Tag Archives: Noach

70 Days: The Lost Shabbat

Shabbat candlesWhen Lemech named his new son (at the end of last week’s reading, Gen. 5:29), he called the boy “Noach”, saying “this shall comfort us (yeNaCHameinu) from our work and the difficult labor of our hands.” But the name Noach was prophetic in a different vein, as the name also means to be at rest (“NaCH”). The Zohar, the fundamental work of the Kabbalah, of Jewish mysticism, says that “Noach” is thus a hint to the Sabbath, the day of rest. “Shabbos” is derived from the word “SHeVeS,” which also means to be at rest: “for in [the seventh day] He rested (“SHaVaS”) from all His work.” [Gen. 2:3]

In this week’s reading, Noach is commanded to make sure there is a light in the Ark, using the unusual word “Tzohar” (found nowhere else in the Bible) to indicate brightness like midday (“Tzaharayim”). The Avnei Azel writes that when we combine the numerical value of “Tzohar” with that of the Ark, “Tayvah,” the sum is the value of “Shabbos.” The Sabbath encapsulates both the Ark, the shelter from the flood, and the brightness within it.

We live throughout the week with work and other responsibilities, building up (and sometimes crashing down) around us. Shabbos is quite literally a shelter from the storm, and opportunity to withdraw from all the distractions and focus upon what is truly important. It is the busiest executives who, when they decide to fully observe the Sabbath, and stop using all electronic devices and not do business on that day, frequently remark that they don’t know how they survived without it.

Viewed correctly, the Sabbath isn’t about restrictions, but is the opportunity to focus upon the light within.

-Rabbi Yaakov Menken
“The Light Within”
Commentary on Torah Portion Noah

I usually “get in trouble” when I post anything mentioning mysticism or Kabbalah, and I want to assure you that I tend to see mystic writings metaphorically, since I am nowhere near being any sort of “mystic” myself. But in reading Rabbi Menken’s commentary on last week’s Torah portion, I can’t help but once again be captured by the “magic” of the Shabbat. I don’t think it’s so much the mechanics of the seventh day, but the idea that God has provided the Jews with a way to wrap themselves inside a comforting blanket of sorts, that provides peace and a special closeness with God for one day a week. It’s as if the week is a cold, winter’s day with an icy wind blowing, freezing you to the marrow as you make your way about your tasks, and Shabbat is staying in bed late in the morning, toasty warm and pleasantly relaxed inside and under your comforter, while that self-same icy wind blows impotently outside.

I have been told more than once that the Shabbat is the sign of the Mosaic covenant with the Children of Israel and as such, is not “transferable” to the rest of the world, but of all the blessings that God provided the Jewish people, I must admit, I continue to “covet” only this one. I find it a particular disappointment that when Jesus made it possible, through certain blessings of the Abrahamic and New covenants, and through his broken body and blood, for we non-Jews to also enter into covenant relationship with God as his disciples, he didn’t make it possible for us to also enter into a weekly Shabbat as well.

More’s the pity.

But then again, early Christianity, when it threw off its Jewish mentors and guides like old rags and “reinvented” itself in the centuries after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in Holy Jerusalem, set aside many of the “Jewish” aspects of its own Messianic worship, including meeting with other like-minded Gentiles and Jews in the synagogue to daven on Shabbos. We abandoned the potential for such a “rest” in both God the Father and in Christ. We did it to ourselves.

I say all of this because I’ve contacted a Pastor and set up an appointment to meet with him in a little less than two weeks to discuss my “situation.” As I’ve said in other Days blogs, I pretty much have to “fish or cut bait.” I can try to sit on the edge of a razor blade forever, or pick a side and jump off into whatever awaits me below. So I picked a side and jumped. Now, I’ll be in free fall for the next week and a half or so, and then I’ll arrive at ground level and make the first “bounce” in my landing. Believe me, I’ll make sure you hear it when I go “thump.”

But the closer I move toward Christianity and the church, the further I feel I am distancing myself from Judaism and, in some aspects, particularly from my Jewish wife. And as I said, of all the Jewish practices and values I have been exposed to, the Shabbat is the one closest to my heart. Even though the Shabbos candles are no longer lit in my home on Friday evening, I do not abandon it in my heart. But with my body and everything else, having chosen a “course correction” for myself which is designed to increase my trust in God, what am I leaving behind?

