by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin HaKohen Melman
Where is humanity going? And how are we getting there? And who is driving?
Adam was placed in the Garden by G*d (Gen 2:8- last week's sedra) whereas Avraham (Avram) was directed by G*d to go to a place where He will show him (Gen 12:1- next week's sedra). Noah was asked to chart a middle ground. Whereas with Adam G*d directly placed him where he wanted him, and whereas with Avraham (Avram), it was Avraham who was the active determining agent in causing his arrival where G*d wanted him, with regard to Noah, G*d played an indirect, yet active role in guiding his destiny. "Lech lecha," G*d's command to Avraham in next week's parsha, then, could be read as G*d telling him to take charge directly of his sojourn.
Each central character in the developing story of mankind represents a greater striving for independence and autonomy on the part of mankind vis a vis its Creator.The text makes pointed reference that Noah was not the captain of his ship, for indeed there was no ship. It was not even a boat. The Hebrew term used for the flotation device is teva -tawf, vet, hey. Teva, literally meaning "box," is a storage receptacle. The English word "tub" quite possibly derives from the Hebrew "teva," as they share the same root letters.
According to its blueprint it was built in a rectangular shape,with squared edges and a flat bottom, not like a boat which is designed with the rounded, curved features more useful for navigation. A boat, by design and practice, more readily belongs in the water. A tub, by contrast, more readily belongs on the earth.
A man-made mikvah must be a tub built into the ground, halakhically. It cannot be a portable spa. The mikvah, like the Torah itself, cannot be made impure through contact with that which is ritually impure. Whether we immerse inert vessels (kelim) or living humans, the grounded tub serves as a vehicle for cleansing and salvation. Noah's ark, then, was built as a receptacle for the salvation of the remnant of all living things, as a mikvah/refuge from the violence (hamas) which consumed all the earth.
The terminology of implicit groundedness by the pointed use of the word teva indicates also G*d's inclination that the ark NOT be used. Rather, it implies that G*d's deepest wishes were for mankind to do teshuvah and to pull back from the brink of destruction. In other words, were the ark to have in its design a bias for floating, it would indicate G*d's predetermination to bring on the flood. Because of its design bias for groundedness on the earth, it indicates G*d's preference for mankind's teshuva and healing. Not being a ship, then, there was no steering mechanism, no rudder, no navigational controls or source of power other than the Divine guidance system. Noah built the box, but G*d steered it.
To counteract the feeling of helplessness that Noah must have felt, a skylight was built into the roof to let him feel connected to Heaven even if he couldn't see it for the rain. Windows are powerful symbols of hope, of tikvah. When suffering in prison, even one window is redemptive. When bored in the classroom, a window offers hope, that there is a deeper truth than that which is often mistaken for education.
It rained for forty days and forty nights, as the wellsprings opened up from below and the heavens opened up from above.
The whole world had now become one mikvah, one giant pool of water, consisting of forty (time) units of rain, paralleling the mikvah's forty (space) units of volume (seah). Thus the world was cleansed and purified, ready to begin anew - a fresh start.
As Adam was ten generations from Noah, who was himself ten generations from Avraham, mankind needs to incorporate the peace blueprint of the Ten Commandments for her survival.
It is perhaps the tenth commandment itself which is the key to survival. Anomolous by dint of its focus on feeling instead of action, this interiorness of being leads the way to salvation.
Personal coveting brings interpersonal grief and suffering. National coveting brings international grief and suffering. For China to covet a Western lifestyle denigrates its hoary Confucian past and brings ecological ruin to the Earth even as it rapes Tibet and lead poisons our children. For Americans to covet a minimum cost economy abets the Walmartization and destruction of our economic landscape, as the worship of minimum cost efficiency drives down any sense of morality in the workplace, outsourcing labor to the cheapest bidder who has no respect for human dignity, a true Babel Tower redux.
The Arab/Islamic world covets the West's achievements and cultural/economic hegemony, even as it mourns its loss of a besotted, corrupt, once glorious caliphate. Slashing and burning and beheading its way to world domination, one continent at a time, the sick man of Europe (decayed caliphate) has now become the sick man of the planet (attempted recaliphation). Caliph may be midrashically, if not philologically, related to the Kabbalistic Hebrew term "kelipah," meaning husk, or blockage of the Divine light. In their imperialistic drive to conquer the world for their intolerant vision of a subjugated humanity, much evil is done in the name of religion. This evil obscures the Light, instead of emanating it, the opposite of true religion's goals.
Mirroring Adam's, Noah's and Abraham's symbolic sojourns, humanity is ever moving to greater independence and greater autonomy, incorporating G*d's will as its own will, but out of choice rather than coercion. Teshuvah exists.Teshuvah literally means to return, to come back from the abyss. Noah's generation chose to ignore it. We must learn not to repeat their error. As Noah looked through the skylight, trusting that all will be good in the end, so too, we must look heavenward and trust in the same.
Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos.
© 2000 - 2007 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
These words of Torah are written in honor of the memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaakov Hakohen Melman, z"l.
Sefer Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective).
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