You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Noach.
The Rainbow in Noah is included in a list of 10 miraculous objects that were created on the 6th day of creation just before the beginning of
Shabbat (BT Sotah 48b). Rabbi Elisa Koppel, in “The Women’s Haftarah Commentary – Haftarah Terumah” writes that the Midrash says that these mysterious items seem to be contrary to nature. Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis in Encyclopedia Mythica lists these ” 10 Miracles” according to Avot de Rabbi Natan. They are:
1. the mouth of the earth that swallowed Korah and his companions.
2. Miriam’s Well
3. The mouth on Balaam’s donkey
4. The Rainbow
6. The rod of Moses
7. The Shamir Worm
8. The supernal script on the first tablet of the Ten commandments
9. The divine pen for writing the script
10. The stone tablets able to withstand the script
From Perek Shirah
The Dove is saying, “Like a swift or crane, so do I chatter; I moan like a dove; my eyes fail with looking upward; O God, I am oppressed, be my security” (Isaiah 38:14).
The dove says before The Holy One, Blessed be He: “Master of the World! May my sustenance be as bitter as an olive in Your Hand, rather than it being sweet as honey through flesh and blood.” (Talmud, Eruvin 18b)
Reb Sholom Brodt
MAYIM RABIM LO LO YUCHLU LECHABOT ET HA’AHAVA, U’NEHAROT LO YISHTEFU’HA… MANY WATERS CANNOT EXTINGUISH THE LOVE AND RIVERS CANNOT WASH IT AWAY… “. (Song of Songs 8:7)
You will find in the writings of the Chassidic masters that MUCH attention is given to the story of the flood. In Torah Ohr (parshas Noach), the Alter Rebbe teaches (Mayim Rabim) that the “many waters’ refer to “tirdot haparnasa”- to our preoccupations, difficulties and worries in making a living – these are the ‘mayim rabim’- the many and mighty waters that cause us to neglect and sometimes forget the needs and desires of our ‘nefesh ha-Elokit- our divine souls.
Yet in Yehsayahu 54:9, the flood waters are referred to as “Mei Noach” – the waters of Noach- ” For this is as the Mei Noach” – the waters of Noach, to Me…” ‘Noach’ means tranquility and calmness, and so the Alter Rebbe seeks to explain: why would the flood waters be referred to as ‘waters of tranquility’?
We are taught that our souls come from a very high place. “The true source of our souls is in the Essence of Hashem, above and beyond all G-dly manifestations.” (The Unbreakable Soul p.30) Our souls descend to this world “for the sake of ascent.” There is something the soul can accomplish only by being here in this world of turbulent flood waters.
“In terms of divine service, the benefit garnered by the soul through its descent into this world and its submersion within the “many waters” of materiality is that it thereby gains the potential for tshuvah, return.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe in Mayim Rabim 5738 – The Unbreakable Soul p.28)
At its source, prior to its descent the neshamah is a ‘tzaddik’; here in this world it can be a ‘baal tshuvah’. The Rabbis teach that “In the place that baalei tshuvah stand, perfect tzadikkim do not stand.” (Berachot 34b) The Rebbe reads, “Perfect tzadikkim cannot stand there.”
Tshuvah means returning. The soul has to leave its heavenly abode to experience the intense desire to return to its root and its source, to Hashem. This experience of intense yearning to return is what the neshama could not experience when it was a complete tzaddik, before it descended into this world.
Our deepest soul desire is to return to Hashem, to cleave to and bond with Hashem. But in this world our souls are in captivity and exile. Instead of enjoying the glow of the holy Shechina, as it did before its descent, the soul now finds itself in a very dark and low world of concealment.
In this world, G-dliness is quite concealed, even from the soul. This is the world of the “turbulent waters”, the “flood waters”, the “many waters”; the world of “tirdot haparnasa” in which we are submerged. In this world we may also chas v’shalom transgress against Hashem Will.
At the low level of tshuvah we ‘regret’ our wrongdoings. At the high levels of tshuvah we sincerely yearn to return and bond with Hashem. But how does living in the ‘many and turbulent waters’ help us to achieve the ascent of the soul?
Is it really abundant materialism and wealth that is most important to me? Is it ‘my high experience’ of Hashem’ that I desire above all else? When we examine the true worth of those things that we usually pursue, we come to realize that they are not the ultimate. When one meditates deeply and sincerely on what it is that we truly desire, we will come to discover that more than anything else, we want to bond with Hashem. Each time we are caught in the swirls of the many waters and run after that which will not bring us closer to Hashem our desire to return intensifies and our understanding of what is the highest is refined.
As we intensify our yearning tshuvah we achieve ‘ascent of the soul’, and the “many waters” become “Mei Noach”- the waters of tranquility. Knowing that this soul ascent can be achieved from within, and only from within the turbulent flood waters, we attain serenity and joy. When we serve Hashem with joy, our service is complete. Without joy the union is not complete.
How do we survive in the many waters? The Torah teaches us “bo el hateiva’-“come into the ark.” The Ba’al ShemTov taught that the word teiva also means ‘word’ and thus the Torah is teaching us to enter into the words of our prayers. There, you will find tranquility and the many waters will not extinguish your love for Hashem. As King Solomon says in Shir HaShirim, “Mayim rabim lo yuchlu lechabot et ha’ahava- many waters will never be able to extinguish the love, and rivers cannot wash it away.” (Song of Songs 8:7) This refers to the love for Hashem that is embedded in every Jew. Neither mighty nations (Rashi) nor “tirdot haparnsa” can ever succeed in extinguishing our burning love for Hashem, that is embedded within the souls of Yisrael.
From Rabbi Jill Hammer The Jewish Book of Days
Noah and The Phoenix
The phoenix, according to one Jewish legend, is the only creature that never dies. Every 1,000 years, it is reborn out of its own ashes. The phoenix represents life itself and the possibility of rebirth after destruction.
Of all the animals that come onto Noah’s ark, the phoenix is the only one that does not ask for food. It restrains its hunger so as not to trouble the exhausted Noah, who has been feeding every animal on the ark. Noah rewards the phoenix for its compassion by bestowing eternal life. The phoenix also learns through this gift; it realizes that its needs are important.
The phoenix teaches that we can attain renewal, as individuals and as a society, only through thoughtfulness and moderationn of our needs. However, being modest does not mean having no needs. We are always called to investigate the needs and feelings of those around us and to value our own needs, even when that reuires asking help from others. The phoenix, which is mortal and immortal at the same time, teaches us to be humble and to value ourselves.
Source cited: Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 108b
Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys
Genesis 6:9 – 11:32
The world is destroyed by a great flood. Noah builds an ark and is saved along with his family and a sampling of each species. He is given the rainbow as a sign of covenant. His descendents try to reach heaven by building the tower of Babel. The tower is destroyed and the people are dispersed.
OUR CONSCIOUSNESS HOLDS IN IT A MEMORY of utter catastrophe, of the death and rebirth of this planet. The story of the Flood represents this awareness which awakens us to the preciousness of Life. And the story ends with a great blessing, a great promise.
It is upon this blessing that our spiritual life rests. God touches our memory of devastation and says, “This will never happen again.” She makes a covenant with all of life and places a rainbow in the sky as a sign of that covenant. “I will look upon the rainbow and remember.”1 The blessing of the rainbow is the remembrance, the assurance, that we are ultimately safe. This deep unquestioned sense of security and trust in the essential goodness and rightness of Reality becomes the foundation for the process of awakening. This sense is so basic that changing circumstances and events cannot disrupt it. A. H. Almaas calls this quality, “Basic Trust.” Its presence allows you to relax and JUST BE with whatever is.
BASIC TRUST GIVES US THE CAPACITY TO SURRENDER, to let go of doubt and step into the unknown. As limiting ego-structures dissolve and we open to an expanded perspective, it can feel as though everything we know is falling apart. The rainbow reminds us that whatever happens, we are safe. Even when terrible things happen, when the outer structures are destroyed and we are seemingly paralyzed by fear, the rainbow appears and reminds us of a deeper safety. YES, EVEN DEATH IS SAFE! And that sense of safety becomes the springboard for our next step. This innate and implicit trust ultimately manifests as a willingness to take that necessary leap into the unknown. And so Basic Trust manifests in the courage to be with what is, and then instead of being a reactive victim of circumstance, you learn to live your life from a deep wisdom, from a wide perspective.
THE PORTION OF NOAH BLESSES US WITH YET ANOTHER RAINBOW: the story of the tower of Babel. The tower of our arrogant singular purpose topples and we are given the rainbow of diversity in its place. As we seek to touch the Unity (prompted by a hunger for mastery or control), we are answered with multiplicity. We are sent on the rainbow journey to acknowledge every shade of experience, to recognize the whole spectrum of what it means to be human. We are blessed with complex beauty, confounding paradox, and the opportunity to know and enjoy all the separate colors that together form the magnificent white Light of the One.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
The Slonimer Rebbe describes the three levels of faith (emunah):
There are three rungs of Faith (emunah): Trusting Mind (emunat ha-mo’ach), Trusting Heart (emunat ha-lev), but there is a rung still higher, Trusting with your limbs/embodiment (emunat ha-evarim): where Faith (Emunah) penetrates every fibre of your being, where horror can’t seize you, for your whole body feels the protective divine presence.
Complete emunah occurs when it unfolds in all three dimensions. As King David said, ‘My heart and my flesh [my body] sing to the Living God.’2 Not just the heart, but also the flesh, our skin and our muscles, our bones and limbs also sing to the Living God, for Emunah suffuses our entire being.3
The spiritual challenge is to suffuse our entire being with a sense of ultimate safety, to integrate into our very bodies, the promise of the rainbow.
THIS SENSE OF SECURITY is our inheritance. And yet at some point we become disconnected from our Source and lose our Basic Trust. We feel betrayed and lose our footing. The spiritual challenge is to re-connect with the truth of our safety, no matter what happens, so that we can again feel “held” by the goodness of Life, the Ground of Being. Then we can rest in the Divine embrace. Almaas describes the challenge like this:
“It means experiencing the factors which brought about the profound disconnection from reality, and experiencing repeatedly the fundamental truth of non-separateness, to the point where the soul can again rest in the knowledge of that truth. Each new experience of essential truth deepens the soul’s contact with her own basic trust.”4
AS WE RECEIVE THE BLESSING OF THE RAINBOW, we are challenged to remember God’s promise and dedicate ourselves to living our lives in its light. Whatever blocks that light must be examined with compassion, and dissolved through dedicated practice.
When the tower of our singular will for power topples and we are left with the multiplicity of languages, systems, conflicting stories, and values, our path becomes confused and scattered.
Yet the spiritual challenge is clear. Diversity must not be ignored as we seek a vision of Unity. The shining vision of our Unity should not fade as we celebrate our differences. We must not betray the Many for the One, or the One for the Many.
For Guidelines for Practice please click link to website. http://rabbishefagold.com/Noah.html
From Reb Miles Krassen
Noach First Become a Tzaddik
The Midrash tells us that before launching this world, the Yotzer Bereishit (Former of Beginnings) emanated many other worlds and each was found wanting. Even when this world arose in the Divine Mind, there was still some uncertainty concerning whether to create it with the attribute of Judgment or Compassion. If we look deeply into the implications of these midrashim and shift from the language of ancient myth into our own paradigm, we can recognize how deeply the Sages intuited the evolving nature of the G-ding project and the precariousness and imperfection of any emanated world.
The acute challenge which the G-ding Power must face is that in its inherent greatness, Be-ing would not be enhanced by manifesting an already perfected world. Rather, It constantly aspires to manifest a world that is perfectible. Such a world has the capacity to bring about its own destruction, as well as its own salvation, because contraction and darkness are essential elements in any evolving world.
Generally, through the agency of the G-ding Power, evolution gradually occurs. But once Adam, the earth- being with the capacity to be conscious of its source, appears on the scene, the prognosis for the world becomes especially problematic.
As we read, at the end of parashat Bereishit: Be-ing manifested a Comforter because the earth-being that had evolved up to this point had become such a pain, that Be-ing considered wiping the entire world out of existence because of the earth-being. (Genesis 6:6-7).
