Make a Name for Yourself Off the Ark

Rabbi Bradley Artson
Rabbi Bradley Artson
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson

Abner & Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Vice President, American Jewish University

Rabbi Dr Bradley Shavit Artson ( has long been a passionate advocate for social justice, human dignity, diversity and inclusion. He wrote a book on Jewish teachings on war, peace and nuclear annihilation in the late 80s, became a leading voice advocating for GLBT marriage and ordination in the 90s, and has published and spoken widely on environmental ethics, special needs inclusion, racial and economic justice, cultural and religious dialogue and cooperation, and working for a just and secure peace for Israel and the Middle East. He is particularly interested in theology, ethics, and the integration of science and religion. He supervises the Miller Introduction to Judaism Program and mentors Camp Ramah in California in Ojai and Ramah of Northern California in the Bay Area. He is also dean of the Zacharias Frankel College in Potsdam, Germany, ordaining Conservative rabbis for Europe. A frequent contributor for the Huffington Post and for the Times of Israel, and a public figure Facebook page with over 60,000 likes, he is the author of 12 books and over 250 articles, most recently Renewing the Process of Creation: A Jewish Integration of Science and Spirit. Married to Elana Artson, they are the proud parents of twins, Jacob and Shira.  Learn more infomation about Rabbi Artson.

posted on October 29, 2016
Torah Reading
Haftarah Reading

This next week, our country will elect a new president. A general fear of the unknown looms over us like a wall cloud before a tornado. We do not know where it will hit or when, or if at all, but the green, dark sky teases us about what might come. One scary aspect of this election is the name-calling and labeling, and the neglect of any concern about how we might falsely characterize others in an attempt to draw people nearer to our own point-of-view. We are each of us born into this world without a name, character or story. Once we are named, we begin living a life of identity and our story begins.

Noah's name gives us prophecy into the person that God hopes for him to be. Noach, made up of the letters nun and chet, when the letters are switched, becomes the word chen, translated as grace. How do we look within ourselves to find the full nature of our name and act within the influence of its full meaning? And, what becomes of the name of someone whose character contradicts, perhaps violently, the name's reputation?

When we meet Noah, we hear that he is a righteous man, perfect in his generation, and one who walked with God. Though a lovely introduction, the lack of detail is less than compelling proof of Noah's good character. We are told that Noah believes in God, listens to God's orders and observes God's commands, but is that grace?

"God said to Noah ‘come into the ark'" and Noah obeys bringing his family and a pair of each species aboard. The Baal Shem Tov, a 17th century mystical rabbi, teaches that the Hebrew word for "ark," teivah, is also translated as "word." Therefore, if this sentence from Bereshit chapter 7 is reinterpreted, the Baal Shem Tov believes it could mean, "come into the word." God is asking Noah to enter in prayer, and observance of Torah study, to find a sanctuary in meaning and holiness amidst life's storm. Each of us has our own teivah, our own ark, that we build to jump upon with all that is important to us when we need to stay afloat in the craziness of the world. Noah's grace is evident not only in his willingness and ability to build an ark according to God's instruction, but in his spiritual relationship to God.

God then commands Noah to "go out of the ark." Here the ark is the physical lifesaver, yet the metaphor comes in Noah's ability to leave that which has been his sanctuary. The Divine command to leave, is to use that which has been gained inside the ark, and bring it out to the world. To learn the blessing of sanctuary, safety, love, family, values and compassion and bring that grace into the broken world.

You and I need not focus on building the material ark. Our task is to leave our sanctuary and bring God's gifts and lessons out to the world. At the end of the storm, there is a rainbow. There is no rainbow IN the ark. There is only rainbow OUTSIDE the ark. If you have reason to fear what is coming, build a sanctuary of spiritual relationship and then go out from that sanctuary, spreading goodness and grace. Earn your good name. Vote. Make sure to see a rainbow.

Shabbat Shalom