Parashat Noach

Below are teachings related to Parashat Noach. Translations and commentaries by Rabbi Kaya Stern-Kaufman

Quoted from the teachings of R. Yisrael ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov: 18th Cent.

Torah records, “ Noach walked with God...”(Gen. 6:9)  Rashi comments that Noach needed God’s support to hold him up in righteousness, unlike Avraham who drew his moral strength from his own self, and therefore of him it is written, “he walked before God”. 

I heard it said that a man once asked, the Baal Shem Tov: Why is it that sometimes when a person is so deeply connected and cleaving to the Divine, and knows that in his soul that he is close to the Blessed One, that in the middle of this experience, he sometimes finds himself separated and far away from the Blessed Creator, for, indeed, a person is also capable of knowing in her soul that that she is far from the “Blessed Holy Place.”

And the Baal Shem said to him, we will find the answer by way of a parable:
Like when a father who wants to teach his little child that he can walk on his own legs, what does the father do?  He lifts up his child, stands him on the ground before him and moves his hands away from the child but supports him so that he doesn’t fall to the ground. The baby walks between his father’s two hands, and when the baby comes towards the father’s hands, the father moves little by little, a bit further away, so that the baby will walk and bring himself a little bit closer each time.

And from the strength of this, the child will learn- himself, to walk well. For if his father would not distance himself each time a little bit further away, the child would only learn to go a little tiny bit from the spot where his father first stood him up to the spot where his father first moved. But here, when his father moves further away every time,  we find that the child goes further each time. And this is the way The Holy Blessed One, behaves with humanity.  When a person is fired up with an intense connection and cleaving to the Divine One, if the “Blessed Place” did not distance from her, her cleaving would not be strong and steady, but now, when the Holy One distances itself from her each time, the person must strengthen their cleaving, each time, more and more. For every time one sees oneself far from the Blessed One, one is compelled to increase and to renew his connection beyond the original root, and from this power, one becomes singularly focused and further strengthened, in their connection, each and every time. (Ad kaan L’shono)

KSK: We are, by nature drawn to our root. We crave connection with our source. We are bound to experience the pain of separation, again and again throughout our lives. The path of the mystic (in all traditions) at all times, is to recognize the ever-presence of the Divine, even when God feels/appears distant. God’s distancing is a gesture of love that strengthens one’s God-consciousness, one’s soul, one’s relationship with the Divine.

How do we reconnect when God feels distant or absent?
How do you reconnect with source?
Noach- builds an ark to weather the great calamity.

Mei Hashioach (below) teaches how  we can create an inner ark of sustaining strength when faced with the storms of life that befall us.

Mei Hashiloach- R. Mordechai Yosef of Ishbitza 1800-1856
Concerning the ark, the blessed God gave Noach the advice and protection until the days of wrath would pass, and similarly, all whose hearts are not yet refined, can receive advice from the ark as to how to find refuge and protection from all the evil that unsettles the world. The matter of the ark has to do with what is written in the gemara (Pesachim 113b), “there are three whom the Holy One blessed be He loves, -one who does not get angry, one who does not get drunk, and one who forgives.”

One who does not get angry is one who does not show any anger through actions. One who does not get drunk is one who possesses a settled mind, who recognizes and has faith in the Creator of the world. One who forgives means one who removes the anger from his heart, not leaving in his heart any angry complaints against his fellow man.

The ark hints at these three aspects. “Make yourself an ark of Gopher wood” means not to get angry. The Hebrew word Gopher is akin to the word for Sulfur - Gofrit. Sulfur=brimstone=anger. This is why the Torah says, make yourself a closed structure of Gopher wood, meaning contain your anger to ensure you don’t reveal your anger in any external actions.

“Make rooms in the ark” make compartments (compart-mental-ize) means do not become intoxicated but remain serene, with a settled consciousness. The Hebrew word for compartments is qinim, these are cells, nests or compartments. For one who has many rooms or compartments, must have a sense of order to know the location of each one and its function.

“Seal it from within and without with pitch.” That is, do away with all anger and forgive. “Sealing with pitch” or “vekhaparta” in Hebrew is comprised of the same letters as “atonement,” kapara, meaning to atone from the depth of your heart so as not to leave even a residue of the anger against your fellow man. (clear away resentments)

From the measurements of the ark we may derive the word for tongue, lashon, (Lamed Shin Nun) in Hebrew. “Three hundred cubits in length (Shin), fifty in width (Nun), and thirty in height (Lamed),” meaning not to have a lying tongue…

KSK: Build an ark as a stronghold in your mind and heart to weather the storms of life.
Master your emotions, particularly anger.  Master your mind by creating a settled and organized mind.  Create a space in yourself for Teshuvah, for complete forgiveness of self and others. Master your speech.


Similar teachings from other traditions:

Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhhisattva’s Way of Life  (6:1-8) 8th Cent.CE

Whatever wholesome deeds,
Such as venerating the Buddhas and (practicing) generosity,
That have been a amassed over a thousand eons,
Will all be destroyed in one moment of anger.

There is no evil like hatred,
And no fortitude like patience
Thus I should strive in various ways
To meditate on patience.

My mind will not experience peace
If it fosters painful thoughts of hatred.
I shall find no joy or happiness;
Unable to sleep, I shall feel unsettled.

A master who has hatred
Is in danger of being killed.
Even by those, who for their wealth and happiness
Depend on his kindness.

By it, friends and relatives are disheartened,
Though drawn by my generosity, they will not trust me.
In brief, there is nobody
Who lives happily with anger.

Hence the enemy anger
Creates sufferings such as these,
But whoever assiduously overcomes it
Finds happiness now and hereafter.

Dhammapada 3rd Cent. BCE
(A collection of sayings of the Buddha)

Intangible and subtle is the mind
That flies and fancies as it likes;
Wise are those who discipline their minds,
For a mind well-disciplined brings great joy. (Vs. 35)