The Torah speaks of a time when it seems that every creature in the world is not acting properly. From the G-ding Power’s perspective, Creation was ruined, because every creature was malfunctioning. (Genesis 6:12). The Slonimer Rebbe teaches that this threat to all life should not be viewed as a punishment for creatures that have no real choice. It is human folly, greed and weakness that have the capacity to affect the entire world so negatively. The effects of this “contamination” can be so widespread that at some point, tikkun (fixing the world), may no longer even be possible. (See Netivot Shalom, Noach).
When we read in our Rebbes’ teachings that the world was created for the sake of the tzaddik, it is so easy to think that this is just a quaint, sweet way of thinking or, worse, some form of self-aggrandizing propaganda by spiritual teachers seeking power. But in our time, when the consequences of unenlightened human behavior are so apparent and ominous, it is necessary to consider how the Torah’s teaching concerning Noach, the first Tzaddik, may be vital for our survival. If a sufficient number of us do not quickly evolve to the level of at least “tzaddikim-in-training,” what will induce and enable the G-ding Power to maintain our present world?
The Torah, foreseeing our predicament gives us hope: Be-ing recognized Noach as a channel for the flow of Divine Grace. (Genesis 6:8).
These are the effects of Noach; Noach, a person who became a tzaddik… in his times… (Genesis 6:9). Rashi cautions that because the Torah refers to Noach as a tzaddik… in his times, we might think that Noach’s achievement was only relative. But, precisely because Noach succeeded in becoming a Tzaddik in such unfavorable circumstances, he deserves our great admiration. Noach is an example to be followed, especially in times when there seems to be no hope.
Rebbe Aharon of Zhitomer, a close disciple of the Berditchever, explains why the Torah’s wording makes it possible to view Noach’s righteousness with both praise and contempt. (See Toledot Aharon, parashat Noach). Why does the Torah repeat Noach; Noach…? (Genesis 6:9). Because the Torah was calling attention to the tzaddik Noach’s two ways of viewing himself. On the one hand, he was aware that in a time of such rampant arrogance and destruction, he was unique. At the same time, he also knew that the level of spiritual elevation he had achieved under these difficult circumstances was only modest, compared to what he might have achieved in a more highly evolved age.
Noach represents the lone tzaddik, visible only to the Divine Eyes. Thus he is the archetype of the hidden tzaddikim. Thirty-six are the offshoots of Noach… (Genesis 6:9), because Noach is the source of the tradition of thirty-six righteous individuals who in their times, are unswerving in their devotion to the G-ding Power, (Genesis 6:9).
If Noach is the archetype of the tzaddik, what is his secret? Hints are already present in the last verse of the previous parashah. NoaCH found CHeN with the Eyes of Be-ing. (Genesis 6:8). The letters of Noach’s name and the letters of chen (Divine Grace) are the same. The only difference is that the order is reversed and the initial “supplicating” Nun at the beginning of the name, Noach becomes the long, vertically extended final Nun which is the last letter of chen.
What can we learn from this? The name “Noach” means “easy” or “comfortable.” The archetype of the tzaddik is called “Noach” because he or she is so close to Be-ing that a state of ease and comfort is maintained, even under the most challenging conditions. The “supplicating” initial Nun, indicates that Noach was bowing before the Divine Presence. This enabled him to achieve a higher consciousness. As the letters of his name suggest, he was constantly reducing his egocentric tendencies and connecting to Chokhmah (Divine Wisdom), as indicated by the letter Chet that follows the initial Nun.
When a tzaddik, like Noach, is connected to the Higher Consciousness of Chokhmah, perception is elevated beyond the way things look within the various dimensions of manifestation. This level of consciousness is called seeing with the Eyes of Be-ing (Genesis 6:8).
When this way of seeing is mastered, there are profound consequences. Noach found chen… (Genesis 6:8). The reversed letters of chen teach us that when the tzaddik’s consciousness is stabilized in Chokhmah, the surrendered state (Noach), is transformed into an active state in which the tzaddik is able to draw down Divine Grace (represented by the long, vertically extended Nun in chen). (See Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Liqqutey MoHaRan, part 1, torah 1).
Some have thought it relevant to criticize Noach for not praying for his generation. But this criticism misses the point of what we need to learn from Noach. Noach discovered what was charming from the perspective of Be-ing. (Genesis 6:8). A tzaddik’s wholehearted righteousness makes a person so beautiful that Be-ing may be enticed to maintain the world’s existence, as long as enough tzaddikim like Noach are in it.
Noach’s charm derived from the fact that through his constant surrender to Hokhmah (Divine Wisdom), he was able to master three essential stages of spiritual development. The tzaddik’s state produces three essential contemplative qualities: the sense of awe and surrender, passionate devotion, and the capacity to manifest spiritual beauty. (Genesis 6:10). When these three qualities (Malkhut, Chesed, and Tif’eret) are integrated, the tzaddik can see the world the way it appears in the deep gaze of the Eyes of Be-ing.
From this perspective, the tzaddik knows what the Divine requires. The gematria (numerical value) of the name Noach is 58. This is the same gematria as the Hebrew root Alef Zayin Nun. This root forms the word ‘izzun (balance). The tzaddik balances the three essential spiritual qualities, so that he/she is always Noach (at ease), regardless of conditions in the world. The same root forms the word ‘ozen (ear). Because of the tzaddik’s balanced state, Noach recognizes what is about to occur and is receptive to the Divine Command. The G-ding Power told Noach I am now contemplating the end of all creatures that are filling my world with violence; My intention is to slaughter them along with the entire world. (Genesis 6:13).
As the Slonimer Rebbe teaches, sometimes it may already be too late for rebuking and criticizing others to be effective. When the polarizing energies of hate, fear, violence, and arrogance contaminate the entire world, the only remedy left may be the way of the tzaddik.
Make yourself into a spiritual vessel of refuge…make it impervious to negative influences coming from outside yourself and also from your own inner weaknesses. (Genesis 6:14).
Make sure your vessel of refuge has a window to receive light from the Higher Divine Mother Binah. Make an opening by its side (Genesis 6:16) so that you are open to receive all who are capable of joining you and also have a way to release whatever needs to be eliminated.
Make it big enough to integrate your entire body, heart and, mind. (Genesis 6:16).
Then, whenever I AM manifests a maelstrom of destructive energies that threaten to overwhelm all that lives, (Genesis 6:17) I AM will maintain a conscious connection with you, so that you and all that are dear to you can be safe in the vessel of refuge. (Genesis 6:18).
May we all be Noach in the most challenging times.
May we maintain balance through appropriate praise and self-criticism.
May our spiritual beauty Be-ing into maintaining our world.
May we transform ourselves into vessels of refuge
That can weather any storm.
Rabbi Moshe Aharon Ladizhyner
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
God wanted him
so Noah entered the Word.
Make a window for the Ark
a light you shall make for the Ark
the Ark with lower second third levels you shall make it [6:16]
the soul level of the words
the words that come from your mouth
every word has a universe
a soul and a Godliness [Baal Shem Tov on Torah, Noach 17].
Thus the word
he discovered inside the teivah
come into the Ark, enter the Word
interpret the world.
Become a tzaddik in loshen
a tzaddik in language —
From Rav DovBer Pinson
Torah Reading for Week of October 18-24, 2009
Academy For Jewish Religion/CA
“From Generation to Generation”
by Tamar Frankiel, PhD
Dean of Academic Affairs
The early chapters of Genesis show G-d interacting with the “families of the earth,” both in the sense of family lines, like that of Noach, his wife and sons, and in the larger sense of the human social groups. The stories are snapshots of the collective history of humanity, an album of family pages. The Sages speak of “the generation of the flood” and the “generation of the dispersion” (i.e., the Tower of Babel). Modern Americans do this as well; we know of the “Pepsi generation,” “the Me Generation,” and “Gen X.” As Jews, the phrase dor l’dor, “generation to generation,” reminds us of our collective contribution to the future.
Today we don’t think about this very much. Personal concerns dominate our lives: making a living, dealing with our own emotional struggles, raising our children. How can we raise our consciousness about our generations?
Parshat Noach gives us a hint. Noach was “in his generations righteous and wholehearted,” the Torah tells us; “Noach walked with G-d” (Gen 6:9). Indeed his father, Lamech, believed he was the one destined to bring “comfort” after generations of struggle and toil under the curse put on Adam (5:29); his name means “rest.” Noach warned his contemporaries of the troubles to come, then spent 120 years building the ark, giving the generation time to repent.
Generational consciousness requires us to adjust to a slower speed. For 120 years, Noach was building that ark and hoping the others would repent. We, on the other hand, are a fast-food, sound-bite, now-or-never society. We need to develop patience. You may be able to get an upgrade to speed up your computer, but you can’t speed up the growth of a child or the evolution of a community.
We need historical consciousness. We often ignore that the troubles of our decade were actually generated many years – perhaps 120 years? – earlier. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, writing of how the Holocaust could happen, wrote that its roots were not in 1939 or 1933, but generations before, when the word of G-d had been drowned or distorted. Those concerned about human-generated global warming trace its causes to the industrial revolution of the mid-19th century. (This Shabbat, by the way, has been declared Global Climate Healing Shabbat by the Jewish Council on Public Affairs.) We must think long-term, whether we look back or look forward.
Looking forward especially should give us pause. Are our actions and thoughts now seeding events that will come to fruition in 2029? Of course they are. What to do about it? With computer modeling, we are now better able to project quantifiable data like population growth and fossil fuel reserves. But what about the more subtle characteristics that define a “generation”? They may be less visible, but they are the tectonic plates of society that can shift in a positive or negative direction.
We have to ask, are we carefully nurturing positive moral and spiritual developments with the same attention that our scientists give to genetic modification and disease control? Are we honoring and learning from those who “walk with G-d,” who cultivate their own spirits and who are not afraid to speak out on our generations worst ills?
The apocalyptic destruction of this parsha, coming a month after Rosh Hashana, is a wake-up call. Let’s take time this week to discuss what the real “sins of the generation” are, and how we can uproot them. The next 120 years are given to us to correct the collective mistakes of the last 120 years.
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
INTEGRATION (NOAH) 2008
Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make it an ark with compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch. (Genesis 6:14)
When the floodgates open
build a boat
with many compartments
here in these cubbyholes
stash your secret fur
your scales, your feathers
put your red in the bow
your yellow in the stern
and your blues at the bottom of the hold
pack a crate of empty journals
pack provisions for the forty days
required for transformation
and set sail
not knowing where on earth
the current will carry you
don’t be surprised if you wobble
when you take your first steps
back across the gangplank
when you raise the partitions
every color you’d sequestered
will run together like water
offer all of yourself
on your altar of stone
beneath the varicolored sky
From American Jewish World Service
Following the tragic and near-utter destruction of humankind during the deluge, Noach, the patriarch of the lone family to survive the flood, offers a sacrifice to God. The Torah records that God finds the smell of the sacrifice pleasing, but follows with a perplexing line: “God smelled the pleasing aroma, and God said in His heart: ‘I will not continue to curse the earth because of man, since the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again smite every living being, as I have done.’”1 Why would God respond to Noach’s sacrifice by stating that man’s heart is evil? Wouldn’t this statement about the innate nature of humankind have been more appropriate as a response to the corruption that precipitated the flood?
To better understand God’s reaction to the sacrifice, we need to explore Noach’s prior behavior. When God first tells Noach to build the ark, the design instructions include the command, “You shall make a window (tzohar) for the ark.”2 The existence of the tzohar begs Noach to bear witness to the suffering taking place outside of the ark. But Noach doesn’t seem to hear this message. Instead of being aware of the events unfolding outside of the ark, he goes out of his way to remain oblivious. We read that as the storm settles, “Noach removed the covering of the ark;”3 however, at no point was Noach instructed to place a cover over the ark. It seems that rather than stare the suffering of others in the face, Noach hides from it and uses the ark as a cocoon to shelter himself from the horrors being suffered by the rest of humanity.
