and shook the whole tree, laughing as he danced.

“Your people used to rest. But now they run berserk. They never stop. They’re using up these forests because they never rest.

“This Flood of Fire that you’re fearful of — it’s from not resting.

“Tell them to rest. Set aside some time. If they won’t take off all winter, maybe a day each week, a week each month, a month each year. And make a cave. Don’t run, or fly, or zip away in those smelly wheely things. They’d make nice caves if you took the wheels off. Warm, soft for making love, a place to hide some berries and some chocolate.

“My cave — it’s like my heart. Each winter I go into my cave for peace and quiet, love and tenderness. Between winters I go into my heart that way: it feels like a small-sized cave, four chambers, little caverns. Quiet, calm, full of tender love.”

Na’amah yawned and stretched. “You’re right. I’m sleepy. Caves we know about; we’ve been asleep for ages in a cave. Never occurred to me that everyone could use one. Never occurred to me they could prevent the Flood of Fire. Is there a quiet cave near here?”

The bear laughed, his tongue falling all over his chin. “Of course. I’ll show you. Follow me. ... Got any chocolates?” And they followed him for a nap.

The whispers of the wind lulled Noah and Na’amah into a longer sleep. They woke next afternoon. The bear was gone; out foraging for chocolates or boysenberries, maybe. Said Noah, “I’ve never thought of the heart, the cave, and restfulness as all the same; but I see what he means. When I dream, it does feel as if my heart is thinking — rather than my brain. We slept so long I’d almost forgotten what it was like to take a nap: It’s gorgeous! So wonderful to wake up gently, nowhere to go, wriggling my toes in the luxury that there’s nothing that has to be done — my heart feels open, warm, young.”

“And for the world — “ said Na’amah; “For the world, it is such a delicious teaching: Just pause a minute! No wonder we’re in danger of a Flood of Fire! — we haven’t rested for so long a time. The children of our children got so good at making, doing, that they decided resting was a waste of time. They kept running straight ahead; so of course they’re on the verge of going off the cliff. We need to get them to . . . find a quiet cave, just take a nap!”

“There is one problem that I felt when I woke up,” said Noah. “I really badly wanted to just keep on sleeping. Why must I worry about the Flood, and ozone, and the arsenals of fire? I could just sleep.”

”I know,” said Na’amah. “Remember the tale of Jonah that our Assyrian daughter-in-law, our Yaphet’s wife, enjoyed to tell so often? He was a sailorman like us — that is, he learned it ‘cause he had to; and the first thing he did at signs of trouble was go down into the belly of his boat to get a nap.”

“I notice Black Bear does his sleeping in a rhythm,” Noah said. “He sleeps the winter, but I never heard of a bear that slept through spring. I guess the point is not to overdo it. Or . . .” — he chuckled — “In this case, not to underdo it.”

Na’amah stretched. “Okay, I won’t. I guess I’m ready to get back to work. So where’s our next learning,?”

“I don’t know. When you’ve really rested, it all looks different when you waken. New possibilities . . .”

They smiled at each other, joined hands, and once more chanted: “You Who are the Breath of Life: This is the Fourth Day, and You have told us that the time is short. If You wish to save the earth, then speed us onward.”

As they walked toward the mouth of the cave, they heard a humming, thrumming. At the opening of the cave, they saw hundreds of bees. When they listened closely, they heard “Nnnnnnnnnnoah, Nnnnna’ammmmah; Nnnnnnnnnnoah, Nnnnna’ammmmah.” They looked at each other and shrugged. “Brother Bear must have told them who we are, in barter for some honey,” said Na’amah. “Maybe they’re our teachers for the Fourth Day. Shall we tell them why we’re here?”

So together they stood just inside the cave. They chanted:

“The Earth is threatened with a Flood of Smoke and Fire.

“The air is thickening, the ice is melting, the seas are rising.

“Bless us with life;

“Teach us toward a healing!

“Bee-swarm, teach us!”

The bees began to dance into a spiral. Listening carefully, Noah and Na’amah could hear the pattern in their buzzing. “We always have a vision of the future. When one of use finds new flowers with new nectar, we dance a spiral dance to tell the others. We spiral to make a picture of the future, when others will follow the path we have just followed. But they will enrich it: more bees, more purpose, more aiming. The spiral will rise, though its pattern will repeat us.

“And this is what the whole swarm does, across the generations. Each of us curves where the spiral requires. That is why we make a spiral dance to open our new community. We plan ahead for seven generations. Where are the flowers likely to be growing, who will nurture the Queen, shall our hive community branch in two or is there sustenance for only one?

