Tag Archives: Noah

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.

Arguing with God

abrahams visitorsWhen G-d told Noah to build an ark before the world would be destroyed, Noah built an ark.

But when G-d told Abraham He was about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah—cities corrupt and evil to the core—Abraham argued. He said, “Perhaps there are righteous people there! Will the Judge of All the Earth not do justice?”

Abraham felt a sense of ownership for the world in which he lived. If there was something wrong, it needed to be changed. Even if it had been decreed by the will of G-d.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Noah and Abraham”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I have to admit, I was a little disturbed by how Rabbi Freeman illustrates the difference between Noah and Abraham. It makes it seem like Abraham cared more for the world he lived in than Noah. Of course both Jewish and Christian commenators generally agree that it took Noah about 120 years to build the ark and that, during that period of time, Noah was trying to convince the people around him to repent of their wickedness (he wasn’t successful). So it’s not as if God told Noah that he was going to drown everyone and Noah immediately blew off humanity, only caring that he and his family would be saved.

Still, we have a tendency, no matter how much we are otherwise instructed (Matthew 7:1-6), to judge others. Once we become aware that a person has sinned, especially a type of sin we are personally offended by (maybe because it’s a type of sin we are particularly tempted by), we cut them loose from our “this person can be saved” list and let them sail away into the spiritual darkness.

No wonder the church is called the only army that shoots its own wounded.

OK, I’m probably being unfair to the church and I’m sure that there are many, many forgiving and compassionate Christians who have great love for even the most immoral of human beings. Apparently, the Rabbis teach the lesson of compassion and love for the sinner as well.

It is human nature to believe in one’s potential to destroy, but not his ability to repair. This is especially true regarding a person who transgressed a sin which is punishable by kareis (being cut off from his people). Naturally, the sinner figures that it no longer matters what he does since he has completely severed his soul from its source. The Ohr HaChaim, zt”l, explains that the error of this attitude from a verse brought on today’s daf. “Even a person who transgressed a sin punishable by kareis must never give up. This is the deeper meaning of the verse regarding leaving pe’ah in the corner of one’s field. ‘— When you reap the harvest of your land.’ This can also be understood to refer to one who violated a sin for which the punishment is kareis. Although he has uprooted his soul from its source, this does not mean that he has uprooted his soul completely. The verse continues: ‘— you shall not reap the entire corner of your field.’ Do not continue ripping out your neshama’s connection to God by transgressing further. Even one who has violated a sin punishable by kareis has only uprooted the connection forged by acting—or refraining to act—in a certain manner which caused the cut off. But his soul is definitely still connected.

“This is clear from the Arizal’s teaching about holiness. He explains that the nature of holiness is to leave an eternal trace wherever it was. We see that every mitzvah acts to strengthen one’s bond to God, regardless of his negative behavior. The Gemara explicitly writes that teshuvah helps even for kareis—or worse. This is why teshuvha reaches the throne of glory. One who does teshuvah renews the connection of his neshmaha which was hewn out from beneath the throne of glory.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Not Excised Completely”
Chullin 131

PleadExcept for the sentence of death, there was no worse consequence for a sin than to be cut off from your people (“kareis,” see examples in Genesis 17:14, Exodus 12:15, and Leviticus 23:29). There is debate on exactly what was supposed to happen if someone were worthy of kareis, but it is often thought to be some form of exile of the person from the community of Israel. It’s easy to read into this consequence a state of complete hopelessness and despair. If you are cut off from your people and from your God, what else is there? You have no place to go and there is no way back. Why continue living?

But the commentary on Chullin 131 doesn’t say there’s no hope. It does say that the person involved is in an extremely difficult and dire situation, but the “Gemara explicitly writes that teshuvah helps even for kareis—or worse. This is why teshuva reaches the throne of glory.” Even in the aftermath of the worst of all possible sins and failures, you are uprooted, but never completely cut off from God. Forgiveness is still possible. You can still turn back to Him.