Noach’s act of closing himself off from the world is understandable. After the waters have subsided, Noach is so afraid of seeing the devastation that lies beyond the threshold of his wooden bubble that he needs to be commanded by God to leave the ark.4 Perhaps from the small view he sees when uncovering the ark, Noach is traumatized into paralysis, physically unable to leave his protected world and encounter the destruction outside. Having anticipated this anguish, Noach may have felt the need to remain isolated during the flood, and thus covered the tzohar in order to have the strength to carry out his God-given mission of securing the continued existence of life on earth.
But such action is only a compromise; ideally Noach would have let the tzohar remain uncovered and witnessed the true extent of the suffering. Had he done so, he likely would have been so devastated by what he saw that bringing a sacrifice in gratitude for his own salvation would have seemed inappropriate. Indeed, God’s statement to Noach upon receiving the sacrifice indicates that Noach has distanced himself too greatly from the rest of humanity. How, in the face of so much death and destruction, God implies, do you, Noach, have the gall to bring a sacrifice? The moment of global mourning, Gods seems to be saying, should trump a personal religious expression of thanksgiving.
In our everyday lives, what Noach-like compromises do we make? In what ways do we walk around in our own personal arks choosing to protect the emotional and material well-being of ourselves and our families at the expense of engaging with the suffering and needs of others? What efforts can we make to ensure that nurturing our own spirituality doesn’t overshadow our obligation to be aware of the dire need in the world—the dark reality that 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day5 and that 925 million people are undernourished?6 Living in a globalized world where technology affords us the ability to see the real-time distress of so many around us, have we internalized God’s message of the tzohar and used these tools to pay attention to the plight of those facing challenges around the globe? When, like Noach, we worry that we will be traumatized by trying to address the suffering of others and therefore seek to fortify ourselves for the work ahead of us, do we go too far and retreat too deeply into the mode of self-care, or are we able to strike the proper balance?
We learn from Noach that we are challenged by God to expect to be traumatized in our efforts to heal the world. Truly paying attention to suffering is risky. It may sap our emotional energy, require us to make radical lifestyle changes, and even raise deeply troubling theological questions about justice. It is therefore normal to wish to shelter ourselves from time to time so as not to be overwhelmed; but God is constantly calling, “Leave the Ark!”7
1 Genesis 8:20–21.
2 Genesis 6:16.
3 Genesis 8:13.
4 Genesis 8:16.
5 U.N. Millennium Development Goals Poverty Factsheet, http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/MDG_FS_1_EN.pdf
6 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimate, http://www.fao.org/hunger/en/
7 Genesis 8:16.
From Melissa Carpenter
Noach: Babble and Meaning
And all the earth was of one language and one set of words … And they said: Come let us build a city for ourselves, and a tower with its head in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered all over the face of the earth. And God went down to see the city and the tower …
And God said: Hey! One people and one language for all, and this is what they begin to do? … Come let Us go down there and scramble their language, so that they will not understand each other’s language. Then God scattered them from there over the surface of all the earth, and they stopped building the city. Therefore He called its name Babel, because there God scrambled the language of all the earth, and from there God scattered them over all the surface of the earth. (Genesis/Deuteronomy 11:1-9)
Babel = Babylon, from the Sumerian Babilim, “Gate of the God” (both city and region)
balal = scramble, confuse; thoroughly mix oil into grain for a meal offering
Obviously the people of Babel are doing something wrong—something that isn’t horrible enough for God to destroy them with a flood, but serious enough so God investigates and corrects their mistake.
What is their mistake? Three theories are: that they don’t follow God’s order to scatter; that they enforce conformity and suppress individuality; and that they try for permanence in a world God created for change.
1) They refuse to scatter.
After the Flood, God tells Noah’s descendants to be fruitful and multiply and fill the land. But the traumatized people are afraid of being scattered. There is comfort in numbers—and in being able to see that nobody is engaged the kind of outrageous sins that led to the Flood. I can imagine the anthropomorphic God in this story heaving a celestial sigh, wondering what it will take for humans to get with the program. Then God scrambles their minds so they have different languages and different sets of words—i.e., different concepts. This time, when God scatters the humans, they have so much trouble communicating that they stay scattered.
2) They suppress the individual.
The people of Babel speak only in the plural, and appear to be in perfect agreement. No individuals are named in the story. Whether this counts as cooperation, or conformity, it’s not what God has in mind. Sforno (Rabbi Obadiah Sforno, 16th century) wrote that if everyone held the same beliefs, including the same beliefs about God, then no one would seek the true God. Only when people find out about religious differences do they develop a desire for deeper understanding. Martin Buber (1878-1965) wrote that only a person with a well-developed sense of self is even able to connect with God.
In the allegory of Babel, when God scatters the people and gives them different languages and concepts and cultures, individuality and variety return to humankind. Then we are again able to learn and change.
3) They crave permanence.
Permanence is a continuing issue in Genesis/Bereishit. Although subsequent chapters focus on the desire for a sense of permanence through one’s descendants, the book has already addressed the issue of death. The result of eating from the Tree of Knowledge in Eden is personal mortality; God removes Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden and places them in our own world, where they will eventually die. Noah and his family witness the death of their entire world, and must start all over again when the Flood waters recede.
What is the meaning of life when, sooner or later, you will die? One possible response to this question is to create something that will outlast you, that will be a monument down through the ages. This is difficult to do alone. So the people act collectively to make a name for themselves, by building a city and a tower so high that its head is in the heavens. (In this part of the Torah, the heavens are eternal, while the earth is always changing.)
Of course their plan fails. God, or the nature of the universe God created, will not let anything on earth endure forever.
The answer is to give up on permanence, and find a different meaning of life.
Each human must find his or her own individual meaning. But the book of Genesis/Bereishit offers some suggestions. We can “walk with God”, which I interpret as behaving morally for its own sake. We can raise and teach children. We can love another person, as Isaac loves Rebecca and Jacob loves Rachel. We can wrestle with ourselves and develop our own hidden potential, like Jacob wrestling and finding new courage at the ford of Yabbok.
What other ways can we find meaning in a life without permanence?
From Rabbi David Seidenberg
This is a link to very good teachings and midrashim as well as commentary by Reb David on Noah newly posted on the NeoHasid website.
Also, there is a nice commentary titled, “Kashroots: Noah, Leviticus, and Eco- History of the Kosher Laws” also on the website.
October 24, 2011
Into the Ark
I am saved by the word ark basket
But I would not be so
Come into the word
How large enough the ark
God loves me squeezed
God loves all the partial
God wanted me
So I was invited within
Make a window
I was told
Come into the word
From Rabbi Gershon Winkler
NOAH’S ARK AND
THE ARK OF THE COVENANT
A Teaching from Gershon…
Tomorrow, Monday, November 14, corresponds to the 17th day of the Hebraic Moon of חשון Chesh’vahn, and marks the first rains that fell during the Great Flood of Noah’s time, some 4,500 years ago (Genesis 7:11; Midrash Tanchuma, No’ach, No. 11). The ancients called the month of Chesh’vahn the Moon of בול Bool — “ya’rey’ach bool” ירח בולand marked it as the month in which the Temple of Solomon was completed — (First Kings 6:38). בול Bool is also related to the word מבולMa’bool, the Torah’s reference to the Great Flood. But actually, the word בולbool itself translates as “decay” and “clumps”, as in the clumps of decaying vegetation. It is called the Moon of Decay for that reason, since it is by then well enough into the Fall Season that the fallen leaves have decayed into clusters of decomposing foliage (Talmud Yerushalmi, Rosh Hashanah 6a).
For a month that has no official religious celebration or fast day, or any other notable commemoration on the Hebrew calendar, it is actually a very full month. On the one hand, it is the month in which the forty days and forty nights of the rains of the Great Flood began, and on the other hand it is the month in which the First Temple was completed! Is there perhaps a connection between these two events? Of course! You see, while God did promise Noah not to flood the world ever again, remnant rains of the Great Flood continued nonetheless annually. Every year since, it rained forty days and forty nights, only it didn’t flood. And it wasn’t until the First Temple was completed, on the 17th day of Chesh’vahn, that these remnant rains of the Great Flood finally ceased (Midrash Tanchuma, No’ach, No. 11).
What was it in the completion of the First Temple that caused the Great Flood remnant rains to cease?
It is important to understand that what we call “First Temple” was intended to be the only Temple ever — not the first of future ones — and was therefore also the only Temple which housed the Holy Ark of the Covenant and the mysterious Oracle of the High Priest. After the First Temple fell, all these sacred implements were gone, vanished, poof! No one knows for sure where any of it went. As such, the completion of First Temple represented not only its own finale but also the finale of Genesis, the climax of the intended unfolding of Creation. In the Torah’s account of Creation, God is said to have completed “all that God had made, to do…” (Genesis 2:3) – meaning, God had made everything in such a way that Creation would continue on its own in ongoing phases of progression, or evolution. And the crescendo of that evolution occurred at the completion of First Temple, as is written: “And all of the work was completed (First Kings 7:51) – “‘all of the work’, implying the work of the Six Days of Creation as well” (Midrash Pesik’ta Rabbati 6:5).
What has all this to do with the Great Flood? Everything. Because the Great Flood was a reversal of Creation, an un-doing of all that God had made (Genesis 7:23). Not only was the progression of Creation interrupted, it was completely reversed and undone! This is why Noah and his family and the creations he gathered had to shut themselves up within a divinely-blue-printed Ark, a supernatural container so out -of-this-worldly that God Itself had to shut the door, had to seal it personally in order to protect it from what was about to occur (Genesis 7:16). After all, could God not have made some miracle that would enable them to remain untouched by the Great Flood? Just like how the Hebrews were untouched by the Ten Plagues, for example, that were happening all around them. And in the story of Gideon we see how God caused his entire field to be covered with dew except for a small strip of fleece, left untouched by the moisture (Judges 6:40). Or, the story of Lo’t, Abraham’s nephew, how the entire region around him was destroyed by spirit storms while he and his family were left untouched as they made their way out of town (Genesis 19:29)…
So, why did God not do the same with Noah, his family, and their Creation samples? Why the need to construct a special boat with very specific dimensions and layouts that would take years to build? The fact that God had to personally shut them up inside a specially constructed protective shield rather than individually isolate them from the destruction around them demonstrates that the Great Flood, or the ma’bool, was not your standard heavenly miracle; it was the actual un-threading of Creation, the reversal of Genesis by Nemesis, the return of everything back into the primordial cauldron of chaos, emptiness, darkness and nil. And to be excluded from that kind of erasure required a specially constructed bubble of protection that would be exempt from the turnaround of Existence to Non-Existence, of יש yesh (something) to איןayeen (nothing).
The nature of the ma’bool as an event of reversal is also plainly stated in the Torah. Creation unfolded after the primordial waters receded to enable earth to emerge. And now, in the course of the ma’bool, all of the waters that had receded at the beginning of Creation were now unleashed and allowed to return to their dominion as before, overriding everything (Genesis 7:11). Thus, a total reversal.
Finally, the month of Chesh’vahn is also the same month in which the earth emerged again from the waters, as in the Creation Story (Genesis 1:9). And on the 27th day of Cheshvahn is when Noah and his clan, and all of the creatures they had taken into the Ark, finally left the Ark (Genesis 8:14).
Now, what has all this to do with this month also being the month in which Solomon’s Temple — the Shrine of the Ark of the Covenant — was completed? Was there some kind of connection between the two structures that we’ve been missing?
Yes. There was. And is. And always will be.
Sit down for this.
