Everyone knows the story of Noah’s Ark, right? Noah was commanded by God to build a great ship and stock it with male and female pairs of every animal on Earth. God sent down a massive flood to wipe out every living thing on the planet to give humanity, which had become irretrievably corrupt, a chance to begin again. Noah, his family and the animals sailed in the ark “for 40 days and 40 nights,” until the waters receded and the ship reached dry land, identified in Genesis as the mountains of Ararat.
What more is there to say? As Torah portions go it’s a pretty good story, full of narrative action. It seems fairly straightforward at first read. If Noach were your bar or bat mitzvah portion, how would you approach it?
If you’re Mason Lawrence, you build your own ark. “I thought it would be cool to not only read the story, but experience it as closely as I can,” says Mason. “Noah built a boat; I thought if I could have a similar experience and immerse myself in Noah’s story, I might understand it more deeply.”
Due to time constraints and lack of space, Mason and his bar mitzvah tutor, Josh Lake, decided to scale down. Mason’s ark is just over a foot long and will be about 4-6 inches tall when it’s completed. He’s whittling the boat section of the ark from a solid block of cedar wood. Later he’ll add a roofed room on top for housing the ark’s occupants.
The ark is Mason’s first experience building an object from scratch, and he’s been enjoying the process. “I haven’t had any hardships yet,” he says with a grin. “It’s fun, but it’s mostly sanding and whittling so far. I find it relaxing to just sit down and sand. Once we get down to the smaller details, it might become a little frustrating; I’m not the most patient person. So far, though, I’m enjoying it very much. I’ve also had to learn how to use a special tool called a palm gouge; it makes my hands somewhat sore. Sanding is definitely easier on the hands than the palm gouge.”
Mason’s bar mitzvah date, Oct. 5, is just around the corner. He plans to have his ark on display during his service, which will be held in the event space of the Ace Hotel in downtown Portland. After just a few hours working on the ark, Mason has already gained some insight into Noah. “I understand what he’s feeling more. I’m sure he felt tired and probably frustrated, because I’m sure building on a huge scale is frustrating. Even what I’m doing on a small scale is frustrating. Making a ship hundreds of cubits long with only four people seems unimaginable.”
And what will Mason’s friends think of his project? “They might get it, or they might think I’m nuts.”