In describing the Shabbos, the verse in Bereshis (2:3) writes: “For on it [the seventh day] Hashem rested from all His work which He created לעשות —to do.” This final word in the verse…does not complete the thought of the verse the thought of the verse smoothly, and it seems to even be an extra word altogether.

A cursory observation of the world indicates that Hashem continues to sustain the world on Shabbos just as on every other day. Plants grow and creatures thrive on Shabbos, with the ongoing providence of Hashem overlooking every detail just as on the weekdays. In what manner, then, is the seventh day a day of rest for Hashem?

The Bnei Yisasschar explains that when the world was created, it was set into place with the potential it needed to continue, and for nature to take its course. Creatures were given the instincts necessary to procreate, and plants were placed into their environment for survival and in order to prosper. As the world continues to exist on Shabbos, it is within the realm of work that was put into place before Shabbos, and the work takes place on Shabbos automatically without further input.

The verse tells that Hashem created the world “to be done.” Hashem continually renews the world every moment. Yet, from the day of creation and onward, this supervision of Hashem is manifest in a manner as if the world is set and conducts itself naturally.

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“A World Set in Motion”
Commentary on Shabbos 17

I’ve sometimes wondered about Creation, the Seventh Day, and entropy, that property of all systems including the universe, to go from a more to a less organized state, very slowly running down like an old clock worked by a mainspring (if you’re old enough to remember such clocks and watches). When God “rested” and He built-in to His Creation the ability to continually move forward under its own “momentum,” so to speak, is what we see of the universe’s expansion, and the general long-term decay of systems (including human being “systems”) part of His “rest?”

Jewish philosophy sometimes states that God is continually renewing the universe and if He was to cease, even for the briefest of moments, existence itself would fly apart. But I seem to notice (and I believe the scientific world will agree with me here) that the universe is rather very slowly, ponderously, “flying apart” anyway. Sort of a disturbing counterpart to the “warm, comforting blanket Shabbat’s rest” I described above.

FallingApartBut if God’s rest isn’t a literal, one-to-one model of Shabbat between Creator and creation, then perhaps it is a twist on the metaphor that we should regularly rest in Him, or otherwise “fly apart” for lack of any rest in God at all. However, I understand that we can also consider the Shabbat as a hint or foretaste of the Messianic era to come, when all of our current concerns and labors will come to an end and we will all perpetually rest with Him.

The Jewish people are compared to the stars twinkling in the high heavens. By their light, even he who walks in the darkness of night shall not blunder.

Every Jew, man or woman, possesses enough moral and spiritual strength to influence friends and acquaintances, and bring them into the light.

“Today’s Day”
Wednesday, Cheshvan 5, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

God gave a good many gifts to the Jewish people, not the least of which is the Shabbat. Although both Judaism and Christianity tend to agree that we non-Jews don’t enter into a weekly Shabbat’s rest (no Christian ever treats Sunday like an observant Jew treats the Shabbat, so no, Sunday is not the “Christian Shabbat”), it is much to our own regret that we fail to do so. For we have robbed ourselves of not only a weekly renewal in God, but of a preview of what life will be like when the Jewish King and Lord will take possession of his kingdom, and rule the world in true justice and in peace.

And yet today and in the weeks ahead, I find myself deliberately walking on a path that leads away from that peace. I hope this is me trusting in God rather than me just being foolish.

Noah, Moses, and Peter: Lessons from Acts 2

Receiving the SpiritFor the disciples of the Master, Shavuot already carried extra significance as the fiftieth day since His resurrection. He was the first fruits of the resurrection. The disciples and followers of Yeshua were themselves the first fruits of His labor. On Shavuot, they added 3,000 souls to their number and the great harvest of men began.

The story of Acts 2 depicts the early disciples of Yeshua still engaged in the biblical calendar, keeping the LORD’s appointed times as prescribed by the Torah of Moses. Unlike later Christian tradition which discarded the biblical calendar with its weekly Sabbaths and holy days, the early disciples remained steadfastly Torah observant, even after the resurrection of our Master.

Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
Torah Portion Noach (Noah) (pg 30)
Commentary on Acts 2:1-41

“Chronicles of the Apostles” takes students on a year-long study of the book of Acts with Messianic commentary and Jewish insights into the Epistles.