The hollowed space inside of the Ark of the Covenant was remnant of the hollowed space that had been Creation reverting itself back to its primeval state of No-Thing during the ma’bool. In other words, the Ark we built in the desert was a miniature container of non-existence, of pre-Genesis Void, which is why anyone who approached it without proper ritual preparation and vestments got zapped! – they became non-extant. So, Noah’s Ark kept the forces of post-Genesis beingness inside and kept the forces of the pre-Genesis non-beingness outside, while Moses’ Ark, the Ark of the Covenant, kept the forces of pre-Genesis non-void inside and the forces of post-Genesis beingness outside. And therefore, the only implements that could be stored in the Ark of the Covenant were those items whose very nature was pre-Genesis, above and beyond the Laws of Nature and Physics. And that explains on a deeper more universal level why Moses’ Ark was called the Ark of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 10:8; Joshua 3:3; and 33 other times).Which covenant? The covenant God made with all of Creation in Noah’s time following the Great Flood (Genesis 9:11-15). Granted that is seems more obvious throughout the Hebrew Scriptures that the Ark of the Covenant represented the Covenant between God and Israel. But remember also that this same tradition associated both covenants with one another. In other words, a major part of our covenant with God involved our role as Keepers of the Great Flood Covenant on behalf of the world, as is clearly borne out elsewhere in those very same Scriptures (Isaiah 54:9). The Ark of the Covenant, then, was far more than a Jewish oracle of highly-potent magic. It held within it something terrible and cosmic: a micro version of the pre-Genesis Void, remnant of the force of the ma’bool that in Noah’s time reversed Creation. And therefore it continually rained the rains of the Great Flood annually – albeit without flooding – remnant rains of the Great Flood which did not cease until Solomon built a special shrine for the Ark of the Covenant, that is: of the covenant God made with all of Creation in Noah’s time.
And so, when Solomon’s Temple fell centuries later, because we had messed with our micro-Covenant, the Ark of the Covenant vanished, and we were left with no remnant, neither of the Covenant of God and Israel nor of the pre-Genesis Void of the Great Flood, and resultingly, prophecy eventually left us as our vision began to blur, and we lost something more precious than we could possibly fathom. And things changed radically from then on, both for us as a people, and for the world-at-large. Future attempts at replicating our Holy Temple, failed abysmally. It would never be the same without that mini-Ark. We were left with nothing to hang on to. No remnant of that important covenant between Creator and Creation…
Oh. Wait. There did remain one remnant of that primal Covenant. The Rainbow (Genesis 9:13). That is all that is left. So honor it. For, as the Zohar teaches us: “The Rainbow, She is the She’chee’nah [the Feminine Face of the Divine]” (Zohar, Vol. 2, folio 66b), which in turn is Elo’heem (Zohar, Vol. 1, folio 61a), the very attribute of the unknowable, un-nameable Mystery that called all of creation into existence. Lacking symbol and remnant, we are left with direct revelation when we see a rainbow, to remind us that this direct connection is always there, always available, always accessible. And so God turned what seemed like a major historical cosmic tragedy into a graduation ceremony, moving us cold-turkey from remnant and symbol to the Real Thing. This is the most important lesson in Judaism. We are a people of sacred symbols and imagery, but take it all away, and we’re still here and intact. Take away our Ark, take away our Temple, take away our Land, take away our rituals… we remain.
Now you know why, in spite of the fullness of what the Moon of Chesh’vahn commemorates, we have absolutely no ritual or symbolic celebration whatsoever of any of it.
“But for a small moment did I push you away, and with great compassion shall I gather you back. In a rush of anger I hid my face from you for just a moment, and with eternal lovingkindness shall I have compassion upon you, says God your Redeemer. For the Waters of Noah is all this to Me; that which I swore to Noah, not to cause the Waters of Noah to pass over the land ever again. Likewise have I also sworn never to be furious with you and not to chastise you. For ultimately the mountains shall shudder and the hills dissipate, but my love for you will never be shaken loose. And my Covenant of My Peace will never fail, says your God, whose compassion embraces you” (Isaiah 54:7-10).
From Rav Kook
Noah: The Rainbow in the Clouds
After the Flood, God informed Noah:
“I will make My covenant with you, and all flesh will never again be cut off by the waters of a flood.”
“This is the sign of the covenant that I am placing between Me, you, and every living creature that is with you, for all generations: I have set My rainbow in the clouds… The rainbow will be in the clouds, and I will see it to recall the eternal covenant.” (Gen. 9:11-16)
In what way does the rainbow symbolize God’s covenant, never again to destroy the world by a flood? Why does the Torah emphasize that this rainbow is ‘in the clouds’? And most importantly, what is the significance of this Divine promise never again to flood the world? Does this imply that the Flood was unjust? Or did God change His expectations for the world?
The rainbow is not just a natural phenomenon caused by the refraction of light. The ‘rainbow in the clouds’ represents a paradigm shift in humanity’s spiritual development.
Before the devastation of the Flood, the world was different than the world we know; it was younger and more vibrant. Its physical aspects were much stronger, and people lived longer lives. Just as the body was more robust, the intellect was also very powerful. People were expected to utilize their intellectual powers as a guide for living in a sensible, moral fashion. The truth alone should have been a sufficient guide for a strong-willed individual. Ideally, awareness of God’s presence should be enough to enlighten and direct one’s actions. This was the potential of the pristine world of the Garden of Eden.
Rampant violence and immorality in Noah’s generation, however, demonstrated that humanity fell abysmally short of its moral and spiritual potential. After the Flood, God fundamentally changed the nature of ethical guidance for the human soul. The sign that God showed Noah, the ‘rainbow in the clouds,’ is a metaphor for this change.
Greater Moral Guidance
The rainbow represents divine enlightenment, a refraction of God’s light, as it penetrates into our physical world. Why does the Torah emphasize that the rainbow is ‘in the clouds’? Clouds represent our emotional and physical aspects, just as clouds are heavy and dark (the Hebrew word geshem means both ‘rain’ and ‘physical matter’). The covenant of the ‘rainbow in the clouds’ indicates that the Divine enlightenment (the rainbow) now extended from the realm of the intellect, where it existed before the Flood, to the emotional and physical spheres (the clouds). God’s rainbow of light now also penetrated the thick clouds of the material world.
How was this accomplished? The Divine light became ‘clothed’ in a more physical form – concrete mitzvot. God gave to Noah the first and most basic moral code: the seven laws of the Noahide code. These commandments served to bridge the divide between intellect and deed, between the metaphysical and the physical.
We can now understand God’s promise never again to flood the world. After the Flood, a total destruction of mankind became unnecessary, as the very nature of human ethical conduct was altered. Our inner spiritual life became more tightly connected to our external physical actions. As a result, the need for such a vast destruction of life, as occurred in the Flood, would not be repeated. Of course, individuals — and even nations — may still choose to sink to the level of savages and barbarians. But the degree of immorality will never again reach the scope of Noah’s generation, where only a single family deserved to be saved.
(Gold from the Land of Israel pp. 34-36. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, pp. 318-319)
From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan
Words as Skylights (2012/5773)
Tzohar ta’aseh la-teivah – Make a skylight for the ark – Bereisheet/Genesis 6:16.
The Ba’al Shem Tov points out that the word teivah means not just “ark” but also “word.” Taking this phrase out of context, he reads it as a teaching about prayer. As you pray from the Siddur, he teaches, make sure each word has a skylight. Allow each word to open you up towards the heavens.
We can use words of the Siddur as skylights in many ways.
We can choose to pray slowly enough to savour the meanings of words, accepting them as an invitation to reflect on our theology.
We can set the words to music, and allow the music revealed by each word to lift us out of everyday consciousness.
We can remember the teaching that God created the world through speech. As we speak the Siddur’s poetry, we can wonder at the cosmic power of breath used to create meaning.
We can connect the building of the ark at the beginning of the parsha with the building of Migdal Bavel, the Tower of Babel, later in the parsha. The tower’s builders try to create a unified structure that can lead them step by step to heaven. But suddenly, they discover that they do not all use words in the same way. And the unified structure fails to bring them to heaven.
Words of Torah naturally have skylights. Each word is open to multiple interpretations, and each word can bring us to multiple illuminations. These words cannot be used to build a single, unified path to spiritual awareness. Rather, as life raises existential questions, these words allow paths to open up beneath our feet again and again.
Allow yourself to name one of this week’s pressing questions, and let the words you choose be a skylight for you. May blessings illuminate your Shabbat.
Shimshai & Assi Rose
From Chaya Kaplan- Lester
God instructs Noah to illuminate the ark “tzohar taaseh”/ “A BRIGHTNESS you will make.” What is this enigmatic tzohar? We know that the Hebrew word for noon, tzohoriyim, shares the same root. But there is much argument about this glittery object. It is translated as window as well as a luminous gemstone.
Targum Yonatan claims it was a luminous stone pulled from the primordial river Pishon (T. Y. Genesis 6:16). Genesis Rabbah 31:11 adds:
“During the entire twelve months that Noah was in the Ark he did not require the light of the sun by day or the light of the moon by night, but he had a polished stone which he hung up – when it was dim, he knew it was day, when it was bright, he knew it was night.”
Talmud, Sanhedrin 108b likewise reads:
“Make a tzohar for the ark.” R. Johanan said, The Blessed Holy One instructed Noah: ‘Set there precious stones and jewels, so that they may give you light, bright as the noon.’
Reb Miles Krassen
Torah Reading for Week of September 29-October 5, 2013
“Silence and Grace”
By Dr. Tamar Frankiel, AJRCA President
Noach has the peculiar honor, among the early biblical heroes, of being almost completely silent throughout his narrative. When G-d commands him to build the ark, he complies perfectly, in silence. There is no recorded interchange between him and his neighbors; indeed, as the Sages comment with some disapproval, he does not try to persuade his fellows to repent. In the many months of being shut up in the ark, we hear no conversation among the family. The Midrash tells us he spent all his time feeding and caring for the animals. Even when he emerges, there is no verbal exclamation of joy or thanksgiving, only an altar and a sacrifice.
This is hardly what we would expect. We are told first that Noach is a righteous man – apparently the righteous man of his generation – who found grace in G-d’s eyes. Indeed, his name, spelled nun-chet, is a palindrome of the word for grace, chen, spelled chet-nun. He embodies grace and attracts it. His father Lamech chose that name because he expected, with the birth of this child, relief from constant toil: “This one will comfort us from our work and the pain (itzavon) of our hands, from the land cursed by the Lord” (Gen 5.9).
Perhaps Noach’s silence, his complete withdrawal into the tasks assigned him, is the only response a truly righteous person could make to the extraordinary judgment of G-d that had come upon the earth. Perhaps we cannot quite imagine what the world was like when it had descended completely into corruption. Since the days when Adam and Chava hid from G-d, and Cain murdered his brother then complained about his punishment, G-d had been ignored. Human culture had developed with arts, music, and urbanization, while morality plunged and a gang culture of robbery, rape and violence became the norm, to the point that “all flesh had corrupted their ‘way on earth.’”
G-d’s assessment of man is emphatic: “Every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil, all the time.” The revulsion G-d felt is equally clear: He regretted making man, and “it pained (vayitatzev) Him at His heart.” (Gen 6:5-6) The root of the word is the same as Lamech’s for the pain of agricultural labor. Neither man nor G-d is happy, but for very different reasons. Man seeks physical relief as though it were his due; G-d turns away in deep anguish.
So the flood came. Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch translates the word for the flood, mabul, as the Unsoulment: the vital force was drained from the world as the torrents poured down and the oceans filled.
Emerging from the ark, Noach offers a sacrifice: and suddenly, G-d changes again. “Never again!” He proclaims twice. Never again will G-d destroy the earth, even though the inclination of man’s heart is still evil. What in Noach’s action brought about such a dramatic change?
There are still no words. The horror is unspeakable. But the olah sacrifice alludes to the possibility of ascent. This is the type of sacrifice made for one’s unintentional sins. The Midrash interprets this as Noach’s personal sacrifice in case he had wayward thoughts during his days in the ark. But I would suggest that here, he is acting as a priest on behalf of all those who died. Still in awed, perhaps tormented silence, he offers a movement of teshuva, repentance. Indirectly, Noach’s act suggests that all the previous generations’ sins were in some sense unintentional. They had gone too far, even infecting the animal world; their reality could not be redeemed. But now, Noach testified, there was an inner change.
G-d responds inwardly as well, speaking again to Himself, reflecting that the human heart has been evil “from its youth” – that is, because of its youth. The human being had mastered technique and craft, but perhaps had not yet been given enough time, as a species, to master his “inclination,” that far-reaching, all-imagining desire.
Noach’s sacrifice brought a “sweet fragrance” to G-d, not the external smell, but the inner sense that the world could smell sweet again. A new potential was emerging.
