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Parshat Noah 2018
Our world is still in diapers (in Biblical terms) and already Papa God is fed up with His (or Her) human creations and wants to end it all, for everyone and everything, people, animals, the works. We could ask why the animals have to suffer for human behavior but then we remember that animals have always had to suffer – when we did good and when we did bad. Just think: as long as a person had a ritually clean animal he could sin and then bring the animal as a sin offering for repentance. And here’s proof from our parsha. After weeks of floods and waters rising and then receding, the day comes when Noah steps out of the ark and what does he do? He sacrifices some of the animals he was saving from extinction. What do you do with that?
Commentators do find positive elements in the flood story. Rabbi Jonathan Sachs, for example, says the flood, and then the story of the Tower of Babel reflect a positive trend in the generally irresponsible actions of human beings in the first two parshot of the Torah, Bereshit and Noah. But that may just be trying to find solace in what is definitely painted as a bad time for humans.
Recently I encountered a short essay about Noah written by Dov Elboim. Dov presents the kabalat Shabbat program on television in which he interviews a different person each week – from widely different walks of life – about parshat hashavua. He himself comes from a very religious background.
Here, he wrote a meditation in words based on the story of the flood and ark and on the double meaning of the word “teiva” – which here means ark, but also means a letter of the alphabet or a word.
“Each time I feel a flood coming over my soul, I take refuge in the ‘teivot’ – the words. Jewish culture has taught me to enter and hide among the words because of their power to revive us and preserve our spirit and soul. Words are the true creators of reality, and if we want to save ourselves from reality, we can rely on words, the ‘teivot’, to carry us when the treacherous waters threaten to sink us.
“But sometimes, when we hide within the teiva-word too long, the light there begins to darken from overuse and habit and silly talk. Then we are in danger of another kind of drowning. At a moment like this in Jewish history, the founder of Hassidism, Rabbi Israel Baal-Shem-Tov, announced the next revolution: “Make a window in the ‘teiva’-word. You must let light and air into the word.
“The Baal-Shem-Tov continues: “And the opening of the ‘teiva’-ark-word should be on its side.” Sometimes, he said, the air must come from unexpected places. How to do this? “A lower level, second and third levels shall you make” (for the teiva-ark). Each ‘teiva’-word has different levels – the material, the spiritual and the divine. And all these can be found by entering deeply into the world of the ‘teiva’-word. As the parsha says, “Come into the teiva-ark”.
“But we must never forget that when the flood ends, we must exit the ‘teiva’-word-ark and cope with reality in all its material aspects. Because a ‘teiva’-word with no friction created by life-reality is doomed to wither and sink. Therefore, after entering the teiva, and discovering its many different layers and levels the command comes, “Leave the ‘teiva’-ark-word. Because if you do not leave it, how can you rediscover it anew each time you need it?”
This meditation on words should set us thinking about the words we use and how we use them. The story of creation in Bereshit was based on words – God said, and it was. If we are created in God’s image, we should be as careful as possible with the words we use. This could certainly make our daily lives and political dealings more civil, and lower the overly hot emotions so characteristic of our interactions.