The people in Noah’s time were given 120 years, as Noah built the ark, to become aware of the fatal judgment that was heading their way. They had time. They could have repented. They still chose not to. Abraham saw that God was going to destroy Sodom very soon and pleaded for whoever remained in there and who might repent and be saved (Genesis 18:16-33). In the following chapter of Genesis, you see the level of sin and depravity the inhabitants of Sodom exercised and it’s easy to imagine that the “outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous” (Genesis 18:20) that they deserved complete and absolute destruction. Yet, Abraham still argued with God.

That’s a rather novel concept for a Christian. We’re generally told that God is always right and we should never argue. This has gotten us through plenty of moral puzzles in the Bible, such as those times when God has ordered the Children of Israel to completely destroy an entire people group, down to the last man, woman, child, and farm animal, because their sin was so great. But not only does Abraham question God’s judgment (very politely, though), but so does Moses, when God wants to destroy the Israelites (Exodus 32:9-10). When Jacob wrestled with the angel and won (Genesis 32:22-32), an interpretation of the event is that he was having a “moral struggle” with God. These are pictures that support humanity interacting with God on the plane of righteousness, questioning God and thereby struggling, not with God’s perfect righteous judgement, but with our own understanding of right and wrong.

Notice that in none of these examples is Abraham, Jacob, or Moses chastised or punished by God for their “effrontery” toward Him. I don’t think this means we can be casual in our relationship with God, but I do think we’re expected to be more than passive spectators in history and in life. If we can be considered “junior partners” with God in repairing the world, can we also not be involved, to some small degree, in the struggle to determine right and wrong and how justice shall be acted out in the world around us?

As people of faith, our sense of right and wrong is shaped by the Bible and how we understand its message. If some part of the Bible seems to be immoral by modern Christian or Jewish standards (or modern societal standards), what are we to do? Are we to blindly accept that the Bible is a static document with only one, static interpretation across time? Maybe we are expected to do what Jacob did and to “wrestle” with God and the text, struggling to take the underlying principles of what we are being taught and somehow apply them to a world that is far, far apart from the world in which the Bible was written.

ForgivenessThe more we develop as religious people, the more we must realize that we don’t have all the answers. The Bible doesn’t provide canned and complete responses for every possible moral and practical question. Like Abraham, we sometimes have to stand up and ask God if He really means something the way it’s written in the Bible or if there is some other alternate available. This is a very uncomfortable thing to do because we have to question matters of right and wrong in the world around us and in ourselves, rather than be satisfied that we’re right and “the other guy” is a hopeless sinner.

The next time you think the Bible is telling you to judge someone and that they deserve to be cut off from all civilized humanity or even to die for something they’ve done, or because of the person they are, it might be one of those times when you should be arguing with God (or perhaps yourself). That soul you are so willing to cut off may not be entirely uprooted from God and instead of casting it away, you may want to consider trying to replant it in more fertile soil.

For God loved the world with an abundant love, to the extent that he gave his only son so that all who believe in him will not perish, but will rather live eternal life. –John 3:16 (DHE Gospels)

The Gift of the Postdiluvian King

This week’s reading tells the story of Noah, the father of all humanity. We learn that G-d spoke to him and his children, directing them to follow seven laws for just and moral lives. Most religions say that they offer an exclusive path, but our Talmud teaches that “the righteous of all nations have a share in the World to Come.” Maimonides says that this applies to anyone who accepts upon him or herself to observe the Seven Commandments given to Noah.

-Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org

“But flesh, when its soul is with its blood, you shall not eat it… He who spills the blood of man, by man shall his blood be spilled, for in the Image of G-d did He create man.”Genesis 8:4,6

Where was God when the descendants of Noah needed salvation? Christians believe we are saved through the blood of Jesus Christ and Jews believe they merit a place in the world to come by obeying the 613 mitzvot (OK, it’s more complicated than that, but that’s “salvation” in a nutshell). But what about the time before the birth of Christ and before Moses at Sinai? We know that people were aware of God. Certainly Noah was a “righteous man; he was blameless in his age” and he “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9) and certainly God spoke to Abraham when He said, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1), but what allowed a person to have a relationship with God, particularly in Postdiluvial times?