And, as it turned out, Noach fulfilled his father’s prophecy, as G-d declares: “I will not curse the ground any longer for man’s sake; neither will I again smite every living thing as I have done.” The external world would be completely different as well, with possibility for beauty and richness evolving over millennia to come. .
Noach’s grace – the tempered silence, the humble work – resulted in the expression of a subtle but so very important turn in consciousness. Teshuvah was born, and from that, we could hope for goodness
This is the time to study Noah, when the waters are rising. “Aseh l’cha tevah,” God said. Make yourself an ark.
On the front end of dawn, there are no distinctions between water and land and sky. Only mist and darkness. Distinctions emerge later, riding on a flood of sunlight. Distinctions and information require choices.
The sea is calm this morning. The waves are gentle.
The data are in, said our local county supervisor this week. The sea is rising. Erosion is threatening the coast highway. We need to act to preserve our community. If I listen hard, I can hear echoes of other voices in communities around the planet, saying the same thing.
“Make yourself a tevah,” God said. An ark.
Translate “tevah” as “word,” said our teacher the Holy Baal Shem Tov.
Build yourself an ark of prayer and knowledge and kindness and faith — and the floods in your own day will not overwhelm you. You will live to witness the fulfillment of God’s covenant: the world will not be destroyed again. It will not. Hold on to this faith, even when all you can see is mist and darkness. But build yourself a tevah.
Now it’s our turn. We need a tevah big enough to include every person and all life. We can only build it together. We need action infused with love.
The lesson of Noah: get ready. Emerging from mist and darkness: the rainbow.
Essay & photos by Aryae Coopersmith
From Rav Kook
Noah: The Walk of the Righteous
Not all tzaddikim are equal. Different individuals attain different levels of holiness and righteousness. The Torah calls our attention to these distinctions when it describes Noah and Abraham with similar yet slightly different phrases.
Regarding Noah, the Torah states that he “walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). To Abraham, on the other hand, God commanded, “Walk before Me” (Gen. 17:1). Noah walked with God, while Abraham walked before God. What is the difference? Which is better?
Interestingly, we find in the Torah a third expression for living a holy life. The Torah charges us to “walk after the Lord, your God” (Deut. 13:5). Where does “walking after God” fit in?
Repairing the Universe
We must first understand this metaphor of “walking.” Why not “standing with God” or “running with God”?
After Adam sinned and the natural order underwent a drastic shift, God did not seek to correct the world instantaneously. Rather, humanity was to gradually correct itelf, repairing the universe in stages until “the earth will be filled with awareness of God” (Isaiah 11:9). This is the inner significance of the walk of the righteous: a slow but steady moral progression.
Similarly, the Sages wrote that prophecy is not revealed to the world all at once, but in a measured fashion, according to our ability to receive and assimilate it (Vayikra Rabbah 15:2). This principle is true for all forms of divine wisdom. Enlightenment is granted to each generation in a measure appropriate for that generation, in order to uplift it and prepare it for the future.
Before the Torah’s revelation at Sinai, the world was not ready to receive its full light. Enlightenment is only bestowed according to the world’s capacity to accept it. Nonetheless, the universe always contained a hidden potential for its future spiritual level, when it could absorb the Torah’s light.
Two Paths of Progress
But how does this explain the difference between the “walk” of Noah and Abraham?
Before Sinai, there were two paths of spiritual growth. The first path was to perfect oneself according to the spiritual state appropriate for that generation. This is called “walking with God”: perfecting oneself in accordance with the divine ideals and aspirations that were ordained for that time.
A higher path was to aspire to a level beyond the normal state for that era. This was an extraordinary spiritual effort, in order to prepare for and hasten the highest level of enlightenment – that of the Torah itself. This striving for the spiritual betterment of future generations is referred to as “walking before God,” or walking ahead of God.
The Torah tells us that Noah “walked with God.”Noah was just and good according to the standards ordained for his time. For this reason, the Torah emphasizes that Noah was “faultless in his generation.” His level of righteousness corresponded to the moral expectations for his generation.
Abraham, on the other hand, sought to awaken the entire world to integrity and holiness. Abraham “walked before God,” preparing the world to be ready for the greatest enlightenment, the Torah. Since Abraham helped ready the world for the Torah, the Sages wrote that he fulfilled the Torah before it was given (Yoma 28b).
Striving for Sinai
What about the third form of walking, “walking after God”?
Once the Torah was given, and God revealed the purest divine light, we struggle to merit that pristine light that was revealed and subsequently hidden from us. It is impossible for us to reach the enlightened state of Sinai without first correcting our various failings. Therefore, we cannot be expected to “walk with God,” and certainly not “before God.” All we can hope for is to “walk after God” – to strive after the historic level of enlightenment that was revealed at Sinai. In our efforts to reach this level, we prepare ourselves to approach this state of enlightenment, until God “renews our days as of old” (Lamentations 5:21).
(Gold from the Land of Israel pp. 28-30. Adapted from Midbar Shur, pp. 101-103)
From Rabbi David Seidenberg
Out of the ark and into the garden: Shabbat Noach in the Shmita year
There are three places in the Torah which talk about human beings and the animals – including wild animals – sharing one food supply. In Eden, in the ark during the flood, and in the Sabbatical year or Shmita. There’s a lot more to these stories, but you don’t really need to know much more to understand the basic message of the Torah.
We lived with the wild animals once, rather than carving out separate spaces for us and our domesticated fellow travelers. According to the Torah, that is the real truth, and all the owning and property and buying and selling is an illusion. We can return to that truth during Shmita, when we get to root ourselves in a real way in the land – not by owning it by being with it. Not by fencing it but by taking down fences. Not by hoarding but by sharing everything, with all the creatures.
Here are the relevant verses about eating:
In the garden of Eden, “Elohim said: Here, I have given to you all every plant seeding seed which is on the face of all the land and every tree which has in it tree-fruit seeding seed, for you all it will be for eating, and for every wild animal of the land and for every bird of the skies and for every crawler on the land in which there is a living soul nefesh chayah, every green plant for eating. And it was so.” (Genesis 1:29–30)
In the story of the flood, “Elohim said to Noach: …from all life from all flesh, two from all you will bring unto the ark to keep them alive with you, male and female they will be. From the bird by their species and from the animal by her species from every land crawler by their species, two from all you will bring unto you to make them live. And you, take for you from all the food which is eaten, and gather unto you, and it will be for you and for them for eating.” (Genesis 6:19–21)
And in the laws of the Shmita or Sabbatical year, it says, “YHVH spoke unto Moshe in Mt. Sinai, saying: You all will come into the land which I am giving to you, and the land will rest, a Shabbat for YHVH…And the shabbat-growth of the land will be for you all for eating: for you and for your male servant and for your female servant and for your hired worker and for your settler living-as-a-stranger with you; and for your animal and for the wild animal which is in your land, all of her produce will be to eat.” (Leviticus 25:6–7)
There is a debate among the rishonim, the earlier rabbis, about whether the tree fruit in Eden was just for the human beings and the grass for the animals, or whether it was all for all of them. Ramban says that humans dined separately, but Rashi says that it truly was one family sharing one food supply. As for the ark, according to the midrash Noach had to create one great store of every kind of food, because each animal needed its own sustenance, and Noach and his family had to spend every hour of the day feeding the animals, since some ate at dawn and some during the day, some at dusk and some at night.
After the flood, in between the ark and Shmita, comes the tragedy of human history. The wars and usurpations, enslavements and empires, the amassing of gold and land by some and the impoverishment of others. And in between the two are also the tragedies of our relationship to the wild animals: not just using but abusing, extinguishing whole species, and losing touch with our own wild selves.
That’s reflected in the flood story: when Noach and family emerge from
the ark, they are told that “a terror of you and a dread of you will be over every wild animal of the land and every bird of the skies, everything which crawls the ground and all the fish of the sea, into your hands they are given. All that crawls which lives, for you it will be for eating – like green plants I have given all to you all. Just don’t eat flesh with its soul, its blood.” (Genesis 9:2–3)
This is no blessing but a curse. And it is no dominion: according to one interpretation, the meaning of dominion in Eden was that when Adam would call to the animals, they would come to him. Now it would be the opposite – they will run away in terror. (“Rashi” on B’reishit Rabbah 34:12)
One question for us today, in this year of Shmita, is: how can we get
ourselves back to the garden? Back before our fellowship with the animals was lost? That can’t mean turn the hands of the clock back on history. Shmita answers a slightly different question: how do we get back to the garden as grownups, after having eaten from the tree of knowing good and evil? It’s not about feigned or renewed innocence, but rather about knowing our power to destroy, and not exercising that power. It’s about finding fellowship with the land and the other animals. And above all, it is about finding rest – rest from ourselves, and rest with each other, with all the other ones that inhabit the land.
A midrash says that during the twelve months in the ark, Noach “did not taste the taste of sleep, not in the day and not in the night, for he was busy feeding the souls that were with him.” (Tanchuma Kadum Noach 2) Another midrash, says that when God was setting up the world, the earth heard God say, “It’s not good, the human being alone” and she realized this meant that human beings would begin to reproduce. Then the earth “trembled and quaked”, saying, “I do not have in me the strength to feed the flocks of humanity.” God promised the earth to feed humanity at night with sleep, and so share the burden with her. (Pirkei d’Rabi Eliezer ch. 12)
In our society, where almost everyone is racing to keep their jobs or
make money or outcompete, we don’t really let ourselves sleep. As a society we never rest. We don’t get enough of this divine food. And it’s not because like Noach we are feeding all the creatures. But here’s what this midrash teaches us: a humanity that never rests is a humanity cut off from the unconscious, cut off from its divine sustenance, and it is a humanity that will destroy the earth.
It is time for us to rest, and to dream, as a whole society: Shmita.
It says in Proverbs 11:30, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and one who acquires souls is wise.” These souls are the animals, the midrash teaches, and it was because Noach was capable of caring for them that he was worthy of being saved from the flood. (B’reishit Rabbah 30:6) Are we worthy?
It also says in Proverbs 12:10, “A righteous person knows the soul of his animal.” It is time to practice this righteousness. Not just with the other animals, but also with ourselves. How will we know the soul of this animal within us? How will we make peace within, with each other, and with the land? How will we dream our animal dreams again? That is the door Shmita opens for us. That is the ark Shmita builds for us. And I believe that is how we get back to the tree of life in the garden.
From The Maqam Project
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Go into the word and reveal the light: a different reading of Noah
Last week we read parashat Noach — the Torah portion which tells the story of Noah, the flood, the ark, and the rainbow. One of my favorite teachings about this story turns it into something else entirely. It hinges on the Hebrew word teva, “ark,” which can also be understood to mean “word.”
When God tells Noah to enter the ark — so teaches the Baal Shem Tov — God is also saying, “Enter the word.” Go deeply into the word. Which word? The words of prayer. God’s instruction to Noah is also an instruction to all of us. We’re meant to go deeply into the words of prayer.
Some interpretations continue: just as the ark had three floors or levels, our use of words has different levels: mundane or ordinary speech on the bottom floor, conscious speech on middle floor, and holy speech on the top floor. (I’m not sure this refinement originates with the Baal Shem, but it’s lovely.)
The instructions in Torah continue: Noah should make a tzohar, a window, in the ark to let in light. We need to make spaces for light in our words, to ensure that every word we speak is one which brings light to the world. In everything we do, we need to make sure that divinity can shine in.
The grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Efraim of Sudlikov (usually known by the title of his best-known book, the Degel Machaneh Efraim), writes — in one of his short commentaries on Noah and the ark — that there is always light hidden in the darkness.
Sometimes, the Degel notes, light seems to be covered-over and we can’t access it at all. At those times, it’s our job to open up the covering and reveal the light. Because light can be found even in the darkness. Maybe especially in the darkness, because darkness is what makes us seek.
Did Noah Speak Crow?
I’m an experienced hiker, but sometimes I do stupid things. A few years ago, I made three mistakes at once. In a single day, I traveled from sea level to 12,000 feet above it, taking no time to acclimate to 37% drop in oxygen intake. There I went hiking on the tundra — alone and off-trail.