Follow the lives and adventures of the apostles beyond the book of Acts and into the lost chapter of church history. Study Jewish sources, Church fathers, and Christian history to reveal the untold story of the disciples into the second century.

Promotional description of
Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

All of them were gathered with one heart.

Ma’asei HaShlichim 2:1

So begins my year-long study of the Apostolic writings from Acts and other sources, which runs in parallel with the annual Jewish Torah reading cycle. I say “parallel” rather than a more closely connected link because, although this study in Torah Club is to be read for the Torah Portion Noach (Noah), they have little, if anything to do with each other. Noach doesn’t speak of Shavuot or the giving of the Torah at all, which are events that occur much later in the Torah narrative. And yet perhaps this is a good thing.

In traditional Christian Bible studies, the New Testament is given overwhelming preference with maybe a slight nod to the Old Testament, but almost certainly not the Torah (the Five Books of Moses). In the Hebrew Roots movement, where I have spent most of my history as a believer worshiping God and studying the Word, the Torah is given the greater preference, even though we are followers and disciples of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. I think it’s good to try to even the scales, so to speak, and give equal time to all of the different portions of the Bible.

A traditional Jewish Torah reading will present from the Torah and the Prophets. Few synagogues also offer the opportunity to read the Psalm for the week, but each Torah Portion has a corresponding Psalm (Psalm 29 in the case of Noah). First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) has also created a schedule of Gospel readings that map to the readings of the Torah, but the later portions of the Apostolic scriptures are largely ignored, at least formally.

In my “previous life” as a teacher in my former “One Law” (part of Hebrew Roots) congregation, I created an alternating cycle where for one year, Matthew through Acts was read along with the Torah cycle, and the next year, Romans through Revelation was read. So in two years, the congregation would go through the Torah twice, through the traditional readings of the Prophets and the Psalms twice, and through the entire New Testament. Imagine how much you would absorb after a decade of repeatedly reading and hearing read the vast majority of the Bible.

But reading and hearing read is one thing (or two things) and studying is something else. Here, FFOZ and D. Thomas Lancaster offers the Torah Club student (or class, since this material is designed to be used in a small group study) the opportunity to “dig deeper” into the scriptures and to learn how familiar passages in Acts are married back to the Torah, as well as to the Prophets, other portions of the New Testament, and as the study progresses through the annual cycle, to extra-Biblical learned texts as well.

Today, I am learning about the Acts of the early Jewish Apostles, This lesson is about the 3,000 Jews, many probably from the diaspora, who were in Jerusalem for the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost), which is held in the late Spring, and who came to receive the Spirit of the Lord and to come to faith in Jesus (Yeshua), the Jewish Messiah, the Son of the God of Israel, the redeemer of Israel and the world.

The disciples were all “filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Torah uses the same terminology to describe the endowment of God’s Spirit on Joshua, Caleb, Bezalel, and Oholiab. In those examples, the Torah likens a human being to a vessel. God’s spirit can fill a human being like water can fill a jar.

from “Chronicles”
Torah Portion Noah (pg 32)

And what is this supposed to teach me? I’m reminded of something I said just recently:

I’m still not sure of what the process is where I’m supposed to be emptied now and filled later, but in trying to live out that process in writing and in person, I prefer to think of myself as taking “the higher road less traveled”

But in reading Lancaster’s study of Acts 2 and the giving of the Spirit, I’m also reminded of this:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

1 Corinthians 4:7-11 (ESV)

So aren’t we all fragile jars of clay containing an unimaginably valuable treasure of the Holy Spirit of God, through our Master and Messiah Jesus Christ?

Acts 2 describes the giving of the Spirit to thousands of new Jewish disciples of the Messiah on the day of Shavuot. Is it too soon to bring in the idea that we among the nations were also to receive the Spirit?

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Acts 10:44-48 (ESV)

Perhaps I can also extend the lesson and the metaphor of “jars of clay” to include Gentile God-fearers like Cornelius and his transition into what was later known as Christianity through accepting discipleship under Jesus Christ…and also bring Noah into the lesson.

I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Genesis 9:11-17 (ESV)

As we saw in Acts 10, Peter, the Jewish Apostle, was astonished to discover that the Spirit of God would also come upon the non-Jew who accepted Christ, just as it came upon the Jews during his experience of the events recorded in Acts 2. It had never occurred to him before that such a thing was even possible. What a wonderful God who can also save the children of the nations as well as the Children of Israel.

