The Maggid of Mezritch interpreted our Sages’ statement: “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: “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 tranquility 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 Yanki Tauber
“Genuine Satisfaction: Noach’s Legacy”
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX, p. 285ff;
Vol. XXV, p. 23ff
This is the line of Noah. — Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God. –Genesis 6:9 (JPS Tanakh)
It’s difficult and sometimes even a little dangerous to go beyond the plain meaning of what we read in the Bible and enter hidden or even mystic interpretations. First off, even though Christianity also has its mystic tradition, looking at the Bible through a Chassidic lens can tend to be disorienting, and most people will immediately reject the view rather than attempt to explore the value that might be gained from a radical change in perspective. And yet, this is what “jumped out at me” when studying the Torah Portion Noah (some Jewish sources spell the name “Noach”) this week.
Yesterday, I posted two “meditations” on this blog about how we can have an influence on others. Both messages were, for the most part, grounded in traditional methods of doing good and improving the world, but a Chasid believes that anything that is done on earth is reflected in Heaven. To punctuate this, I previously quoted Rabbi Tzvi Freeman as saying:
For all that is, physical or spiritual or Divine, was only created to be part of the repair of this world of action. And once that repair is done, all that will be true are those things that made it happen.
Even the Master said:
“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. –Matthew 18:18
But what does this mean and what does it have to do, not only with Noah, but with us?
One rather awesome conclusion, as stated above, is that what we do here doesn’t just matter here or to the people around us, but it actually has effects beyond the physical realm.
It has been noted by our Sages that “Torah preceded the world,” i.e., although Torah as studied in this physical world is to be understood in its plain context, it preceded the world. For every letter of Torah also possesses inner and esoteric meaning. Such meaning emanates from the study of Torah in the higher spiritual realms – worlds that transcend physicality.
Understandably, this applies not only to the Torah’s commandments, but to its stories; although all the stories recounted actually transpired in all their detail, still, since Torah preceded the world, we must perforce say that these tales also contain meanings found in the higher, spiritual worlds.
This gives rise to the following inescapable conclusion: Since “No evil sojourns with You,” we must say that even though the Torah contains things that in their simple context seem undesirable – such as misdeeds, punishments, and the like – in the world above, where it is impossible for evil to reside, these selfsame events are understood as being entirely desirable, holy and good.
The Chassidic Dimension: Noach
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson and
Likkutei Sichos , Noach 5747
That probably doesn’t clear things up much, but consider this. For any event that you read about in the Torah, there is a corresponding event or meaning that has occurred in Heaven. There’s a mysterious, mystic, connection between the ordinary document that we study and what God used to create the universe. Extending the metaphor, we might be able to say that whenever we obey one of the Torah mitzvah, there is an impact, not only on earth, but in Heaven. Jesus said as much in Matthew 18.
Going back to this week’s Torah portion, we can apply this metaphor to say that the names, words, and events depicted in this reading is not just a report of what happened to Noah and his family and to the earth during and after the flood, but that there are much larger ramifications. Those ramifications are particularly meaningful to those people who aren’t Jewish. Remember, Rabbi Tauber said that all of Noah’s descendents can affect both the world of men and the spiritual realms. We are all Noah’s descendents.
God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fertile and increase, and fill the earth. The fear and the dread of you shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the birds of the sky — everything with which the earth is astir — and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hand. Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these. You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it. But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every man for that of his fellow man!
Whoever sheds the blood of man,
By man shall his blood be shed;
For in His image
Did God make man.
Be fertile, then, and increase; abound on the earth and increase on it.”
And God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come, and with every living thing that is with you — birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well — all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth. I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” –Genesis 9:1-11
The covenant God made with Noah and his sons is the basis for what Judaism calls The Seven Noahide Laws. While Judaism doesn’t consider the full 613 Commandments of the Torah to be binding on a non-Jew, the Noahide Laws are applicable to everyone. In Judaism, any non-Jew who lives a life as a Noahide merits a place in the world to come (in “Christianese” that would mean he’s “saved”).
This doesn’t make much sense to a Christian because we believe that there is only one way to the Father and that’s through the Son (John 14:6). In traditional Christianity, it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish or not Jewish, you must come to faith in the Messiah to be fully reconciled with God. How the Messianic covenant addresses the Mosaic I’ll address another time, but did the Messianic covenant wipe out the Noahide covenant completely?
In the days of Noah and for ten generations afterward, there was only one people, one language, and one standard by which a man could have a covenant with God. It was the standard God gave to Noah. At the tenth generation, this people united to build an affront to God at Babel and we are told that God “confused their languages” and made the seventy nations (Genesis 11:1-9). At the end of this reading, we see Abram enter the narrative for the first time, but even after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, what was the standard of righteous living for all of mankind until the coming of Jesus?
We can look at the story of Noah and see the story of mankind’s influence, not only upon the world around us but, according to mystic interpretation, the world above. When man defied God and built a tower, God could have ignored them. After all, it wasn’t as if building a structure, no matter how high, really could have reached Heaven, could it? But if not, then why did God react and do what He did?
No, I don’t believe you can make a tower to reach up to Heaven, but I do believe that somehow, what we do on earth, for good or for bad, does affect Heaven and it does affect God. Certainly we can’t do anything to adversely affect God but we also have a unique relationship with our Creator that no other creature has, not even the angelic beings. We are special. We matter personally to God. Our actions are not our own and they are not limited to the “nuts and bolts” of life in our own little world.
If even the name “Noach” has meaning, if the stories in the Torah somehow reach beyond the words on a page and resonate in Heaven itself, if what we loose on earth is loosed in God’s realm, then the story of Noah teaches us that we dare not be careless with what we say and do. Noah’s planting a vineyard, making wine, and becoming intoxicated resulted in a permanent curse on Ham, but we don’t know why. The descendents of Noah built a great tower to symbolize their invincibility over God, defying God as man did in Eden, and defying God as the generation before the flood, and God reacted by confusing their language and splitting the one people into the seventy nations of the earth, and we don’t really know why. We say and do things in our lives, sometimes in the service of God and sometimes in the service of ourselves, and yet they have an impact in the Heavenly courts, and we don’t know how or why.
But if what we do matters that much, or even if it just might be possible that it matters that much, do we dare say a careless word or perform a careless act? Are not only our lives, but each thing we say or do that important to God? What are we loosing on earth…and in heaven?