Friday, October 31, 2008

NOACH: OF FIRE AND WATER

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Violence and the potential for violence seems endemic to existence. The earth was "cleansed" with water so that evil and violence would be eradicated. And yet, a tincture of violence, a bacillus spore, remained embedded in our makeup. Why is this so? And what is the remedy?

And how is the idea of friendship related to the idea of strife and contention? Friendship is related to the idea of Edenic paradise as strife and contention are related to the idea of exile from that very paradise.

As Noah opened the hatch, the turret so to speak, he looked around and, lo and behold, the waters were visibly receding. "...charvu haMayim me'al ha'aretz....vehinei charvu p'nei ha'adamah...the waters were receding from upon the land....and the earth's land surface was beginning to dry (Gen 8:13)."

It's very interesting that the word for "receding" is "charvu." We had last seen the root CHeReV in last week's parsha, noting that the cherubs guarded the garden using the flaming sword (cherev). This proverbial sword inhabited the zone of in-betweenness, between the Edenic idyll and the realm of exile.

Similarly, the waters became like swords (charvu) themselves, as they inhabited the zone between utter destruction (flood) and mankind's rebirthing. These "swords of water" which are guarding the exile are the inverse of the "swords of fire" which are guarding the garden.

Note that cherev (sword) and chaver (friend) share the same root letters, albeit in different order. Both however, allude to the idea of connection- one good, the other less good. But they each share the idea of in-betweenness, of connectedness.

These two images, one of fire and one of water, allude to the saving power of Torah to alleviate mankind's state of alienation from G*d. The Torah's letters are said to be written in fire, "black fire on white fire." And Torah is also oft referred to as "mayim chayim," as "living waters."

The floodgates of both heaven and earth were open for forty days and nights, alluding to the forty se'ahs (measurement of volume) of the cleansing "living waters" of the mikvah. The Torah, as water, has the power to take us out of exile, just as the Torah, as fire, has the power to restore us to the Garden. Between exile and redemption, between Ararat and Eden, is that zone of in-betweenness.

These "swords of water," as they drained off of the landmass, stood sentry in mute silent testimony to the power of man to master his passions and rule over first his own nature and then nature itself. Man stands in the light of his own judgment/self-judgment to determine the extent of his successful self-mastery, or lack thereof.

Noah himself, after dutifully giving thanks for his survival, plants a vineyard and proceeds to inebriate himself with drink leading to a morally compromised state of affairs. This willful abandonment of the senses in the gratification of our self-destructive impulses is the bane of our collective human existence today, just as it was on a micro scale for Noah. Our societally conditioned hedonistic self-obsession distracts us from the dangers which threaten our very survival, let alone our dignity.

Indeed the threat to humanity still looms large, despite G*d's promise in the Covenant which He made with Noah (GEN 9-11!!!). G*d promised that there will no more be a flood of water to destroy the earth. Whether a nuclear fire will destroy the earth through our action (or inaction) is up to us. Certainly on a smaller scale we were visited with a flood of fire on 9-11 itself!

As in Noah's day, the scourge of a latter day Hamas (violence) still fills the land. Both "the land" - ha'aretz- of Israel and the entire world now is filled with the threat of terror. It threatens to consume us like a primordial floodwater. Or rather, more likely, as a tide of fire.

The way back to the garden is still barred. But by living moral lives guided by restraint, sensitivity and refinement of character as prescribed by the Torah, lives patterned in the Divine image (betzelem elokim), we can possibly see our way through the morass back home.

That tincture of violence inherent in man, remained on purpose, so as to be diluted in the flood waters and so homeopathically become utilized to end that very violence. Sadly enough, that is to say that we must utilize a discreet measure of violence in order to eradicate the violence.

For non-violence and pacifism, sweet as they are, will not end violence. They will only ensure death and defeat. Much to our chagrin, human nature, over aeons of time cannot be changed, only transformed.

The challenge is to ultimately transform our chareivim (swords) into instruments of creating chaveirim (friends). When our enemies realize that we cannot be defeated with the sword, they will have no choice but to become our friends. But this cannot happen without Divine help.

In the rebuilt Temple, when that day comes, the cherubs will one day yet again embrace over the ark as a sign of Divine love. They will then let go of their revolving flaming swords and allow humanity to return home to the Garden. The world of falsehood will then give way to the world of truth.

How can this ultimately be? As the Zohar teaches, "may the waters from below cause a stirring in the waters from above," leading to our ultimate redemption.

Shabbat Shalom!
Good Shabbos!

© 1999-2008 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen ben Meir Yisrael Hakohen Melman, z"l

I was raised in the musar tradition of silence and meditative thoughtfulness, as were my father and grandfather before me. I was born on the first day chol hamoed Sukkos, which is also the yahrzeit of both Rebbe Nachman and the Vilna Gaon.

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua

(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)
Dedications are available.

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!