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Parashat Noach 5780 — 11/02/2019

Parashat Noach 5780 — 11/02/2019

Bereshit 6:9-11:32

The earth became corrupt before Gd; and the earth became filled with robbery (hamas). And Gd saw the earth and indeed, it was corrupted for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth. Gd said to Noach, the end of all flesh has come before Me… (6:11-13)

It seems that it took some time before Gd had finally had enough and brought the Flood to wipe out everything that lived. Indeed, this is Gd’s way: Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? says the Lord Gd; and not rather that he should return from his ways, and live? (Ezek 18:23). Therefore Gd is very forbearing, breaking the reaction to actions that contravene His Will into pieces that will correct, rather than crush the person. He also affords him time to absorb the message and to draw the necessary conclusions. But what is the mechanism by which Gd effects this? Or haChaim explains, based on Avot IV:11:

In fact, the matter can be explained in accordance with a statement of [the Sages] in [Pirke] Avot, and this is a quote: Someone who commits a sin has acquired for himself a prosecutor – meaning, a destroying angel. However, you must understand that the destroying angel cannot do anything until the Judge of All the Universe judges. This is the hidden meaning of the term One Who bears sin [he carries the sin so-to-speak by restraining the destroying angels from doing their thing]. But once Gd judges, He places them [i.e. the sinners] under the power of their own sins, meaning [under the power] of the prosecuting [angels] that are created through their wicked deeds, as the verse states: Your evil shall afflict you (Jer 2:19).

The universe reacts to individual action. Any action we do sends an influence out to the whole of creation, because everything in creation is connected at the transcendental level. These influences reflect back to us. If the influence was life supporting, the reactions are life supporting to us, and we experience pleasure, expansion and comfort. If the influence was not so life supporting, the reaction may be damaging to us and we experience it as suffering.

If this sounds altogether too mechanical to you, I agree, and apparently the Sages of our tradition also agree. This style of functioning is the realm of Gd’s Attribute of Strict Judgment, and it is associated with nature, as we have discussed in the past. The Name of Gd that is associated with this Divine Attribute is Elokim and the numerical value of this name is equal to that of haTeva / Nature. If you step off a cliff you will inevitably fall to the bottom and sustain injuries, the severity of which will depend on the height of the cliff and the nature of the landing surface. Most of the universe appears to act in such a mechanical way. Even on the level of the Unified Field of physics, there are definite laws that govern the behavior of the Unified Field.

However, as the Or haChaim indicates, Gd, using his Attribute of Mercy, restrains the reaction (“prosecuting angels”) in order to give the person time to make the necessary corrections. Once these corrections have been made and the person’s action is once more life supporting, the good influences (“defending angels” in the language of Pirke Avot) either nullify the negative influences now rebounding or at least protect the person from their effects, as Pirke Avot (4:11) goes on to say: Repentance and good deeds are a shield against retribution [i.e. negative reaction].

If, however, there is no improvement, then, according to Or haChaim, Gd simply stops restraining the reaction forces coming at us. We step out of the world of Gd’s Providence and into the world of Nature, “red in tooth and claw.” When this happens on the level of world society, we have a very big problem, as Or haChaim goes on to explain:

Rather, the verse [and the earth became full of hamas] means to convey that after the people reached this level [of filling the earth with forces of destruction] they still continued to sin even more than before. The meaning of hamas is “general wickedness” which includes robbery, adultery, murder and idolatry… Although Hashem blessed be He generally adopts the Attribute of “One Who Bears Sin” until the time of judgment arrives, the sin of this generation was too great to bear, even with the Attribute of “One Who Bears Sin.” …
… the matter is explained by the Sages [Bereishit Rabbah 26:5]: Wherever you find immorality, mass destruction comes upon the world and kills good and bad alike.

We see this kind of behavior in nature all the time. Water pressure builds up behind a wall. Soon, just one small crack appears. The crack spreads, spawning other cracks. All of a sudden the entire wall collapses and all the water comes flooding in, its pent-up energy sweeping everything from its path. Systems, including our own bodies, all have homeostatic mechanisms that keep them in balance – these are negative feedback loops that prevent the system from straying too far from its normal behavior by pulling it back, like a spring pulls back when you stretch it. However, if the system is stretched too far, the homeostatic mechanisms break down and the system enters a runaway mode, at least until (and unless) a new equilibrium can be established. This process can be either creative (as in biological evolution) or destructive. In the case of the Flood, Or haChaim shows how, in terms of the Divine Attributes, it can be incredibly destructive.

Our modern world is full of hamas / violence, sometimes on a small scale, sometimes on a larger scale. From the greed of big power brokers to the petty nastiness in Internet comment sections, the rule seems to be attack, attack, attack. The antidote to all of this is t’shuvah / return to the silent, eternal Source of Life we can experience directly on the level of our own soul. It is imperative that t’shuvah become widespread before we get to the “tipping point” and go over the edge.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Noach

In Parshat Noach, our world begins again after Gd destroys its population, all but those in the Ark.

In Beresheit, many say Creation begins; others say, the separation of Heaven and earth begins; I say it is not the beginning, it is not a new creation. It is another joyful cycle in the infinitely rapidly cycling that is the vibration of Torah, the Liveliness of Gd. Torah and Gd are One.

It is not that there is even a new Creation, Gd is eternally complete: all is already accomplished in Gd. The Whole of Gd is in every point of Gd and at every point, every moment, cycling infinitely rapidly, Gd reveals Unity separating into Heaven and Earth, Subtle and Gross and returning to Unity. All of Torah is always taking place in an infinitesimal instant and also in eons of Cosmic Time.

In Parshat Noach, we see the story of how the diversity of the Gross is dissolved into the Ocean of Subtlety and yet an Ark with the seeds of diversity remains to reveal that the Wholeness is always there, diverse and also unified.

Parshat Noach inspires us to be aware that we can experience this Wholeness. It begins by describing Noah as righteous, perfect in his generations, walking with Gd. Since all but Noah’s family were destroyed in the Flood, we are all descendants of Noah and have the potential to be perfect although clearly neither today, throughout Torah, and throughout history we see few people fulfilling this potential.

We can wonder what it mean that, as the parshah says later, ““… in the image of Gd He made man. “ Genesis 9:6

Since there is nothing but Gd, to say that He made man in His own Image means that we have the potential to remember Gd is us, and we can rise to a level where we are perfectly comfortable playing our roles in Gd’s play: especially by favoring those thoughts and actions that do the positive mitzvot Torah ordains and avoid the negative ones.

The parshah ends with Terah, taking his family, including Abraham and Sara (at this time, Abram and Sarai) toward Canaan, which will be the Promised Land. The family does not enter Canaan, they settle on the way, in Haran.

Since Gd will later speak with Abraham as he did with Noah, we see in the ending of this parshah a foretaste of the return of perfection to our world, to humanity.

We do see signs of this in our community as well; not that I know either that we have members to whom Gd speaks or that I know that we don’t but I do feel that we are definitely dedicating our lives toward right action, service and a return to Wholeness, Oneness.

Baruch HaShem