“Your people do not look ahead. They are so starved for some honey in their lives that they drink up all the nectar, all at once. They do not brush the pollen for new flowers. And they do not ask where they might be best fitted toward the future.”

“Learn to hummmm. Talk hhhummmmingly, not humanly! Humming teaches us the meaning of eternity. ”

Noah and Na’amah nodded. But the bee-swarm was not finished.

“You must ask your Queen to tell each worker where to work.”

Noah looked up. “We have no Queen,” he said.

“Yes,” said the bee-swarm. “We know. That’s why you’re not eternal, like us. You will need to have a Queen. Perhaps we should choose a Queen for you.”

“No,” said Noah. Before he could explain why he was saying No, the bee-swarm was spiralling around his head. “So human!” said the swarm. “You need a Queen, but you refuse to choose one. You told us that a Flood of Fire will descend on all of earth, and yet you refuse to do what will prevent it! You refuse to do your work in the Great Swarm, and your refusal is bringing death on all of us.

“If any one of us behaved this way, the rest would sting him to death.” And the swarm buzzed closer to Noah’s lips and throat. Its hummm grew sharper, higher, like a snarl.

“Wait!” said Na’amah. “The Holy Breath of Life Itself has told us what our task is in the Breathing of this moment. We have learned your teaching of Eternity and Unity, and we must seek the other wisdoms that your teaching leads to. You have talked about the flowers, the source of all your nectar. Which blossoms should we learn from?”

The buzz grew calmer. “The cherry blossoms give our sweetest nectar, and their humans have the longest vision of the past and future.”

“Good,” said Noah and Na’amah. “We will go to study from their petals.” And they hastened away from the lip of the cave, back to the woven basket of their journey. The swarm went back to building the hive.

Standing beside the woven basket, Na’amah threw back her head and shrieked. Noah jumped: “What’s wrong?!” “Just letting off steam,” Na’amah said. “That was a close one! Their lesson of Eternity and Unity — the lesson of planning so that we can work toward a decent future — that seems right to me. But then they turned it into Total Conformity. Not only did they want to impose a Queen on all humanity, they were ready to kill you for even questioning their edict. They are right about planning; but the place human beings have in the Great Web, the Great Swarm, is different from the place of bees. We need to bring a different kind of planning.

“I figured they wouldn’t listen to anything except an appeal to their own teachers. That’s why I asked for the blossoms of their honey-harvesting. I figured if I tried to argue with them, they’d sting you to death before I finished talking.”

“Very smart,” said Noah. “And — thank you! So now, what is the next lesson?

“I think we should go ahead with the cherry blossoms,” Na’amah said.

Na’amah threw back her head again, and this time shrieked a rhythmic series of calls into the world. Through the forest Noah heard the call repeated, echoed, and re-echoed, fainter and fainter as it traveled further. Three hours later, the great bald eagles dove from the sky. They waited while Noah and Na’amah once more chanted: “You Who are the Breath of Life: This is the Fifth Day, and You have told us that the time is short. If You wish to save the earth, then speed us onward.” Then they climbed into the basket, and the eagles carried it off to the slopes of Mount Fujiyama.

Noah and Na’amah found the mountain covered with cherry trees, austerely white with the palest blush of pink. They sat together at the mountain’s foot, and chanted:

“The Earth is threatened with a Flood of Smoke and Fire.

“The air is thickening, the ice is melting, the seas are rising.

“Bless us with life;

“Teach us toward a healing!”

The trees whispered, hardly breathing: “Beauty!”

“What?” said Noah. — And the cherry blossoms fluttered in the wind. Noah looked deeply into them, admiring the way the barest touch of pink gently deepened into the heart of the flower until it became a spark of burgundy.

“Fearing disaster — that is not enough,” whispered the blossoms. “You will never heal the earth if all you feel is fear of its destruction,”

“Pursuing justice — even that is not enough,” whispered the blossoms. “You will never heal the earth if all you seek is justice for its weakest species.”

“Delighting in beauty — that you also need,” whispered the blossoms. “You need to wander in the forests and the deserts, the tundra and the thunder. You need to see and hear how delicate we are and how profoundly piercing; you need to sniff our spice and salt and taste our fiery peppers.

“Then! — To the bees’ rhythmic march of earnest planning toward eternal fruitfulness, you will add our flowering melodies of joy, delight.”

