The Maggid of Mezritch interpreted our Sages’ statement: (Avos 2:1) “Know what is above you,” as: “Know that everything ‘above’ all that transpires in the spiritual realms is ‘from you,’ dependent on your conduct. Each of us has the potential to influence even the most elevated spiritual realms.”
The Torah alludes to this potential in the opening verse of our reading: (Genesis 10:9) “These are the chronicles of Noach. Noach was a righteous man.”
The word noach refers to satisfaction and repose. By repeating the word, the Torah implies that Noach and by extension, every one of his descendants can sow these qualities in two different fields, both among his fellow men, and in the spiritual worlds above.
Every person affects his environment. Our thoughts, words and deeds can inspire peace and tranquillity in our fellow men, helping create meaningful pleasure. And by establishing such conditions in our world, we accentuate similar qualities in the worlds above. To highlight our obligation to spread these virtues, this week’s Torah portion is called Noach.
-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Genuine Satisfaction; Noach’s Legacy”
from the “In the Garden of the Torah” series
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX, p. 285ff;
Vol. XXV, p. 23ff
Commentary on Torah Portion Noah
The higher something is, the lower it falls. So too, the loftiest revelations are to be found in the lowest places.
Therefore, if you find yourself in a place seemingly devoid of anything spiritual—don’t despair. The lower you are, the higher you can reach.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
In checking my commentary on this Torah Portion for last year, I noticed that I quoted the same content from Rabbi Touger then as I have just now. But it speaks to me from another direction one year later. I realize (I realized this a year ago, too) that whatever we do in the world has consequences that extend far beyond our world and into the spiritual realms. That means everything we do matters in some mysterious, cosmic sense. It also means that everyone of us matters in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.
That’s almost a shame in my case, because I’m at a point where I would much rather hide from significance than embrace it. I know most people strive all their lives to achieve significance. We want to be significant to our families, we want to be significant to our employers, to our friends, to the community. Some people want and need to be significant to large audiences, spanning the nation or even the globe, though I would imagine those types of people are somewhat rare.
But being significant means taking on responsibilities, and there’s a difference between being noteworthy and doing what it takes to support being noteworthy.
I am aware of the principle in both Christianity and Judaism that directs the member of the community to be in community with their fellows. For a Christian, that generally means going to church, and for most Christians, that’s not a problem. I have known some Christians who have gone to congregation without their spouses, sometimes taking the kids to services, because the spouse is a non-believer. Previously, I regularly attended a congregation of believers without my spouse (though she used to attend) because she stopped being a believer in Christ when she adopted a more traditional identity as a Jew.
I stopped going to that congregation for a lot of very valid reasons (though they are wonderful people and have done nothing wrong), not the least of which was that I abhorred worshiping without my wife at my side. If I couldn’t convince her to join my world, I was (and still am) willing to worship in her’s (though my faith in Jesus remains intact).
That was the plan nearly a year and a half ago and it didn’t happen. It will never happen. The question is, do I keep the peace by not attending any congregation, or do I follow the advice I’ve been receiving from a few people and “trust God” by attending a church?
Enter Noah and this week’s commentary on the Parashah. I’m still contemplating jumping and that first step looks like a doozy.
If I’m going to make a decision, it should be soon. Perhaps I can still become, in some sense, associated with a Christian community and still find an excuse to avoid the “Christmas rush” of programs, plays, and musicals that will occur in December. Waiting too much longer then that will put me into Easter season, and how would I avoid the invitations to the various “ham fests?”
Too cynical or just too nervous?
But like I said, enter this week’s commentary on Noah and the significance all human beings have in every decision we make or fail to make. Do I really dare to imagine that whether or not I go to church has cosmic ramifications? Is that ego or avoiding God?
But you can’t avoid God.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
-Psalm 139:7-12 (ESV)
I sometimes admire (even though I think some of them are misguided) people who state with such assuredness that God has told them “such-and-thus,” as if God were sitting with them at their kitchen table this morning, chatting with them over a cup of coffee or tea. I once had a blog discussion with a Christian fellow who styled himself a “prophet,” and he told me point-blank that was exactly how his conversations with Jesus occurred. I immediately stopped following his blog because, even though he seemed really nice and all, I thought only an ego the size of Montana could imagine the Son of God casually schmoozing with him in his kitchen, with each of them sipping a cuppa.
But who knows? Certainly not me.
I don’t have supernatural revelations telling me to go to the corner of 5th and Main and then await further instructions from the local Angel.
I know, cynical again, right?
Heck, Christians struggle with these questions all the time, right?
The Hebrew word for ark, teivah, has two meanings: it can mean “an ark,” and it can also mean “a word.” In the above verse, the latter meaning tells us that God instructed Noah to “enter into the word.” Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin expounded on this theme, explaining that when we pray, we should “enter into the words,” i.e. totally immerse ourselves into each word of prayer, as though the word is encompassing us.
I can’t avoid God. I can’t avoid my conscience. I can’t avoid the idea that I might have a purpose and a reason beyond pressing a bunch of keys on a keyboard to produce blog posts day after day. I can only choose to attend to God and my conscience or ignore them.
Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?
-Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford)
from the film Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
I know it’s a terrible thing to say, but that’s exactly how I feel. Oh well, maybe I’ll start by emailing the Pastor. Maybe he has some ideas. This is terrible. I’m not looking forward to this at all.
HAL-9000 (voice, Douglas Rain): What is going to happen?
Dave (Keir Dullea): Something wonderful.
HAL-9000: I’m afraid.
Dave: Don’t be. We’ll be together.
HAL-9000: Where will we be?
Dave: Where I am now.
from the film 2010 (1984)
Yeah, well…there’s always hope.
“A rare experience of a moment at daybreak, when something in nature seems to reveal all consciousness, cannot be explained at noon. Yet it is part of the day’s unity.”