We see hints that the people in those days were aware of “Torah” requirements. Even Noah was commanded of “every clean animal you shall take seven pairs, males and their mates, and of every animal that is not clean, two, a male and its mate”, telling us that well before Sinai, clean and unclean animals were an understood concept. We don’t see God going through an extensive set of explanations telling Noah the difference between these two general types of creatures, so he must have already known about this. We even know that when Abel offered his sacrifice to God (Genesis 4:3-4), it was a clean animal appropriate for sacrifice.

The commentaries in the Stone Edition of the Chumash make significant reference to the kosher vs. non-kosher animals such as in this example:

Genesis 6:19 “Two of each.” As the following verse explains, these animals were to be one male and one female, so that the species could be replenished after the Flood. In the case of the kosher species that could be used for offerings, Noah was later commanded to bring seven pairs (7:2), so that he could bring offerings of gratitude and commitment after returning to dry land.

The Chumash commentary for Genesis 8:20-21 even refers the reader to Leviticus for details on the sacrificial offerings, their names, and terminology, again suggesting that Noah would have had to possess some of this information in order to give a proper sacrifice to God after the Flood. Yet man, at that time, was not to divide animals into kosher and non-kosher for eating, as illustrated in Genesis 9:3:

Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these.

We see that certain parts of the “Torah knowledge” available to both the antediluvian and postdiluvian peoples was later applied specifically to the Children of Israel as part of the Torah, but what about the rest of humanity? Ten generations followed Noah before the birth of Abram (Abraham). The Bible glosses over the details of the lives of these people, but we presume at least some of them continued their worship of and devotion to Hashem. Also, during the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, there were members of their households who were not Hebrews yet who learned of the God of Noah and turned their hearts to Him. What about the Egyptian members of Joseph’s house when he was a viceroy of Pharaoh, King of Egypt (see Torah Portions Miketz and Vayiggash)? Perhaps Joseph taught some of them about the God of his father Jacob. Most assuredly, he taught his Egyptian wife and sons.

Unlike most other religions, Judaism does not declare that they are the only path to righteousness, well not exactly anyway. Rabbi Yaakov Menken has this to say.

Unlike the other religions of the world, Judaism does not believe that everyone must become a Jew in order to approach G-d or earn a place in the World to Come. When King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he asked of G-d that He hear the prayers of all who pray towards that Temple: “Also a gentile who is not of your people Israel, but will come from a distant land for Your Name’s sake… and will come and pray toward this Temple, may You hear in Heaven Your dwelling-place, and do according to all that gentile calls out to You…” [I Kings 8:41-43]

MosesIt is the subject of much debate as to whether or not there were “Noahides” or Ger Toshav among the Hebrew people between the days of Noah and Moses, but it is more than possible that they existed. Abraham sent his most trusted (non-Hebrew) servant to find a wife for his son Isaac (Genesis 24:1-9) and Rabbinic commentary identifies this man as a Noahide. If this servant had not been righteous before God, how could he have risen to such a high position in Abraham’s household and why would Abraham have trusted him to find a suitable wife for Isaac? We even see the Bible’s first recorded personal prayer uttered by this man.

He made the camels kneel down by the well outside the city, at evening time, the time when women come out to draw water. And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham: Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townsmen come out to draw water; let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’-let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that You have dealt graciously with my master.” –Genesis 24:11-14

From a Christian point of view, there are apparent “gaps” in God’s plan of salvation for mankind. Discussions of hypothetical situations occasionally occur in Bible studies, such as what would have happened to a person before the birth of Christ who otherwise was “good” but had no way to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior? Perhaps God answered that question when He spoke to Moses in Genesis 9:1-17, which is the basis for today’s Noahide Laws.

I recently investigated the concept of the Ger Toshav as a possible “interface” between Christians and Jews but only hit a brick wall. Observant Jews do not consider Christians to be “righteous Gentiles” if, for no other reason, than they believe we worship a man as a God and indeed, worship three Gods rather than the One. However, the Ger Toshav may have enjoyed a life of righteousness that included a relationship with the God of Adam and Noah, perhaps into the time of Jesus, Peter, and Paul.

