A Deluge of Choice
How much nonsense — non-relevant information — have you consumed today? Does that question even make your uncomfortable? Check out sites like useless-knowledge.com or uselessfacts.com or totallyuselessknowledge.com and you get a sense of the paradox of our times.
Our world today is flooded by information and many other unprecedented comforts. Never in history has there been so much prosperity. Despite the so-called recession and economic downturn, our grandparents could not even dream of the abundance available to us today.
But do these new opportunities make you feel emancipated or overwhelmed?
They tell us that we are living in revolutionary times – the Information Age. They tell us that we have never been so powerful, never so free, that we now have the unprecedented ability to access any information anytime anywhere. But are you feeling freer today? With all the information at our fingertips, are we happier people, more fulfilled, less fearful, making better decisions? Has the Information Revolution informed us or inundated us? Are these gushing waters destroying or refining us?
Our modern age, with all its breathtaking technologies, has its share of maladies, many not unrelated to our scientific advancements and higher standard of living. Indeed, the argument can be made that our unprecedented cascade of information and slew of options has also brought on unparalleled misery. Is our only option to escape and insulate ourselves from the flood of choices? Or is there a way to fully take advantage of our wealth of knowledge and prosperity without being annihilated by it?
The answer to these critical questions can be found in comparing two Biblical verses, which describe the state of the earth, one of them in this week’s Torah portion.
In only a few select verses does the Bible describe the state of the earth – “the world was filled…” Two of these verses stand out in stark contrast to each other:
“The world filled with corruption” (in this week’s Torah portion, Genesis 6:13).
“The world filled with Divine knowledge as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah’s Messianic prophesy, 11:9).
The association of these two verses is not just in the fact that they both use the same opening term (“the world filled,” “moloh ha’aretz”), but also in their context. The corrupt earth self destructed, wiped out in the great flood of water. This is eerily similar to Isaiah’s statement “the world filled…as the waters cover the sea.” Yet in the Messianic prophecy, the water filled earth is a blessing – a world filled with Divine knowledge, while the flood on our chapter is an agent of destruction.
Another interesting correlation is the opening of the verse in Isaiah: “They will not hurt or destroy… for the world will be full of Divine as the waters cover the sea.” In our chapter the world is annihilated by the floodwaters precisely because the people were corrupt and were hurting and destroying each other, whereas in Isaiah the submerged earth manifests a higher state of consciousness. We thus end up with two contrary scenarios, two types of floods, which appears like a catch-22 situation: Isaiah declares that a world submerged in Divine knowledge will eliminate violence and destruction. In our chapter the floodwaters also put an end to the violence – but through destroying, not elevating, mankind.
So which one is it? Does knowledge and information obliterate or refine us? The answer lays in the addition of one word by Isaiah: He says not just knowledge, but Divine knowledge.
Knowledge is compared to water. Like water, knowledge makes us and everything around us grow. It is nurturing, moisturizing, empowering. In short, a great blessing. Yet, knowledge can be used for selfish and destructive purposes, to take advantage of and hurt others. Or it can be used to build and improve life and the world around us.
The choice lies in our hands:
When knowledge is seen as Divine – not merely as a product of the great human mind, but a gift from above, endowed to us in order to use the knowledge to refine life – then it’s deluge is a great blessing. However, if we see our lives and our blessings – and the knowledge we gain – as self-made, and we direct these gifts only toward selfish ends; if our world become filled with greed and corruption – then even the knowledge and prosperity we gained turns into a torrential flood that will, due to our conflicting interests, overwhelm and destroy us.
However, if we humbly recognize that the knowledge is Divine knowledge
Only when we humbly recognize that water/knowledge is Divine, and its purpose is to affect and be integrated into 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, it’s 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 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 what’s ahead, corrupt executives, unsound financial decisions, an economic breakdown, information overload, _________ (fill in the blanks) – 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.
Our current 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.
What can we do to find refuge from the flood around us – the flood of greed, 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 surround us.
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.”
In our lives we have both options: A deluge of waters that will overwhelm and destroy us; or a deluge of Divine knowledge that submerges us in its watery embrace.
Both earths are covered in water. The difference is us. Have we allowed ourselves to be defined by self-interest, and then when the floodwaters come, get consumed by them?
Or have we built our “arks” – surrounded ourselves with sacred words, allowing ourselves to be lifted by the raging floodwaters?
Both are deluges. But the choice is yours.
Photo by GrahamAndDairne/Flickr.