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Home » Noach

Noah: Unity Of Thought

Submitted by on October 19, 2014 – 1:42 amNo Comment | 910 views

The Word

The rain began to fall and G-d told Noah to enter the Tevah. What is a Tevah? Every biblical commentator will tell you that it mean an ark. The Hebrew word Tevah, means a box or a trunk. The word is often used to describe the hull of a ship. G-d instructed Noah to build a Tevah and gave him the precise specifications for the construction.

The word Tevah in Biblical Hebrew also means word. Accordingly, Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement and mystic par excellence, offered an alternate meaning for this Divine commandment. He explained that in addition to entering the ark, G-d was instructing Noah, to enter the word. Specifically the words of Torah and prayer.

The Baal Shem Tov was talking about a metaphysical application of the deluge in which the deluge takes the form of life’s stresses and the ark takes the form of a protective environment that anchors and secures us. When our worries about the future intensify and our stress level mounts as Noah’s surely did upon entering the ark, the Besht advises us to immerse ourselves in the words of Torah and prayer.

Such immersion perforce strengthens our bond with G-d and our trust in His willingness to help us. Our worries diminish and our calm returns as we focus on G-d’s love, concern and boundless capacity.

For those of a spiritual bend, this teaching will resonate. But the rationalist will seek a logical link between the instruction to enter the ark and the homily of immersion in the words of Torah. The advice might be timely for a believer and Noah was certainly a believer, but the literalist in us is uncomfortable with the transplantation of the word Tevah from ark to word.

We seek a rational link between the ark and the Besht’s insight and this essay aims to provide it.

Peace

When examining the overall meaning and purpose of the ark one quickly grasps that though its aim was survival, its culture was one of peace. The motif, united we stand, divided we fall, rang true in the ark. Samples of every living species on the planet lived in the ark. Each living organism required a unique habitat, diet and environment. Many in the ark were predators, yet there was not a single predatory instance in the ark.

Somehow all animals, insects and humans cohabitated peacefully. Each compromised on many of its needs for the sake of universal and personal survival. In the ark it became clear that beyond their individual traits and idiosyncrasies, they were each living organisms. The basic common denominator that unites us all and defines us all, became the single scope of life on the ark.

There is a message here. Every conflict has a solution if we are willing to accept it. Every fight has a resolution if we are willing to seek it. More often than not, we eschew the peaceful resolution because we value our personal interests above global survival. In the ark, that was not an option. When survival was at stake, life was paired down to its basic instincts and everyone found common ground.

This tells us that we are inherently connected. Not only to all humans, but to everything on the planet. When we stop putting ourselves first, we quickly discover how similar we really are. We learn that there is more that unites us than what divides us.

Unity In Theory

We now return to the Besht’s alternate translation of entering the Teva, the words of Torah and prayer. Just as there are clashes among people and among animals and even among plant life so are there differences between theories.

Every passage in the Torah can be understood on four levels, the literal, the allegorical, the homiletical and the mystical. Each of these four levels can be understood on a surface level or you can dig deeper and discover its mysteries or you can dig even deeper and discover its enigmatic dimension, the secret of all secrets.

Each of these many diffusions of understanding can be broken down into seventy explanations known as the seventy faces of the Torah. Further, if we break them down in an even more detailed way, we are told that we can find as many as six-hundred-thousand variant approaches to every passage of the Torah and this is all within the framework of authentic Torah study.

It is no wonder that there are so many differing opinions among our people. It turns out that the old aphorism is plainly wrong. It is not, two Jews, three opinions. It is two Jews, six-hundred-thousand opinions. Every novice Torah student discovers that every passage contains variant commentaries and explanations. We study them each with reverence and we defer to each with respect. We don’t reject them merely because others disagree with them. Neither do we dismiss them as mere interpretation. We grasp intuitively that the Torah is so rarified and abstract that it projects multiple layers of understanding.

The purpose of entering the ark is to compare and contrast, examine and debate the many interpretations with an eye towards finding the common theme that binds them. There are many branches of understanding, but our goal is to find the common root. Every time we find a root idea that blends multiple approaches we rejoice. There is no greater ecstasy for the scholar than to mold contradictory thoughts into a harmonized whole.

That is the true purpose of entering the words of the Torah. It is said that when the Moshiach arrives, he will bring with him a revelation of such stunning clarity as to amalgamate all the divergent ideas of Torah. Our insight at that time will be so keen that we will pierce through the veils and layers to find the root and foundational theory that espouses all variant ideas.

This will be a clarity of thought and broadness of mind of such magnitude as to be utterly unimaginable in our day. Today we see all intelligence from the outside in. In Messianic times we will see it from the inside out. The mystics teach us that there was a little of that spirit and clarity of vision in Noah’s ark. It was this spirit that moved Noah to provide for each of the many and variant creature. It was also this spirit that moved the animals to set their differences aside. This is not to suggest that the animals were intelligent. It is to say that the overall spirit that pervaded the ark impacted animal behavior as well.

It is now easier to perceive a link between the two instructions, enter the ark and enter the words of Torah. Enter the ark is more than a commandment to enter the walls of the ark. It means to enter the spirit of the ark, the spirit of oneness, the clarity of vision that enables us to perceive the root unity between all living things.

It is this very message that drives the alternate instruction to enter the words of the Torah. Delve into their meaning and examine the multifaceted understandings with an eye toward accessing the fundamental and root understanding and bringing unity to Torah thought. When we achieve this deep and fundamental insight, we bond with the Torah’s author in a way that fortifies our faith, dispels our doubts and relives our worries and stress.[1]

 

[1] This essay is inspired by Toras Menachem 5743 p. 122.

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