At one point, I took off my pack, sat down on a cliff overlooking a gorgeous green valley, and enjoyed my altered consciousness. I took my notebook out of my pack and tried to write. But I couldn’t form a coherent deep thought. So, I put the notebook away and took out my lunch. But I couldn’t unwrap my sandwich – my swollen fingers would not obey my mind. I was getting woozy from altitude sickness and oxygen deprivation.
Suddenly I heard a raven’s deep trill overhead and I snapped awake. Above me, three ravens were circling and calling. I zipped my pack, stood up, and stumbled forwards. The circle of ravens moved a bit north. They called again. I followed them. They moved, I followed, they moved, I followed, and somehow I was back on the trail. When I reached the trail, the ravens broke their formation, and flew off in a line. Using all my concentration, I put one foot in front of the other, until I reached the road.
Ravens had escorted me to safety.
You know the passage in the biblical Book of Kings where the ravens feed the prophet Elijah (I Kings 17:2-6)? It’s entirely plausible.
Biblical writers know their animals well. They respect each animal, its unique form of life, its interests, and its way of thinking.
Picture Noah, caretaker of a huge ecosystem in quarters the size of BC Ferries’ boat “Spirit of British Columbia.” Finally, the torrential rains have stopped. It’s safe to fly, but it may not be safe to walk. So Noah sends some of his flying friends to scout for dry land.
First he sends the orev – a Hebrew word that means “corvid.” You can picture a raven, a crow, or even a magpie. The orev flies to and fro, to and fro, until the waters dry up. What a clown! Flying in zigzags and then giving up just when it’s possible to collect information! So some readers have said.
But we in British Columbia know that there is nothing erratic about a crow flying back and forth. It’s simply what crows do every day. At dawn, they fly out from the communal roost to work and play in their family territories. At dusk, they fly home, to socialize with friends and relatives, share news of the day, and sleep.
If you visit a communal roost at dusk, you’ll hear lots of yelling. But if you’re lucky, you’ll hear some actual conversations in Crow. You’ll hear a series of words that sound like clacks and buzzes, arranged in sentences with a consistent syntax. Research biologists have recorded the language and are trying to decipher it. No doubt some people alive today can understand it.
No doubt Noah does too. As the orev flies to and fro, returning each evening to the floating communal roost, Noah listens to the report. And when the time is right, Noah sends yonah —Hebrew for Jonah, and for dove. Doves forage on the ground for fallen leaves and sprigs. So, if yonah brings back a branch, Noah knows yonah has found dry land.
The Biblical text says: “Noah was a righteous man in his generation” (Gen. 6:9). Why add “in his generation”? To teach that Noah is sort of righteous, at least, relative to the people in his depraved generation? Or that Noah is exceptionally righteous, able to walk a good path without role models or peers? Or, maybe, that Noah is the kind of righteous his generation needs! An ecologist, respecting each animal species, its unique form of life, its interests, its language, and its way of thinking.
Our generation needs more Noah consciousness. Noah’s story calls all of us to develop it and promote it. Us? Really? Even students and faculty at the Vancouver School of Theology? Most of us are not scientists, city planners or engineers. We are just spiritual leaders and teachers. All we do is shape the way people think, give direction to their existential journey, offer a language for exploring reality. What can we do?
We can stop teaching that we humans are at the top of the food chain — and teach that we are part of a cycle. Tiny powerful microorganisms feed on us every day. Viruses and bacteria make each of us ill at some point. Some of us even lose our lives in order that other creatures may live. We may not choose to support planetary life in this way, but is part of our biological mission.
We can stop talking about how we humans have “mastered” the earth – even when we mean to criticize exploitive practice. And teach instead that we are deeply dependent on senior team members. By all accounts, insects preceded us on this planet, and may not need us at all. But without insects simply living their lives, foraging and farming, we would have no food.
We can stop teaching that we are a superior species, endowed with a special divine soul and intelligence. And teach instead that every creature has a special intelligence. Creatures with different bodies have different biological needs, different organs of perception, and different kinds of awareness guiding their lives. If we wish to know the will of our creator, to touch God’s expansive consciousness, we need to learn about its many forms.
To be, like Noah, righteous in our generation.
Come Into The Word
Come on back in Noah. You had such a good start, a guy with promise. The way the Book refers to you, ish tzaddik (Gen.6:9), such a lofty description. A righteous man. Maybe that’s what held you back, too much opportunity. Maybe you had too much and you know how that happens, you felt entitled. Everyone telling you you’re an ish tzaddik, a righteous person, maybe as you grew you didn’t develop and came to expect what you had not earned. Hey, who’s the righteous person in the room?
That may be part of the problem for you: the room. The Book reads a righteous person then a couple of qualifiers: just right for your generation (6:9). Uh oh. What if your generation was not so elevated, what if you were born into a generation that was not so lofty? To be an ish tzaddik in that generation might not be such great shakes.
Grandfather of blessed memory used to refer to you as a tzaddik in peltz. What kind of tzaddik might you be? He would ask. A tzaddik in a fur coat, and then he would laugh that laugh that was heard from one end of the room to the other, the kind of laughter that suggested we’re all a little ruined here. When you’re cold, you can light a fire at the hearth and everyone warms up. Or you can put on your fur coat. That’s the Noah kind of tzaddik, he would say, a righteous person in a fur coat.
That’s a hard problem Noah and we all have some sympathy for you. Later in life, if you had learned to read better, you might have seen the signs in the Book. The clue to your redemption is there too. Come into the teivah, Noah, the book reads (7:1). That could have been your salvation. Come into the Ark, teivah, same word used for our beloved teacher Moses (Ex.2:3,5) who came out of the teivah in the bulrushes. You might have entered the wrong kind of teivah, Noah. In that ark you saved yourself, your kids, the wives, and two of every kind of those sweet Dr. Dolittle animals.
Then there’s the terrible acting out of your decline. You turned to the sauce (Gen.9:21). It’s no excuse to say you humiliated yourself the way you did (with your children present yet) because you were spiced up, as Grandfather used to say. You got attached to substances. When you get attached that way Noah anything can happen and often does. You begin to violate all the codes of behavior you thought you would never violate. The first step Noah: take responsibility. It was not the drink acting, it was Noah drunk.
Here is the secret sense of that problem: the emptiness within. That sense of entitlement Noah you began with, if you don’t work it you could be lost that way your entire life. And you will leave behind a legacy of mess. Your children — they will inherit a legacy of mess (9:25).
There is no filling a hunger that isn’t physical; that emptiness within Noah, we know that’s the root problem. You can’t drink enough you can’t drug enough you can’t eat enough you can’t spend enough you can’t fill enough a hunger that isn’t physical. The only antidote is spiritual, the perennial remedy, the real deal, a spiritual remedy.
The clues are all in the Book, Noah. Come into the teivah, the Book invited you. It means Word in addition to Ark. And if you didn’t know that or if you forgot, someone should have reminded you. Come into the Word.
Noah, you could have walked into the Word, become a tzaddik in language, talked through all your complicated stuff because that is the enduring remedy. Talk it work it get honest about it confront it ultimately eclipse it. Grow beyond your limitations. Talk with your healers, let them mix medicines when you need that kind of help and deal with it. Enter the Word. That’s the healing power, the power in language.
You could have become a tzaddik in loshen, Noah, a righteous person in language, and saved everyone.
From Rabbi David Kasher
ParshaNut Weekly Post: Parshat Noach
A WAR ON GOD
Nine lines long.
The whole Tower of Babel story is just nine lines long. This famous legend, which has captured the world’s imagination, and inspired everything from Renaissance paintings to Hollywood films, is deftly contained in nine quick verses. It is a classic example of the remarkable efficiency of Biblical storytelling, which again and again manages to deliver, in just a few words, tales that have endured throughout the centuries.
But for all its renown, this is a rather strange tale. After the great flood, the descendants of Noah gather together to build a tower “with its head in the sky.” God seems to be disturbed by this plan so He “confounds their speech” – which has generally been understood to mean that he made them all speak different languages, so that would be too confusing to work together. And then He scatters them all over the earth.
What is this story doing here, tucked in between Noah’s Ark, which is the main subject of this week’s parsha, and our introduction to Abraham in next week’s parsha? Many have suggested that this is what’s called an ‘etiology’ – that is, a retrospective attempt to explain a basic human phenomenon – in this case, the diversity of languages and cultures. How did this all come about? Tower of Babel.
That may be one of the functions of the story, but that doesn’t explain what role it plays in the narrative of the Torah. Why do we have to read this now? And it also doesn’t explain what these people were doing in the first place. Why are they building a tower to the sky, in this time long before corporate offices in city skyscrapers?
The Torah itself gives an answer:
“Come,” they said, “let us build a city, and a tower with its head in the sky, to make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered all over the earth.” (Gen. 11:4)
To make a name for ourselves. Maybe this was about glory – the human desire for achievement and the prestige it brings. In which case, this is a moral tale: when humanity becomes obsessed with self-promotion as an end in itself, they will eventually be humbled by forces larger than they can imagine.
But the verse also says, “Lest we be scattered all over the earth.” That sounds less about pride, and more about fear. They wanted to stick together, to make sure that they would not lose one another. Maybe the tower was meant to act as a kind of locating point, visible to all, to help people gather together around one central city. That’s essentially what the great modern commentator, the Netziv, suggests, and he says this plan to centralize was:
Against the will of God, who said [back in the Garden of Eden] to “spread out over the earth and populate it,” which means to migrate throughout the length and width of the globe, and to settle it…
So why would they want to huddle together instead? Remember that this was just after the great flood, the destruction of almost all of humanity. On some level they must simply have been terrified that disaster could strike again at any time – and who would want to be isolated when that happened?
And speaking of the flood, the most obvious reason for a tall tower might just be that it was a good way to get above water level, should God ever decide to flood the world again. This is what the ancient historian Josephus says, that people at the time were generally:
…greatly afraid of the lower grounds on account of the flood, and so were very loath to come down from the higher places… (Antiquities 1:4:1)
In other words, they were shell-shocked, traumatized, and living in constant anxiety, waiting for the next “big one.” Frankly, given what the world had just gone through, that mindstate makes a lot of sense. I’d have wanted a tower to run into myself.
But Rashi, the standard go-to commentator, takes up none of these explanations. Instead, he suggests a very different attitude prevailed among the people as they built the tower:
They said, “[God] cannot take the whole upper realm for Himself. We will go up to the sky and wage war with Him.”
A war against God! How bold! Here the tower wasn’t a panicked attempt to plan for disaster, but an aggressive move to storm the heavens and dethrone God Almighty.
The Midrash that Rashi borrowed from adds another detail. In this fuller account, they said:
Let us make ourselves a tower, and we shall place an idol at the top of it, and we shall put a sword in its hand, such that it will appear to be waging war against Him. (Bereshit Rabbah 38:7)
The tower is literally piercing the heavens with idolatry, as a direct, violent challenge to God’s authority as the only deity. We will send another god, they said, to kill God. Or, as yet another Midrash has it, they were willing to do the job themselves:
Let us ascend to the sky, and we will strike Him with hatchets. (Tanchuma Noach 18)
Imagine, a pack of of wild, desert warriors, clambering up the tower, axes in hand, ready to literally murder God. The image is somehow both ludicrous and terrifying, all at once.
So who were these people? What kind of person was willing to do hand-to-hand combat with the Creator of Heaven and Earth? What kind of fury could motivate a war on God?
We’ve already seen suggestions that perhaps they were an arrogant lot, consumed with their own fame and glory. So maybe this was just a kind of megalomania, but taken to a divine scale.
And then there are plenty of midrashim that ascribe all kinds of other terrible crimes to the Babel generation, disturbing traits that might account for their savagery. The most well-known of these is the following depressing description of the building process itself:
If a person fell and died, they wouldn’t pay any attention to him, but if a brick fell, they would sit down and cry and say, “How will another take its place?!” (Pirke d’Rabbi Eliezer 24)
The building had become an obsession. It was all that mattered. They had lost any sense of ethical concern or basic human compassion. They just had to keep going, higher and higher. They wanted to reach the heavens, to achieve greatness, and to conquer.
These are the sorts interpretations we would expect to see from the commentators. The builders of the tower were terrible people. The worst kind of people. Barbarians, maniacs, idolaters, murderers. These are the kinds of people who go to war with God.