But earlier in the chapter, we learn some things about Cornelius as he was before becoming a disciple of Jesus:

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.

“Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.”

Acts 10:1-2, 22 (ESV)

The Roman Centurion Cornelius and his non-Jewish household were known as “God-fearers,” non-Jews who had come to the realization that the God of Israel was the God, the One and only, the Creator. In that realization, they came to faith, abandoned the pagan idols of Rome, and gave homage to God only. Often, non-Jewish God-fearers would worship in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Many took on some of the other Jewish religious practices of the day, including the daily prayers, and even, to a degree, a Kosher observance (for Peter to break bread in Cornelius’s house, this would have to be true in his case).

But would a Gentile simply walk into a Second Temple era synagogue on Shabbat and inform the Rabbi and other Jews that he intended to worship the Israelite God with them? How was this done and under what status would a Gentile appropriately do such a thing?

Recall Genesis 9 and the covenant God made with Noah and all of his descendents which, by definition, includes all of humanity.

The concept of the Noahide was not formalized, as we understand it today, until the Talmudic era, many centuries after Cornelius and Peter walked the earth. However, the covenant of Noah would have been well-known among the Jews and it’s not beyond reason to believe that a man as devoted to God as Cornelius would have learned or been taught that anyone from among the nations stands before God as subject to the covenant with Noah. Perhaps, though not called or even thought of as “Noahides,” many of the Gentiles who would later receive the Spirit and be baptized by water in Christ’s name, were nevertheless, viewed in such a manner, as God-fearing men and women who had heard the distant words of God to Noah at Ararat, and thus, believed.

To borrow more from Lancaster’s Torah Club lesson (pg 47), maybe we can understand the rite of baptism, especially as it related to the God-fearers, just a little better:

Based on this reading, Lichtenstein argues that the formula (see Acts 2:38) is not a baptismal confession but a statement of purpose. The disciples were to immerse people for the sake of declaring their faith in His messianic identity. Their immersion for His sake signified their entrance into His school of disciples and their allegiance to Him.

The apostles believed that the immersion in His name entailed a mystical union with Him, with His suffering, His death, and His resurrection. (see Romans 6:1-13 and 1 Corinthians 4:7-11)

This interpretation of the meaning of baptismal immersion signifies the crossing of a barrier for the non-Jewish adherents to the God of Israel, from God-fearers and possessors of the covenant of Noah, to disciples and people granted entrance to much greater covenant blessings under Messiah Yeshua.

In the events of Acts 2 and during the festival of Shavuot, every Jew present would be constantly reminded of the giving of the Torah at Sinai, of the awesome voice of God thundering from the smoke and fire, of the top of the mountain, smoldering in unspeakable tongues of flame. When the Spirit of God manifested as “tongues of fire” and rested upon the disciples of Moshiach at Solomon’s Portico, and they spoke in the many tongues of men and the languages of the nations, how much more significant was that Shavuot and all those that followed in their annual procession, to the older and newly made disciples? And when Peter saw that even the Hebrew FireGentiles could receive the Spirit, the greater mysteries of God’s work among all the world, linking Noah, to Moses, to Jesus, unfolded like an infinitely wide cloth, spilling amazing treasures across history, from Creation and into the future that even we now inhabit.

Admittedly, I’ve far exceeded the content of this part of volume 6 of the Torah Club in this “meditation,” (though I’ve included only a tiny fraction of what the over 20 pages of lesson notes – not to mention the accompanying audio CD – for this single teaching have to offer) but once I start learning, the connections to many other sparks of God’s wisdom were inevitable. If you continue to follow me in these studies or to embark on your own through the Torah Club, this will happen to you as well. Believe me, if you encounter the wealth of information in just this single study, it will illustrate to you that what you thought you knew about the events of Acts 2 only scratches the surface of what is actually there.

As humble and empty jars of clay, in seeking God and studying His Word, we desire to become filled with His Spirit and His Wisdom, every day, on each encounter with Him, and across all of our years.

…and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Luke 24:47 (ESV)

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

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

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.

Noach: What We Allow in Heaven

Noah's ArkThe 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”
Adapted from
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

noah-rainbowThat 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?

the-towerNo, 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?

Good Shabbos.