Noah looked deeper into the cherry blossom in his hand. Deeper into a single petal. Its shadings drew him even deeper: palest pink and richest red and warmest white. One raindrop shimmered on the petal’s surface, and in that raindrop quivered all the universe. In that raindrop shimmered all the rich reds, pale pinks, warm whites of Na’amah’s loving, curving breast; all curving, flowing earth, and every whirling galaxy; each crawling beetle as it curved its path beneath the tree trunk, and each soaring eagle as it carved its curving flight across the heavens; all the spiral of birthing, dying life. The colors moved and stirred within him as the raindrop trembled on the petal’s edge and then slid gently toward the blossom’s heart.

Dimly he felt a warmness on his arm. It spread: the slant and slide of warmth growing as gently on his skin as the slant and slide of color had moved into his eyes. As his forearm felt a faint caress grow stronger, his hand, his shoulder, his chest, felt the blood stir warmer. Slowly his eyes and heart released the cherry blossom, slowly he turned to see what warmth was moving from his arm into his body. Slowly his eyes adjusted to a different scale of vision, and he saw a hand just touching him. His whole body shook, his breathing quickened, and he saw Na’amah’s hand upon his upper arm.

His lips shook, his tongue rustled before he could shape his mouth into a question. “What?” he said, and turned to see Na’amah’s face crinkle into a smile. “Thank God, and welcome!” she murmured. He blinked — the raindrow on the cherry blossom reappeared for an instant in his eyes — and said, “Where have I been?”

“When have you been is nearer to the question,” Na’amah said. “You’ve been right here, and for two hours you’ve been inside that flower. I thought perhaps I’d lost you to the melodies of color.”

“Almost,” he said. “I thought you were in there with me. Your hand, your breast . . .” She smiled, and her lips curled into the blossom of the cherry. For a moment he floated away again, felt her hand tighten again. shook himself into her hand again.

“So even beauty has its cost,” he said. “I could have fallen deeper and deeper, never have come back to heal the world because one flower was touching me so deeply.”

Na’amah nodded. Noah sighed. “So our journey isn’t over,” he muttered. “ Where do we go from here?”

“Each day, our lesson for that day has moved us into the next one,” said Na’amah. “What saved you when you fell into the flower — what saved us all — was my hand, reaching out to touch you and awaken you. We connected.”

They smiled at each other, joined hands, and once more chanted: “You Who are the Breath of Life: This is the Sixth Day, and You have told us that the time is short. If You wish to save the earth, then speed us onward.”

“But where do we go from here?” said Noah. “Where are we speeding?”

“We aren’t,” said Na’amah. “I think the lesson is connecting. And who connects better than human beings? We are the creatures of reaching-out. Our young stay helpless for years, so that they need a community of people who reach out to care for them. And we talk and talk and talk, reaching out to others with our lips and tongues.”

Noah laughed, and kissed her: “Well, that’s for sure!”

“So we are the people that we seek,” Na’amah laughed behind his kisses. “If the Breath of Life needs to speed us toward each other, it’s only in our understanding — not our bodies.”

“In our bodies, too!” said Noah, kissing her again.

“That’s true. This is a better way to say it: we need to touch with our minds and our feelings the way we do with our bodies. When we talk, we need to use the words as if we were making love. And when we learn from the world around us, just as we’ve been doing, it has to be a kind of learning that is also like making love.”

“It used to be that way,” said Noah. “When we got off the Ark, I remember that I didn’t just plant a grapevine — I invited the grapevine to its own harvest party. Such a time we had that night!”

Na’amah made a face. “Yes, I remember — and I remember how drunk you got, you and your grapes!”

“True, I overdid it. Still, I didn’t bring a Flood of Fire on us. One of the reasons we’re in danger now is that too many of the humans have been acting as if the world were dead already. If they want to understand a grapevine, do they invite it to the party? No! They poke coldly at it, pick it apart, dissect it without ever connecting to it. They treat it like a cold dead corpse. If we treat the world as if it’s dead, it dies — and we die with it!”

“I understand!” said Na’amah. “Truly, I understand what you are saying. What I don’t understand is why you keep saying it. I feel as if you’re lecturing me, when I already know what’s wrong. Next thing you know, you’ll be calling out our mission, our outcry, to me — as if I didn’t know it.”

“You’re right, you’re right!” said Noah. “Let’s hear each other say it!

“The Earth is threatened with a Flood of Smoke and Fire.

“The air is thickening, the ice is melting, the seas are rising.

