Twelve has always been my lucky number. I was born on the 12th of the 12th, and I live at number 12 in the winter and in my summer cabin as well.
Among the dozen tribes of Israel, I named my son for the one who begot the “lost tribe,” the wandering and wondering one, and I asked a rabbi the Shakespearean question, “What’s in a name?” He answered, “Nobody’s perfect.” I beg to differ! Actually, I named him, in Hebrew, “Reuel” – friend of God – but even in English it means, “Hey look, a boy!”
Well, now Reuben, or Reuel, has a son, born during this year of widespread worries, and the lad’s label is Noah – Noah Charles – and I offer this (to me) reassuring portrait of the pair of them, father and son, pere et fils.
When I teach a Bible course at the Rhode Island School of Design, I show a wonderful Depression-era movie from the Warner Brothers studio titled “Green Pastures.” On the DVD, there is an apology prelude, pleading pardon for anything not now politically correct.
“Green Pastures” was based on a play with an all-Black cast, a “Negro” – you should excuse the expression –God, and a Noah played by “Rochester,” the rasping, scene-stealing valet on the Jack Benny show.
I love this flick! It’s respectful, but also fanciful. A pastor of color reads the Torah to little kids, who picture his words in their fantasies. The angels are cleaning ladies and they spank their beloved babies.
But back to Noah. He is gracious to God, but pleads for permission to take two, not one, kegs of booze for the long journey. The Creator, a kindly but also anxious and distressed personality, turns him down. The humor is not broad, but subtle and strangely accurate.
“And then he died,” reads the pastor as he narrates the whole list of biblical names ... which brings me back to my Reuben (or Reuel) and my Noah.
The biblical Noah, of course, is charged with saving not merely his own family and kith and kin, but the entire world of Genesis, everything blessed by ha-Shem in Bereshit. Nobody lives forever, but life goes on.
If you look carefully at the photograph accompanying this column, you’ll see the caps my son and grandson are wearing, knit by my wife, lady Michael. And instead of wearing big broad grins, father and son look thoughtful and straightforward, the kind of picture I very much prefer to the big-smile stereotype.
For me, this hasn’t been a bad year: Noah entered the world and blessed it by being here. He will have a big job ahead: to save the world!
And that’s what I want to do as well: to do with words whatever I can to emphasize that the planet wasn’t given to us alone, and we were given a responsibility for appreciating the sacred souls of all living and remembered fellow citizens, of whatever species, in sea or sky or soil, all of which is holy and a holistic part of the plan of the planet.
I hereby pledge to join our efforts to save the world, not only for ourselves but for the Promised Land and the fine firmament above us all, protozoa and humans alike.
MIKE FINK (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.