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Noah: A Tale of Two Floods

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Flood

Building an Ark of Refuge Amidst a Flood of Fear
Battling a Deluge of Violence with a Deluge of Goodness

As a flood of fear sweeps across the Holy Land, we 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 believe it!

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… for 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, 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 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 what’s ahead — 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 anything and everything, but especially about bad news (statistics show that the majority of news is negative). Experts on every detail stand in a long assembly line discussing ad nauseum every tragedy. The discussion itself can be more destructive to our individual and collective nervous systems than anything.

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 surround us.

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 and fear swamping our innocent brothers and sisters in Israel 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.

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Our hearts, condolences and prayers go out to all thise that have suffered recent losses, and to all our brethern in Israel. .

WHAT IS THE MOST POWERFUL THING YOU CAN DO TO HELP THE SITUATION IN ISRAEL?

Create a passionate spiritual revolution for the good.

As passions of violence have been released on us, against humanity, our most powerful response is to counter with a passionate revolution of purpose, with no less passion and drive than the evil being waged against us.

Please see last week’s article War in Israel: What We Must Do for a list of practical suggestions.

For an elaborate discussion on this topic, please go here to view Rabbi Jacobson’s latest class: Confronting a Flood of Terror.

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