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 8:8-11

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. –Acts 10:1-2

As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. –Acts 17:10-12

The covenant of Christ allows we who are not Jewish to enter into a deep and abiding relationship with the God of all Creation that, in its holiness, is on par with the people of the Mosaic covenant (Galatians 3:26-29) so we non-Jews can go beyond the boundaries of the Noahide. Yet, the Acts 15 letter issued by the Jerusalem council, in some ways, mirrors the laws of Noah. Becoming disciples of the Master does not remove the obligation of a Christian to shun worship of idols, murder, theft, blasphemy, and sexual immorality. The Noahide prohibition to not eat the limb of a living animal may seem strange, but we also would find such as act abhorrent. Creating a court system is an act of establishing justice and as Christians, being just and merciful should not seem odd.

Shofar as sunriseIf the Messianic covenant has not removed or replaced the Noahide covenant but instead, has enhanced it and greatly expanded our access to God, how can we say that the covenant of the Messiah has replaced the Mosaic covenant for the Jews? The Noahide covenant paints a rainbow-colored portrait of God’s love of and provision for all of humanity from the days of the Flood up until the current age. He never abandoned the vast throng of mankind from Noah to Jesus but gave them a gift of Himself, even into the times of Abraham, Moses, and David. For the past 2,000 years, we have had Jesus to turn to for an even greater relationship with God.

But as I just said, if we can learn one lesson for the Gentiles in the story of Noah, including that there is no conflict between Noahide and Messianic covenants, then perhaps we can also learn that no conflict exists between the Mosaic laws and the teachings of the Messiah. Moses and Jesus are not enemies and in fact, for a Jew, what they illuminate goes hand in hand, just as the teachings of Noah and Jesus do for the Gentile.

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
Chabad.org

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
Chabad.org

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.

Children of God

Children of GodYou foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain – if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”Galatians 3:1-6

Lancaster identifies the influencers in Galatia (called by most Christian commentators “judaizers”, though “judaize” is derived from an intransitive Greek verb – that is, you can judaize [yourself], but you can’t judaize someone else, cf. Nanos, The Irony of Galatians [Minneapolis, Fortress, 2002], 116) as Gentile proselytes to Judaism who are anxious to secure their status in the Jewish community by influencing believing Gentiles to also become proselytes. His thesis makes more sense than Nanos’s (in which unbelieving Jews are the influencers) due to Nanos’s difficulty with Galatians 6:12.

Lancaster writes that the “different gospel that is not really a gospel” being peddled by these influencers is the message that Jewish identity and full Torah observance were necessary conditions for entrance into the believing community and access to the World to Come. This message was attractive for the Galatian Gentile believers because as liminals, they existed between two worlds.

from the review of
D. Thomas Lancaster’s book
The Holy Epistle to the Galatians
from the Hope Abbey blog.

This is the second part of a blog I wrote on Gentiles, Christians, and Noahides. Please read yesterday’s “morning meditation” called The Sons of Noah before continuing here. Things will probably make more sense if you do.

I wrote my own review of Lancaster’s Galatians book about a month ago, but once picked up, it’s hardly a book or a subject that can be casually laid down again. As much as any of his other letters, Paul’s words to the Galatian non-Jewish disciples of Jesus have a great deal to say to those of us who are Christians today.

In yesterday’s “morning meditation”, I introduced the concept of Gentiles and the Noahide Laws. In Judaism, it is understood that all Jews will be “saved” (to put it in the Christian vernacular), however, non-Jews are not expected to convert to Judaism in order to also attain a “saved” status. Jews are obligated to a very high standard of conduct toward God and other people, but the “nations” (i.e. everybody else)  are not expected to comply with these obligations (and in many cases, Gentiles are forbidden to obey the mitzvot as a matter of halachah). According to Judaism, the obligations of the Gentiles are outlined in Genesis 9 as the Divine code God gave to Noah which today are called Noahide Laws.

But who is a Noahide?

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. –Acts 10:1-2

When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. –Acts 17:1-4

No, I can’t draw a direct connection between the God-fearing Gentiles of the Second Temple period and the later Gentile Noahides, but I can make a suggestion that they are related and then explore that possibility. Both groups are considered “righteous Gentiles” in the sense that they have abandoned pagan idol worship and polytheism and have attached themselves to the One God; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, without abandoning their Gentile ethnic and cultural identity (that is, by not attempting to convert to Judaism).

That said, the God-fearers in the day of Peter and Paul, though not attempting to become Jewish, did have only one model on which to draw to describe and practice a life of faith in the God of Israel:

Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me… –Acts 10:30

Cornelius is describing performing the Minchah prayers or the afternoon prayers that are required in Judaism. Observant Jews pray three times a day: morning (Shacharit), afternoon (Minchah), and evening (Maariv). We can infer from this brief passage in Acts 10 that as a God-fearer, Cornelius did the same, though probably not in a manner identical to his Jewish mentors.

But Peter, in his encounter with Cornelius, saw something amazing take place:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. –Acts 10:44-48

Receiving the SpiritThis certainly recalls the events of Acts 2:1-4 when the core group of Christ’s Jewish disciples received the Spirit on Shavuot (Pentecost) and definitively establishes that both non-Jews and Jews have equal access to God through the Covenant of the Messiah.

Now let’s explore a few ideas. Let’s say that Cornelius and his fellow God-fearing Gentiles were the First Century equivalents of today’s Noahides, that is, they were righteous Gentiles who had a relationship with God but not on the same level as the Jewish people (Noahide Covenant vs. Mosaic Covenant). Now we see these God-fearing “Noahides” undergo a startling transformation by receiving the Holy Spirit in just the same manner as the Jewish disciples of Jesus. The status of the God-fearers changes to become more alike with the status of the Jewish disciples.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. –Galatians 3:26-29

Paul is saying that in relation to access to God and the love of Jesus Christ, all people of faith are equal. Men are no greater than women in God’s eyes and Jews are no greater than Gentiles in God’s grace and compassion. Does this mean that Jews and Gentiles are absolutely equal in terms of role and function? Of course not, no more than men and women existing in unity as non-gendered, androgynous beings. The Jerusalem Council ruled on this when they issued their now famous edict to the Gentile believers (Acts 15:22-35).

Jewish and non-Jewish equal access does not mean we have identical responsibilities nor identical identities.

It also means that God-fearers or “Noahides” are not equivalent to Gentile Christians. The Covenant of Noah and the Covenant of Christ are not the same, otherwise why would God-fearing Gentiles need to be brought to faith in Jesus by Paul? The non-Jewish people of the world, even those who choose to comply with the Noahide obligations, do not possess the same status as those who take on the greater responsibility of the Messianic Covenant.

2,000 years later, we’re still trying to understand what this all means since, depending on who you listen to, both Noahides and Christians serve God and merit a place in the world to come. I suppose that’s why we have books such as Lancaster’s Galatians and a plethora of blogs on the web such as mine (and of course, in Jewish thought, a Noahide is “saved” by what he does and in Christian thought, a believer is “saved” by what he believes).

So as Christians, if we are no longer simply “Sons of Noah”, who are we?

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. –John 1:12-13

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. –1 John 3:1-3

Paul said that “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7 [NASB]), which does not undo the status of the Jews as Sons of Abraham, but allows the Gentiles who come to faith to attain equal status in terms of access (though not of Legal obligation and ethnic status). Christians are not Noahides and we are not Jews. Christians are both alike and unlike their Jewish counterparts who have come to faith in Jesus as Moshiach. The Hope Abbey blog provided the following quote illustrating this:

What [Paul’s opponents] evidently failed to appreciate is that Paul made a distinction between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians… while he saw it as perfectly legitimate for Jewish Christians to express their faith in Jesus through traditional Jewish practices, he strenuously opposed the imposition of these practices on Gentile Christians either for full acceptance by God or as a normative way of life. (Galatians, WBC 41 [Dallas: Word, 1990], xcviii)

While it may be compelling for Christians who are specifically attracted to Judaism and Jewish studies to pursue the status of Noahide (or in some extreme instances, to convert to Judaism) so that they can better associate with the Jewish synagogue and cultural community, in terms of our relationship to God, it’s a step backward. We have a clear record in the Apostolic Scriptures of God-fearers drawing closer to the Almighty by accepting the Messianic Covenant and placing their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior, and Jewish Messiah. We have been given the right to call ourselves children of the Most High God.