But the Ibn Ezra identifies some other folks in the crowd of builders who we might be surprised to see. “Do not be astounded,” he says, “that Noah and Shem were there.” Noah, that most righteous man on earth, the one person saved from the flood – along with his most righteous son – are now part of this rebellion. The man who built the ark is helping to build the tower. The family who devotedly followed God’s command is now openly defying God.
In a way, though, that makes sense. Noah had more reason to be traumatized than anyone, more reason to be angry with God. He was the one who had personally witnessed the destruction of humankind. He was the one who had lost everyone he knew, and had to start to build society again, all alone. Maybe Noah had become bitter at the God who had put him through all this. Maybe Noah was ready for revenge.
But the Ibn Ezra calls out another familiar figure there in Babel, and this one comes as a real shock:
Abraham was one of the builders of the tower.
Abraham?! The founder of our faith? The one who walked before God? Next week we will begin the story of this man, who would become known as the model of perfect faith, the father of nations of believers. Could it be that just a few years earlier, he was part of the greatest revolt against God in human history?
At the least, that would mean that Abraham was one of the fearful, worried that God could destroy the earth again at any moment. Or maybe he was one of the opportunists, looking to make a name for himself, to receive glory for his stunning achievements. Neither of these descriptions seem to fit a paragon of faith.
But more difficult would be to imagine Abraham as one of those who wanted to go to war against God. Did Abraham approve of the idol with the sword in its hand? Did Abraham pick up a hatchet, ready to swing it at God? Is it really possible to suggest such a thing?
One of the great questions in Torah commentary is, “Where did Abraham come from?” Why did God choose him? What was his origin story? And there are tons of great answers. The most famous midrash of all tells us that even as a boy, he was destroying idols and preaching the faith. Maimonides describes Abraham on an intellectual quest, like a little scientist, intent on understanding the movement of the planets and the origin of the universe. And there are wilder stories – one says that he was buried underground for thirteen years, and then suddenly emerged, speaking Hebrew and praising the Lord.
But what if Abraham’s origin story was not one of faith, but of doubt. What if Abraham came to be this great servant of God only after years of rejecting God, mocking God, fighting God. What if Abraham was, like everyone around him, once a heretic.
If that were so, it would make some sense of the placement of the Tower of Babel story here, lodged in between the story of the flood and our introduction to Abraham. This was a period of transition. It was a time when people were either scared of God, or oblivious to God, or even angry with God. And Abraham was no exception. He lived through this phase of human development, and even participated in it, but eventually grew out of it and led humanity towards a new kind of faith – a wiser, more mature faith.
This reading would also offer a whole new understanding of Abraham’s personal journey. He was not the golden child, born enlightened, who always intuited the truth, even as everyone around him spouted nonsense. He was not the earnest philosopher, probing the cosmos, desperate for answers. He never smashed his father’s idols.
He worshipped them, like everyone else. He went out into the world to seek fame and fortune, like everyone else. And perhaps even, like so many others, he went through a period of doubting God, or believing in God, but hating Him. Perhaps Abraham, too, went to war with God.
Would that make Abraham a lesser hero? Would it tarnish his reputation as the founder of western religion? I don’t think so. In some ways, I think it would make him even greater. Because it would mean that he knew what it was like to rage against God, to curse God, to question God’s existence or God’s righteousness. He felt that kind of doubt that so many of us feel at some point in our lives, and yet – he struggled with it, he worked through it, and he came out on the other side with faith – a faith made stronger by the long and difficult journey.
Sometimes it is only by going to war that one can find peace.
Safe from the storm: a d’var Torah for parashat Noach
This year as I read this week’s Torah portion a three-word phrase leapt out at me. It comes after the part about how Noah built the ark, and all the animals that he collected inside it — between all of those descriptions, and the Flood itself. ויסגור ה’ בעדו: “And God shut him in.”
Rashi notes that the literal meaning of this phrase is that God closed the door of the ark behind Noah, protecting him from the waters that would rage outside the door. The commentator known as the Radak writes that “God protected him against the chance of even a small hole opening in the ark as a result of the powerful rains.” One way or another, this verse seems to be saying something about God protecting Noah and keeping him safe through the storm.
As the cold weather approaches, we — like Noah — batten down the hatches. Maybe we tinker with our storm windows, spray insulation into cracks and crevices, put an extra blanket on the bed. If that’s true as we anticipate literal storms, how much more true as we anticiapte emotional and spiritual storms. Every life has periods of turbulent waters. As we face those waters, we yearn to be cared-for and tucked-in, to have God’s presence securing and protecting us.
I’m not a sailor, but I know that when big storms arise sometimes the only way through is to lower sail and let the storm rage. Often storms move us to new places: as the winds and currents can move a boat into new waters, when emotional currents surge strong they may carry us to places we didn’t expect. Authentic spiritual life asks us to weigh anchor and let ourselves be moved, trusting that even when external circumstances are swirling around us we can touch stillness and eternity.
One of the reasons to maintain spiritual practices when the sailing is smooth is so that those practices are there to sustain and protect us when storms pick up. If I remind myself every morning to pause to articulate gratitude for being alive, then maybe when the tough mornings come the habit will be engrained enough to carry me through. If I pause before sleep to try to let go of the day’s mistakes and hurts, then maybe I can wake into the infinite possibility of the new day, even when sleep came on the heels of weeping.
How can we feel secured and protected, as Noah might have felt when God lovingly closed the door behind him? Maybe it’s a phone call or a text message from a friend reminding us that we’re not alone. Maybe it’s reading an essay that makes us feel seen and understood in who we most deeply are. Maybe it’s putting on a piece of jewelry that feels like a talisman. Maybe it’s a session with a therapist who reminds us that our stories matter, or a spiritual director who companions us in our journeying.
Our liturgy tells us that we are loved by an unending love, an אהבת עולם. For me, the presence of that love is what secures the door and keeps me safe from the storm. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of that love in the love I feel for my child, or the love he feels for me. Sometimes I brush up against it in the connection between me and my most beloved friends. Sometimes I feel that love manifest in the extraordinary beauty of creation, in the rise of early morning light over our hills now dressed in November’s muted palette or the calliope song of geese migrating overhead at dusk.
What makes you feel seen and cared-for? What carries you safely through life’s storms?
From Rabbi Miriam Maron
This commentary about the Raven was written during the month of Elul
According to our people’s rich and ancient history, this weekend is believed to be the time when Noah sent Raven from the Ark to determine whether the Great Flood had subsided. In the original Hebraic narrative, Raven is then described as flying “out and back until the waters dried-up from upon the earth” (Genesis 8:7). In the meantime, seeing that Raven wasn’t delivering any discernable or otherwise decisive report on the situation at hand, Noah decided to send Dove on this important mission. Dove, it turned out, was more practical and returned with no news, implying that the earth was still submerged. Yet, according to the literal reading of the text, while Dove had been out scouting about, Raven had still been flying “out and back” over and over and over again, which he continued to do for another seven days up until the flood subsided. Raven’s insistence on keeping at it no matter what it took or how long, inspired Noah to send out Dove a second time, this time returning with an olive leaf in its beak, indicating that the flood had finally subsided (Genesis 8:11).
So often do we extend our hope to the horizon of possibility, only to reel it back in as soon as we sense the absence of response. And then we wait, maybe even forget, fearing yet more disappointment. Raven reminds us to keep at it, to not let go, to cling tenaciously to our dreams, our visions. To keep flying “out and back until the waters dry up” — until, that which veils the possibilities begins to subside.
As the turning of our year approaches, let us open the window of our inner-Arks and send out our Ravens. For who knows whether the earth had already dried-up during the period between the first sending of Dove and the second. Only Raven would have known. Let us learn from Raven and remain in flight around our hopes, not allowing disappointment to send us back into the Ark but always keeping an eye out for their realization in whatever form they might appear. Remember, it was Raven’s tenacity which reminded Noah to send out Dove a second time.
With Blessings of Fortitude during these trying times,
From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
The Trace of God
OPEN THE FLOODGATES
by Rabbi David Kasher
You’ll never guess my favorite line in the Torah.
It’s not one of the all-time classics, like “The Lord is One,” or “Love thy neighbor.” It doesn’t involve a character I particularly love, nor a law I think is especially wise.
In fact, it begins with a rather prosaic detail: the date.
My favorite line appears in this week’s parsha, which tells the famous story of Noah’s Ark. You probably know the basic plotline: The earth has become corrupt. God is angry, regrets having ever made human beings, and has decided to drown them all in a flood. But God spares Noah and his family, and instructs him to build an ark – even giving precise measurements for its construction. And then God tells Noah to take in at least two of every animal, in order to save all the species of life on earth.
So Noah does all this dutifully, and he and the animals go into the ark. Then the flood begins. And the line that announces it – that is my favorite line in the Torah:
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month – on that day – all the fountains of the great deep burst apart, and the floodgates of the heavens broke open. (Gen. 7:11)
בִּשְׁנַת שֵׁשׁ-מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה, לְחַיֵּי-נֹחַ, בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי, בְּשִׁבְעָה-עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ–בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה, נִבְקְעוּ כָּל-מַעְיְנֹת תְּהוֹם רַבָּה, וַאֲרֻבֹּת הַשָּׁמַיִם, נִפְתָּחוּ.
It just gets me every time.
I don’t know exactly what it is I love about this verse. On its face, it’s just telling us that the rain is starting. But something about its rhythm and imagery suggest that this is not going to be just any storm. Great forces are being loosed upon the world. They will come from up above, and from deep, down below.
The word for “deep” here – tahom (תהום) – is one we saw last week, in the second line of the Bible:
And the earth was chaos and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep… (Gen. 1:2)
וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם…
It is from this dark, primordial deep, that the fountains erupt. So one cannot help but wonder if something more than just water is pouring forth.
The Zohar, the central text of Jewish mysticism, describes this moment as a kind of cosmic unleashing of great spiritual powers. But in the course of this description, the Zohar also includes a startling prediction about when such a moment might once again occur:
In the 600th year of the 6th millennium the upper gates of wisdom will be opened and also the wellsprings of wisdom below. This will prepare the world for the 7th millennium. The is like a person who prepares himself on the sixth day, as the sun sets, for Shabbat. So shall it be here. The sign for this is the verse: “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life …all the fountains of the great deep burst apart, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.” (Parshat Vayeira, 1:116b)
וּבְשִׁית מְאָה שְׁנִין לִשְׁתִיתָאָה יִתְפַּתְּחוּן תַּרְעֵי דְחָכְמְתָא לְעֵילָא וּמַבּוּעֵי דְחָכְמְתָא לְתַתָּא, וְיִתְתַּקַּן עַלְמָא לְאָעֳלָא בִּשְׁבִיעָאָה. כְּבַר נָשׁ דְּמִתְתַּקַּן בְּיוֹמָא שְׁתִיתָאָה מֵכִי עָרַב שִׁמְשָׁא לְאֲעָלָא בְּשַׁבַּתָּא. אוּף הָכִי נָמֵי. וְסִימָנִיךְ (בראשית ז) בִּשְׁנַת שֵׁשׁ מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה לְחַיֵּי נֹחַ וְגו’ נִבְקְעוּ כָּל מַעְיְינוֹת תְּהוֹם רַבָּה.
Now, I’m no mystic, but if you do the math here, the result is rather startling. Because the 600th year of the 6th millennium comes to 5600 in the Jewish calendar. But the Jewish calendar is roughly 3760 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar we use. Which puts this great moment of overflowing wisdom at the year 1840.
And remarkably, 1840 was a moment in history when new forms of understanding actually were erupting all over the world. This was an epoch in the throes of the industrial revolution, the beginning of a new technological age that is still going strong. It was a time when political revolutions were sweeping across the globe. In America, Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and – perhaps most prominently – in France, major revolutions were radically changing the political consciousness of the modern world.
In the Jewish world as well, things were changing in unprecedented ways, prompted in part by political emancipation in Europe. The Hassidic movement was in full force. Zionism was just coming into recognizable existence. Reform Judaism was changing the Jewish religious landscape.
