Building an Ark of Refuge Amidst a
Flood of Fear
Battling a Flood of Violence with a Flood of Goodness
By Simon Jacobson
October 18, 2001
As a flood of fear consumes this nation with the
latest Anthrax attacks, and an impending future looms with
all the uncertainty around us, Jews read the Torah portion
of Noah, the story of the great flood that destroyed an utterly
corrupt world. Noah and his family are saved from the flood
by taking refuge in the ark, and then Noah, tentatively and
cautiously rebuilds a new world. Yet, this new world is far
from perfect. The people of Babylon build a great tower (The
Tower of Babel), demonstrating their arrogance and self-worship
in challenging G-d. Nevertheless the new world built by Noah
ultimately also gives birth to Abraham.
Does this have a message for us? You better
Why did G-d choose water symbol of life,
cleansing, blessings and knowledge to destroy the world
in the great flood? Fire would seem so much more appropriate.
In Torah reward and punishment is really cause
and effect, like bruising yourself when you fall. The flood
was a natural and inevitable result of many years of corruption.
When people are corrupt and self indulgent, they inevitably
end up destroying each other. When you harm another person
you are also harming yourself, because we are all part of
one universe under one G-d. One who loves G-d, also loves
whom G-d loves, and G-d loves His children. The flood was
the inescapable result of people annihilating each other.
Water was the way the world was purified from
its own self-destruction. Like a mikveh (ritual bath)
that contains 40 cubits of water, the flood raged for 40 days
and renewed the earth. Water is a metaphor for knowledge -
the pure waters of daat (knowledge) - and not
just plain knowledge, but Divine knowledge. As the prophet
Isaiah says, They will not hurt or destroy
the world will be filled with Divine knowledge as the waters
cover the sea.
Only when water/knowledge is Divine and it affects
your life does it prevent hurt and destruction. When it is
just ordinary water/knowledge it can become a curse lacking
focus and integration. When asked how he, as a professor of
ethics, could behave unethically, Bertrand Russell once said,
I am also a teacher of mathematics and I am not a triangle.
Academics often take pride in their detachment: I can
be completely knowledgeable of a given topic and it does not
affect my behavior. Contrast this attitude with Maimonides
words, that a true scholar is recognized in his actions: how
he talks, walks, sleeps and does business. A seamless flow
between knowledge and behavior.
To have knowledge affect you this way requires
bittul - total immersion in the pure waters of knowledge.
True knowledge is not about you, its about the
Divine truth of the knowledge and your humble recognition
that you are a transparent channel for this knowledge. Like
a fish submerged in water always connected and aware
that its entire sustenance comes from the water.
When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge
the knowledge of good and evil they began
to sense themselves as separate entities from G-d and their
Divine mission. They unleashed knowledge that is divorced
from its higher purpose. Ten generations later in the time
of Noah this dichotomy evolved into total corruption, with
one person turning on another in a blatant war against humanity,
hurting and destroying each other.
The waters of the flood came to remind the world
and purify it with a total immersion, reminiscent of the world
as it was at the beginning of creation, completely submerged
in water, the source of life. And a foretaste of the world
that will be filled with Divine knowledge as the waters
cover the sea a knowledge that transforms the
person into a Divine vehicle, preventing human hurt and destruction.
And mind you, the flood began as regular rainfall,
as a warning and reminder to the people to wake up and correct
their ways. First come several symptoms, a taste of whats
ahead, a terrorist attack in Israel, another attack, many
attacks all attempts to remind us that we need to act.
And when we do, the water does not need to turn into a flood,
it can become a rain that waters the fields.
THE FLOOD OF INFORMATION
Another manifestation of the flood swamping
us is the media age turned on its head. We have become victims
of our own information revolution. Our Hollywood generation,
addicted to a constant flow of television, Internet and reporting
in every shape and form, is being inundated with hours upon
hours of news about Anthrax, Afghanistan, terrorism, FBI advisories
and Government warnings. Experts on every detail stand in
a long assembly line discussing ad nauseum the effects of
Anthrax on the nervous system. The discussion itself is more
destructive to our individual and collective nervous systems
A nation obsessed with watching movies and one
that had no better metaphor for the World Trade Center attacks
than it looked just like a movie, has now fallen
victim to watching our lives played out on the screen
This flood of knowledge with its assault on
our psyche, is in many ways worse than any physical flood.
Yet, within the curse lies the cure. This flood of information
alerts us to the dangers of knowledge without focus; information
without integration. And it reminds us that we must embrace
Divine knowledge knowledge that lifts and empowers
us to be proactive and take control of circumstances, instead
of knowledge and information that turns us into robotic observers
and victims as it demoralizes and makes us anxious.
REFUGE FROM THE FLOOD
What can we do to find refuge from the flood
around us the flood of violence, fear and information?
We must build an ark, a teivah,
which also means word. By surrounding and
immersing ourselves in the sacred words of Torah and Tefillah
(prayer) we create an oasis of Divine knowledge and words
that protect us from the raging flood outside.
Designate time each day for prayer and Torah
study, build a teivah that will serve you
well as a ship swimming through the swelling floodwaters that
TRANSFORMING THE FLOOD OF VIOLENCE AND FEAR
INTO A FLOOD OF GOODNESS AND G-DLINESS
Yet, a defensive response is not sufficient.
True, we need to protect ourselves from the flood, but the
ultimate goal is to transform the world into a place where
we need not fear a destructive flood. Just as Noah is commanded
after the flood to leave the ark and build a
new world, we too must build a new world. The only thing that
will do justice to the flood, and the only guarantee that
there will be no more hurt and destruction, is by inundating
our lives with torrential goodness and kindness, creating
a world flooded with Divine knowledge as the waters
cover the sea.
From amidst the confusion of our times, we must
create a new world, a world in which all nations speak one
tongue and serve one G-d unlike Babylon whose tongues
were confused in their defiance of G-d (which is the meaning
of the name Babylon - confusion).
G-d promised the human race that another flood
would never come again. So we need not fear that the flood
of violence that began on September 11 will turn into an apocalypse
or Armageddon. Yet, we read and study the story of the flood,
to teach us that we can flood the world with sublime waters.
Nothing less than a spiritual deluge will do.