Raising HandsI don’t think that it’s inconsistent for a Christian to pray the three times daily or to observe a Shabbat rest in a manner similar to the Jewish model. We see these practices in the early (non-Jewish) church. I don’t believe Cornelius gave up the “Jewish” pattern of his prayers after he received the Spirit and perhaps becoming a “Christian” enhanced the meaning of coming into the Presence of God. But keep in mind that as a non-Jew, taking up faith in Jesus, becoming “Messianic”, becoming Christian, enables us to be true children of God and not merely servants. We have a greater duty and intimacy to the Father as sons and daughters. We must not lose that. We must not discard that. Like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), if we desert our Father, we are throwing away “sonship” but perhaps “servanthood” as well”.

Cling to your faith. He’s coming.

The Sons of Noah

NoahOn our daf, Rav Acha bar Yaakov notes that the rule of Reish Lakish leads us to a fascinating situation. The Jewish people have a law of shechita, and the meat of an animal is permitted to be eaten as soon as shechita is done. The gentiles do not have a mitzvah of shechita, but they must not eat a limb from a live animal. Whenever we shecht an animal, the trachea is cut first, followed by the esophagus. As soon as the trachea is cut, the lung immediately becomes permitted, due to shechita, but because the esophagus is not cut, the animal is not yet dead. At that moment, the lung is permitted for a Jew, because shechita was performed on the trachea, but the lung is not permitted for a non-Jew.

When R’ Pappa heard this lesson from R’ Acha, he thought to ask that it seems peculiar that we now have something (lungs) which is permitted for a Jew but prohibited for a non-Jew. However, R’ Pappa refrained from asking, because he realized that R’ Acha had taught his lesson with a reasonable explanation.

R’ Pappa noted that it is not possible that something be permitted for a Jew but be prohibited for a non-Jew. The idea is that when the Jews accepted upon themselves added levels of holiness, more than their being just Noachides, this commitment included added levels of restriction, not less.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Permitted for a Jew, prohibited for a non-Jew”
Chullin 33

This is a strange situation, but in order to understand it, you have to understand how Judaism sees a Jew’s obligation to God as opposed to a non-Jew’s obligation (whether Christian or not).

Without going into all of the history involved, Jews believe that the Torah, which was given to the Children of Israel at Sinai (Exodus 20), obligated the Jewish people to 613 specific commandments or mitzvot. These commandments are only incumbent upon the Jewish people and do not apply to any other people group or religion. Within the 613 commandments, there are mitzvot that only apply to sub-groups within the Jewish people such as men, women, priests, and so on. Sub-groups aside, all Jews regardless of their community or religious roles, are considered to merit a place in the world to come (Romans 11:26; Sanhedrin 11:1).

In Christianity, in order to have a right relationship with God, a person must become a Christian. There is no other “right” status before the Creator of the Universe and “no one comes to the Father” except through Jesus (John 14:6). All Christians are equal before Christ and there are no different sub-groups within Christianity (Galatians 3:28). You’re either all the way in or you’re all the way out.

This isn’t true in Judaism. You don’t have to be a Jew to have a relationship with God.

Jews do not require that non-Jews convert to Judaism in order to “merit a place in the world to come”. Although some Gentiles convert to Judaism out of a desire to take upon themselves the complete responsibilities of a Jewish person and to delight in the beauty of the mitzvot, Judaism’s understanding of God’s desire for the “nations” (i.e. everyone who isn’t Jewish) is for us to obey a much smaller set of commandments given by God to Noah (Genesis 9) referred to as the Noahide Laws. Although there are only seven laws of Noah, they actually expand out into at least 66 specific mitzvot according to my friend Gene Shlomovich, and Hasidic University suggests that the number of mitzvot for which a Gentile is obligated, can be up to 620.