“Bless us with life;

“Teach us toward a healing!”

“I get it — really, I get it!” said Na’amah. “I got it long ago. You’re making reaching-out barely bearable. Here we are, just two of us, and yet it feels to me as if you’re standing on a skyscraper and shouting out your lecture. Maybe there are moments for the skyscraper, but the whole idea of asking for advice is more like gathering around a tiny table. If people are going to receive your out-reaching, they need to have some space to breathe, to think their own thoughts and speak their own amendments to your manifesto. Maybe something new will come of how they react to what you say!”

Noah looked dazed, his face red, his body arched into space, every limb pointing outward. “Reach out, reach out!” he muttered.

Na’amah gathered his body in her arms. “Receive, receive,” she murmured. He began to tremble, to quiver, and gradually his muscles softened. Na’amah helped him to sit down.

“Whoosh!” said Noah. “Almost lost it there. From a good thing, too — from reaching out. It’s so easy to get drunk on a good thing, the way I got drunk on those grapes last time we sailed the Ocean.”

“Well of course,” said Na’amah. “Who would get drunk on something that felt bad?”

Noah laughed. “It’s been that way with every lesson, no? First we get to like it, then it slops over. I guess there’s such a thing as too much out-reaching, or a too tense way of reaching out. It’s the nature of out-reaching to be a little tense — just feel your body when it’s reaching out.” And he stretched his whole body, arched up and out and over. He shuddered.

“And not just out-reaching. Funny how each lesson has a dark side too. How do we guard against getting drunk on the dark side, whatever it is? Each lesson acts as a corrective to the others — but not just a corrective, not just saying ‘No.’ Each one says ‘Yes’ to the best part of the others.

“I think . . . I think . . . we need to gather all our teachers, so that each one works to strengthen the best of the others. Connect, then collect!”

“Time for the Seventh Day?” said Na’amah. “Are we agreeing — this time we’re meeting with all the other teachers?“

They smiled at each other, joined hands, and once more chanted: “You Who are the Breath of Life: This is the Seventh Day, and You have told us that the time is short. If You wish to save the earth, then speed us onward.”

“Whoops,” said Noah. “Onward whither? Where are we gathering?”

“It will take a special place, a unique time, to make this possible,” said Na’amah. “We are so different from each other — the Bear and the Mountain, the Ocean’s Deep-Life and the Cherry Blossoms, the Bee-swarm and the two of us — there is no ordinary place and time where we can meet. The Holy Breath of Life left us on our own; but now we need to go beyond our ordinary lives.”

Around them the wind gathered strength, and hints of words began to stir in the breezes. Suddenly above them there glowed in the sky the great Arc of the Rainbow. The whispering wind became a clearer Voice: “My bow of seven colors I grant you for this Seventh Day. Beneath the Bow, beyond time and space, in the day that is a whisper of eternity, I affirm the gathering of all your teachers.”

Suddenly the earth dropped away beneath the feet of Noah and Na’amah, and the wind bore them into somewhere deeper than a darkened violet. The Rainbow doubled and became a great and glowing circle full of color. Within the circle there appeared another circle, the teachers of the first six days: a cluster of exotic flowering plants and tiny animals awash in waves of briny water; a towering mountain topped with snow; a panting, laughing black bear; a buzzing spiral of swarming honeybees; a cherry tree bearing curves of pale blossoms dusted with a hint of pink; Noah and Na’amah. Under the great Arch swooped and danced a band of eagles; beneath them, in what might have been dark water or night air, a single dolphin played with an acacia-wood canoe and a woven basket.

“So you have gathered us,” hummed the bees. “What do you want?”

“Simply to celebrate your gifts together,” Na’amah said.

“The Earth is threatened with a Flood of Smoke and Fire.

“The air is thickening, the ice is melting, the seas are rising.

“Bless us with life;

“Teach us toward a healing!”

“What are our wisdoms?” hummed the bees.

Chanted Noah and Na’amah in a lilting unison:

“From the oceans, overflowing love;

“From the mountains, structured boundaries;

“From Brother Bear, a focus for compassionate restfulness;

“Planning for eternity, from the bees,

“And from the cherry blossoms, playful graceful beauty in the moment;



And all the creatures whirled as the colors of the great Bow turned to a symphony of sound: red shrill and piercing voices of a flute, an indigo bass viol, a trumpet’s golden shining.

“Here begins the healing of each Self and all of earth,” they heard the Breath of Life beneath the chorus.


Torah Portions: