Noah: Dreading Significance

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
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX, p. 285ff;
Vol. XXV, p. 23ff
Commentary on Torah Portion Noah
Chabad.org

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
“Higher Lower”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

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?

Recently I quoted Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski when he said:

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.”

–Charles Ives

Good Shabbos.

6 thoughts on “Noah: Dreading Significance”

  1. Hi James,

    Avot 2.1 is about accountability. The last portion reads: “Know what is above you [not “from you”]- a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and a record of all your actions.”

  2. Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind. Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot. Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards, and the rewards of a transgression against its cost. Contemplate three things, and you will not come to the hands of transgression: Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book.

    Avot 2:1

    “Which is the right path for man to choose for himself?”

    I think that’s the question I’m crying to answer, Carl.

    …and all your deeds being inscribed in a book.”

    Yeah, that’s what I thought. Rather humbling.

  3. I understand your struggle my friend; trying to find a church or synagogue that feels “right” seems likely to be the challenge of a lifetime. I don’t know if I’ll ever find it, in all honesty… I would love more than anything to find a fellowship that fits… But my comfort ultimately comes from the Lord, and thus, if I don’t find a church, I know that I still have Him, and He understands me and the inner workings of my soul, better than anyone in a church or a synagogue could ever mis-understand me.

    I find that my fellowship with the Lord is strengthened in the simple; a walk through the woods, gazing at the stars with wonder (a la Heschel), a smile given to a stranger, a gesture of kindness, listening to someone who needs a sympathetic ear, trying my best to do all things in Love, humble and meek in my ways. Simple, yet, when made your life’s priority, ever the more profound; much like the mysterious mustard seed.

    When I make an effort to incorporate Love into everything that I do, even though I don’t have a church or a synagogue, I feel more spiritually connected to G-d than I ever do otherwise.

    So keep on truckin’ James, and if you jump, you needn’t jump far; the path to life is always open to those with the eyes to see. Having gotten to know you more over the past months, I know you certainly have such eyes.

    I was listening to this last night; it’s a song from the movie “Into the Wild,”

    “Such is the way of the world
    You can never know
    Just where to put all your faith
    And how will it grow

    Gonna rise up
    Burning back holes in dark memories
    Gonna rise up
    Turning mistakes into gold

    Such is the passage of time
    Too fast to fold
    And suddenly swallowed by signs
    Low and behold

    Gonna rise up
    Find my direction magnetically
    Gonna rise up
    Throw down my ace in the hole”

    May G-d lead you assured, in a humble and loving spirit, always. And don’t forget to rise, always!

    Nate

  4. Thanks, Nate. The video will have to wait, since I find it awkward to view videos at work (reading is perfectly fine, though). My “extra meditation,” which I’ll post in a little bit, expands on the whole “fellowship” theme but approaches it from the intermarried perspective. For me, finding fellowship that “fits” is certainly important, but it would be nice if it were also fellowship that wouldn’t drive my wife silently crazy (though if it’s Christian or Messianic in any sense, that’s not going to be possible).

  5. No problem on the video, I can see how that may be an issue haha.

    I understand though. You certainly have a unique situation at hand, my friend. Nothing you can’t handle of course, but I’m sure it is a struggle nonetheless. It may be an oversimplification of the issue, but the key to surviving any trial, I do believe, is Love.

    At the end of the day, that’s the only thing we have. Love.

    When that day comes, when we finish our walk along this beautiful path of life, it is love alone that will carry us forward. That’s all any of this is anyway; a love story.

    Those four lads from Liverpool had it right.

    All you need is love.

    Peace to you James.

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