If you’re a Christian, the vast majority of this is likely to leave you unimpressed, since the traditional understanding of the church is that grace fully replaced the Law of Moses (and most Christians aren’t even aware of a “Law of Noah”) and believers do not take their guide for a Christian’s obligations to God from Jewish theology or commentary. Still, for those Christians who feel somehow that they got the short end of the stick as far as the mitzvot are concerned, you can see the matter isn’t as simple as it appears on the surface. It’s not like we got the “Reader’s Digest” version of God’s expectations.

From what I can tell, there’s nothing in the Seven Noahide Laws that directly contradicts being a Christian, but you might object if you look at some of the particulars. Take the example from the Daf Yomi Digest quote in reference to eating a part (in this case, a lung) from a live animal. Jesus didn’t specifically teach on this so you might think the point is moot, but then, most of us would find eating a limb off of a cow or chicken while it was still alive repulsive and cruel. I suppose God does too, which is why we find a prohibition against this behavior in both the Noahide Laws and the Torah. The difference between a Jewish and a Christian perspective on these obligations is that Christians tend not to think of the details of their responsibilities to God and others, while observant Jews do so all the time as a matter of lifestyle. In other words, you could say that Jews focus on their obligations to God through the Torah while Christians focus on their freedom in God through the grace of Jesus.

The RabbiSounds easier and better to be a Christian since there isn’t nearly as much theological and educational “heavy lifting”, but this also robs us of greater opportunities to serve God and to honor our Master with deliberate intent. The Noahide Laws aren’t exactly “required reading” for Christians, but maybe they should be. For Christians who sometimes wonder what God wants out of their (our) lives, the Noahide Laws might provide greater dimension and meaning. It’s not just a list of “dos and don’ts”, but rather, a way to order the actions of our lives to conform more fully with the life God created for us. Jesus opened the door, but once we step inside a life of faith and holiness, we are the ones responsible for discovering what that means and how to live it out.

Is it crazy for a Christian (or any Gentile, since the Noahide Laws apply to every non-Jew regardless of religion or belief) to have as many obligations to God as a Jew or, to be even crazier, to have obligations that don’t apply to a Jew? Maybe, but maybe not as much as you’d imagine.

I know some people will accuse me of sowing the seeds of division between Christians and Jews by emphasizing such differences, but that is not a reflection of Chasidic Jewish thought:

The souls are all one. Only the bodies divide us. -The Alter Rebbe

According to Rabbi Tzvi Freeman in his book, Bringing Heaven Down to Earth:

In his latter years, the Rebbe would stand for hours every Sunday, as thousands of people, both Jew and non-Jew would stand in line to receive his blessing.

The Rebbe didn’t care just about Jews but about every human being. Still quoting from Rabbi Freeman’s book:

They asked the Alter Rebbe: “Which is greater: Love of G-d, or love of your fellow man?” He answered, “Love of your fellow man, for then you are loving that which your Beloved loves.”

How like what Jesus said when he was asked, “Rabbi, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Oh, all of this becomes even more complex when you consider that Christians are viewed as “Sons of Abraham” (see Galatians 3:7-9) rather than “Sons of Noah” since the Messianic Covenant at least extends, if not actually overwrites the Noahide Covenant. I think I’ll save that meditation for another day.

“Noah’s Covenant of the Rainbow is a living heritage for all Gentiles. When we fulfill our potential by living within this covenant, the Creation is spiritually elevated to realize its intended goal. This makes the world into a beautiful gem – a place where G-d can dwell”. -from AskNoah.org

“The Moshiach will bring all the Jews back to the Torah and teach all mankind how to be partners with the Creator through observing His Seven Noahide Commandments. Then the true love of G-d to each of us will be in every heart. But [as the Rebbe taught,] it’s up to us to make it happen”. -Rabbi Tuvia Bolton

To find out more about how Jews see Gentiles and our relationship with God, have a look at What the Talmud Says About Gentiles, Revisited. Also visit the AskNoah.org site.

Addendum: Tomorrow’s morning mediation will be Part 2 of this theme: Children of God, and will explore God-fearers and Noahides as compared to Christians. Please come back tomorrow for the next “morning meditation”.