One Year Later: Seeing the Flood of #MeToo so the Rainbow Can Shine

Parashat Noach

As Delivered at Temple Emanu-El on October 13, 2018

This time last year, at Parashat Noach, I delivered a sermon entitled: See the Flood of #MeToo so the Rainbow Can Shine. The rainbow, of course, is the symbol that God stretches across the sky for Noah to see as a sign of God’s covenant with Noah and his descendants. The flood, was the destruction that God caused due to the wickedness of the rest of the people on earth.

The flood of #MeToo from my sermon was the 2017 movement of women coming forward to share their stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault at all levels of society. This was the flood of women coming forward in an attempt to change the world, to flood our reality with a new understanding of the wicked actions taking place on a daily basis: The cat-calling, the unwanted touching, the spiked drinks, the inappropriate use of power to manipulate a person’s ability to function in the workplace, and the list goes on and on.

Here we are again, Parashat Noach, one year later. The flood of #MeToo continues. Though there have been glimmers of hope toward changing tides: conversations about the issue that were never as public as they are now, court cases in the headlines, and more, we are still in the trenches of it all. We are working toward a day when the flood waters will recede and the rainbow will shine brightly in the sky for all to see. This will signal a day in which the voices of all victims will be heard, empowered, and believed. This will be a safer world.

Like Noah, we are in the middle of the flood waters. They say Noah’s ark had something like a window at the top so that Noah and his family could see what was happening outside — so they would not forget that there was an outside world being destroyed. Further, the window allowed Noah and his family to know when the rain had stopped falling. Our sages note that once the rain no longer hit the window, Noah and his family did not immediately exit the ark. [1] Rather, they understood that after a flood there would still be turbulence and danger from the increased water level and the smashing of waves against the wood of the ark. Our sages knew that things wouldn’t change overnight, that the cessation of the flood rains would not mean the end of Noah’s fears or worries. God promised Noah that God would never destroy all the people of the earth again, which meant that if we wanted a world without wicked deeds, it was left to us to build that world. [2]

The flooding rains of the #MeToo movement are still pouring. We are not yet to the cessation of rain. The rain will continue to pour. Women will continue to face these adversities. Those who have already been harassed will continue to live out each day with the painful memory of past events. To stop the flood we must listen to victims and to the expectations women are demanding from the streets and from their offices about how they must be treated. If we have crossed lines in the past, we must learn from these missteps, and make better choices for the future. We must work together as a society to protect our women so that this next generation of children knows only the rainbow, and the flood is but a piece of societal memory. I said this last year, and I will say it again, and again, and again:

Adults, talk to your boys and young men about what is happening — your sons, nephews, grandsons — talk to them about how the behavior of some men, that has gone largely unchecked, has led women to feel unsafe in moments when boys and men otherwise have no fear — the guarding of their drinks at bars and parties, having a friend go with them to the restroom to avoid unwanted comments or encounters, or not going for a jog in the park alone without pepper spray. Talk to your boys and young men about consent. Talk to them about power dynamics and the extra care that must be taken in those relationships so that the relationships remain honorable and respectful.

I said it last year, and I will say it again: Adults, talk to your girls and young women about what is happening — your daughters, sisters, nieces, granddaughters — because things aren’t going to change overnight. Give them strategies for speaking up when they feel uncomfortable, teach them that their body is their own, empower them to value relationships, plutonic or otherwise, with men who honor all women.

Remember that window in the ark? We are peering up at that window and the rains are still pouring and society is in this liminal space of listening to the rain and either watching it hit the window, or turning away from the window and toward the wood in the ark — not standing as witnesses to the sounds of the rain. The outpouring of stories from women, this #MeToo Movement, is trying to strike wickedness from the world just like the rains struck out wickedness in the story of Noah.

Women want our voices to be heard on this issue so that we not only feel safer on our walks to the car in the early morning or late evening, but so that we can actually be safer. We’ve made progress this past year, but there is still so much work to be done. 

אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי

Our Sages used to say: If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, then when? [3]

Each of us has a role to play in this societal change. When we hear the inappropriate comments, we respond with a firm tone to let the person know that what they’ve said isn’t okay. When we see harassment in our places of work or as we go about our day, may we harness the courage to find a way to intervene either in the moment, or with a report. When we ourselves are the victims of harassment, may we find the strength to ask for help if we feel depleted. May we find healing through connecting ourselves to a community that makes us feel safe once again. 

Each time we see a rainbow in the sky it is a reminder that we can live in a peaceful world, but it is also a charge to us to put in the work it will take to make the world one that is safe, whole, and at peace. That rainbow reminds us that through our actions we can build a more just, more caring, and more loving world. That is what I want us to think about the next time we see a rainbow, and upon seeing it, may we be reenergized to complete this holy task, because if not now, then when?

[1] Radak

[2] Gen. 9:11

[3] Pirkei Avot 1:14