In the midst of all this upheaval, in large part because of this passage in the Zohar, messianic fervor was at a fever pitch in many communities.
But the messiah never showed. 1840 came and went. And the world moved on. Some would claim that the Zohar’s prediction was nevertheless an accurate accounting of all the “wisdom” that broke out into the world in 1840. One way or another, it seemed that the gates of heaven had closed once again.
Or had they?
After the 40 days and 40 nights of the flood, we read that “God remembered Noah and all the animals,” sent a wind across the earth, and the waters subsided. And then, there is a line that echoes the one we started with:
The fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens were closed, and the rain from the heavens was held back. (Gen 8:2)
וַיִּסָּכְרוּ מַעְיְנֹת תְּהוֹם, וַאֲרֻבֹּת הַשָּׁמָיִם; וַיִּכָּלֵא הַגֶּשֶׁם, מִן-הַשָּׁמָיִם.
This, of course, is the exact inverse of my favorite line above, the closing of the doors that were opened. Except for one difference, which Rashi points out:
‘The fountains were closed…’ When they were opened, it is written, “all the fountains,” but here, “all” is not written. Because some remained open, those for which the world still has a need…
ויסכרו מעינות: כשנפתחו כתיב (ז יא) כל מעינות, וכאן אין כתיב כל, לפי שנשתיירו מהם אותן שיש בהם צורך לעולם…
All the power is not gone from the world. There are wellsprings of wisdom that continue to trickle. We are not flooded by them, but nor will we die of thirst.
Now I don’t know what to make of mystical predictions that point to signs and call out dates. Certainly there are moments in history when the dams seem to burst open, and new knowledge comes rushing out into the world in a torrent.
But I do like to believe that in any given moment in time, even in periods of spiritual and intellectual drought, we will always manage find the wisdom we need.
I hope so, anyway. Because the earth is once again in crisis. The water levels are rising. Yet there seems to be no sign from God, no clear set of instructions on how to survive.
If we want to save life on earth this time, we may have to figure out how to build an ark by ourselves.
From The Hebrew College
Rabbi Arthur Green
Noah: Words above the Waters
The story of Noah’s flood remains one of the best-known and most powerful tales of our biblical heritage. Even in our secular age, there is hardly a child who has not heard the story told, seen it recreated in animation, or played with toys based on the animals in Noah’s ark. What is it about this story that seems to have such great enduring power? Is it just that it fits so well with children’s seemingly natural desire to care for animals? Or are there deeper truths that we sense are present within it, perhaps made more palatable to us because they appear in the guise of this childlike and dreamy narrative?
The largest and most challenging frame into which the tale forces us is the ultimate question of whether we, or our human society, deserve to exist. God is here our voice of self-judgment, thunderously asking, in the language of Gen. 6:13, “Are we too so filled with ḥamas – violence or malice – that we ought to be destroyed?” Would a Creator God, looking down upon our world, also conclude that “the inclination of the human heart is just evil, from their youth (8:21),” and that we are therefore irredeemable?
There is much in the headlines these days to support such a terrible read. We shudder to think that we might be judged by the leaders we choose. Our treatment of the vulnerable – women, minorities, immigrants – and our refusal to hear their voices – could go a long way toward condemning us. Our society’s willful disregard for the survival of the created world itself, requiring purity of air, water, and other basic resources of life, puts us on the course toward a naturalistic interpretation of the Noah story, one in which our actions bring us into a future where survival is possible only for a chosen few, the subject of endless dystopian films and computer games that themselves seem to pollute the cultural air we are forced to breathe.
Whence the redemption that has to accompany the Noah story, if it is to be deemed fit to be told to younger audiences, and thus passed down through the generations? How do we get beyond its utter gloom? The Hasidic authors, deeply seated in the tradition of Midrash, do it by a close reading of the story’s language. The term for “ark” used in the biblical tale is teyvah. The exact same term, in later Hebrew, has the meaning of “word.” It is the word, spoken with integrity, that saves us, sailing above the waters of destruction. Language, in the rabbinic imagination, is that which makes us human, distinguishing us from the animal kingdom. It is proper use of that great divine gift that renders meaning to our lives, offering us the possibility of transcendence, of reaching toward the sublime. In the very verbal cultural tradition of Judaism, it is the word, truly spoken (in contrast to the Hindu’s mantra or the Buddhist’s silence), that leads us on that path.
The Ba‘al Shem Tov, the first Hasidic master, began with a quip. God said to Noah: “You, enter the ark with your entire household (7:1).” When you speak, he admonished, bring your whole self into the word. Do not leave part of yourself outside it, questioning, doubting. You will never attain wholeness if you do. Others added: “Make a window for the ark (6:17)” – Let light shine in to your word. “Let there be lower, second, and third levels (ibid.)” – Discover ever higher levels of meaning within the word you speak, which has the potential to be the word of God.
A later master, the rabbi of Radomsk, added “The ark rested in the seventh month (8:4).” The seventh month, in the biblical calendar, is Tishrey, the month of the Days of Awe, which we have just concluded. It is there, in that time when integrity is most demanded, that the word finds rest. Ḥat’anu, “we have sinned,” is a word that is spoken with the whole self. So too is salaḥti, “I have forgiven.”
Integrity of language is terribly under threat in the world in which we live. False testimony seems to be taken for granted, even from those who seek to represent highest justice. “Facts” seem to disappear all too readily, whether due to the “spin” of politicians or the labyrinthine interpretations of post-modern historians and critics. Faith in the possibility of repairing our world might just have to begin with a renewed faith in our own ability to speak the truth.
There is so much to learn from the story of the flood, but there is
one thing that we need to pay special attention to in our day, one
point of the story we are so often not even aware of. It is this: the
first divine covenant in the Torah is not established with humanity,
but with all life.
And I, here I am, erecting my covenant [b’riti] with you and with your
seed after you, and with the soul/life of every animal [kol nefesh
ha-chayah] that is with you. . . . And I will establish my covenant
with you all, and all flesh will not again be cut off by the flood’s
waters and there will never again be a (universal) flood to destroy
the land. . . . This is the sign of the covenant that I am setting
between Me and between you all and between every living animal [nefesh
chayah] that is with you, for generations forever. My bow I have set
in the clouds, and it will become a covenant sign [ot b’rit] between
Me and the land. And it will be, when . . . the bow appears . . . I
will remember my covenant . . . and there will no more be waters . . .
to destroy all flesh . . . an eternal covenant. . . . This is the
covenant sign that I am erecting between Me and all flesh that is upon
the land. (Genesis 9:8–17)
Covenant is mentioned seven times here, implicitly emphasizing that
this covenant is for the good of all Creation. Humanity is one of the
beneficiaries of the covenant, but not its focus or purpose. Ad’rabba,
the opposite is true: the covenant can only be made because God is
giving up on humanity:
I will not add to cursing anymore the ground for the sake of humanity
[ba`avur ha’adam]… I will not add anymore to striking down all life
as I did. (Genesis 8:21)
We live in a civilization that may be destroying the very basis of
life by ruining the climate. But the great spiritual problem of our
age is not what just we are doing to the climate, or how we have
initiated the sixth mass extinction in the history or this planet.
It’s that we think the whole this Creation is here to serve us, when
in fact we need to be here to serve the whole.
We are not the center of the first covenant in the Torah. Let that be
a lesson to us. We can debate what this all means, but we cannot have
a meaningful discussion as long as people ignore the basic fact of the
flood story: the covenant is a covenant with all life. Please share
this awareness with everyone you teach.
From My Jewish Learning
The Jewish Rainbow Connection
What’s the meaning behind the sign in the sky that God gives Noah?
BY RABBI NOAH ARNOW
One afternoon, a few years ago, I looked out my office window and saw a rainbow. I told our synagogue’s education director, and at her wise suggestion we gathered the Hebrew school kids to see and recite the blessing over it. (Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who remembers the covenant, and is faithful to God’s covenant, and keeps God’s promise.) It was one of those perfect spontaneous educational moments that I’ll always remember.
And remembering is really what a rainbow is about, at least for God. After the flood, God establishes a covenant with Noah and sets the rainbow as a sign of this covenant “between Me and the earth” (Gen. 9:13), says God:
When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (Gen. 9:14-15)
The rainbow, it seems, is a way for God to remember about the covenant not to destroy the earth. God, we suspect, will get angry at us humans, every so often, and perhaps desire to destroy the world again, but the rainbow is a reminder of God’s promise not to.
But why is a rainbow the symbol of this covenant? And what should it mean to us?
A rainbow is not just a rainbow, according to Rabbi Joseph Bechor Shor (12th-century France). Rather, it’s God showing God’s self. This is based on a verse from Ezekiel comparing God’s presence to a rainbow:
Like the appearance of the bow which shines in the clouds on a day of rain… was the appearance of the semblance of the Presence of the Lord. (Ezekiel 1:28)
We can assume God wouldn’t show God’s self if God intended to destroy the world, so us seeing a rainbow—the presence of God—is indeed a good sign!
Actually, some say the rainbow itself isn’t the symbol, but rather, it’s the fact that the rainbow is seen in the clouds. Originally, suggests Rabbi Isaac Caro (a 15th-16th-century Sephardic scholar and uncle of Shulchan Aruch author Joseph Caro), rainbows couldn’t be seen from earth because they were obscured by thick clouds —and it was these heavy, thick clouds that produced the flood rains. But after the flood, Caro posits, God thinned out the clouds, rendering them incapable of producing floods of this magnitude, and allowing rainbows to be seen. So, the symbol is not only the rainbow and our ability to see it, but the clouds too.
In another interpretation of the rainbow’s significance, Nahmanides (13th-century Spain) suggests it is a bow (as in a bow and arrow) that is no longer aimed at the earth. The flood was God taking aim at the earth, but the bow is now pointing away from earth, and it no longer has a string or arrows. Displaying this disabled weapon, is sort of like a ceasefire — holding your weapon pointing towards yourself, away from your initial target. In this sense, a rainbow is about God setting aside God’s anger and making peace with us.
Other Jewish scholars have seen the rainbow as a different kind of peace symbol. One medieval commentator saw a rainbow as a combination of fire and water, coexisting in perfect peace in the natural world.
A more modern approach from Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th-century Germany) suggests that each of the different colors of the rainbow represents a different kind of person. In this reading, red, the outermost ring of the rainbow, is closest to the heavens and related to Adam — the person who was created most directly and immediately in God’s image. (Adam and the Hebrew word for “red” [adom] share the same root: the letters aleph, daled and mem.) The other colors represent people and other life forms that are further and further from God’s image, but the entire spectrum together is pure white light, representing God’s purity. Thus, the rainbow becomes a symbol of unity for all life.
Noticing that the rainbow is half of a circle, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin (a prominent American-born Orthodox rabbi in Israel) writes:
The rainbow is a half-picture, lacking a second half to complete the circle of wholeness. God can pledge not to destroy humanity, but since God created humanity with freedom of choice, God cannot guarantee that humanity will not destroy itself.
This is to say that God will take care of God’s part of the rainbow, but we have to do our part, to be God’s partners in caring for the world. I love this interpretation, because it gives us an important job, and computes with my own sense of reality, of us having freedom of choice with which God will not interfere.
For me though, the rainbow is about seeing. As Kermit the Frog sang in The Muppet Movie, “Rainbows are visions, but also illusions. And rainbows have nothing to hide.”
A rainbow is the refraction of light through water drops, breaking up the white light so that we can see the various colors in its visible spectrum. A rainbow allows us to see something that we cannot usually see. And we see a rainbow at the liminal moment when the rain has ended but the air is still damp with moisture, when we can sense both the rain and the sun, both danger and opportunity.
We’ve all had moments in our lives when suddenly we see more clearly—when the clouds in front of our eyes are lifted, and we can see not just black and white, but many shades of color, of nuance. Maybe moral vision in the world was in black and white—good and evil, life or death, right or wrong, early in Genesis, throughout the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his generation. Suddenly though, after the flood, the clouds lift and both God and people can see colors they had never before seen. Suddenly, they can see nuance, and people are no longer all good or all bad.
Maybe this is why there are so many songs about rainbows!
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