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Parashat Noach 5776 — 10/14/2015

Parashat Noach 5776 — 10/14/2015

Bereshit 6:9 – 11:32

Noah and Lot are both survivors of bygone worlds, solitary individuals remaining from whole societies that disappeared in the blink of an eye.  Everything that surrounds them is suddenly gone, and they are left isolated within themselves.  Apparently, neither Noah nor Lot can bear the terrible loneliness…

Abraham’s willingness to accept t he loneliness of a tzaddik’s task is part of what makes him the perfect tzaddik.

Anyone who worships Gd knows that there is an  aspect of spiritual pleasure inherent in worship, a s R. Sheshet says, “Rejoice, my soul, rejoice, my soul; for you have I read [Torah], for you have I studied [Mishnah]” (Pesachim 68b)

Broadly speaking, there are three levels of tzaddikim, … the level of Noah, the level of Abraham, and perhaps an even higher level – that of Moses.  Noah represents the tzaddik who looks after himself alone.  Abraham represents the tzaddik who cannot tolerate being totally self-centered, for he feels the need to look after the world.   … Not only does Moses assume great responsibility and concern himself with the world around him, but he says that he does not want to be the only tzaddik among all these people.  If Gd cannot forgive the entire generation, Moses will renounce even the personal relationship with Gd that he had cultivated until that point.

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed Rav Kook’s delineation of the three levels of service of Gd, a progression which took us from the “external” service of the Levites, to the “internal” service of the Kohanim, to the service of Moshe Rabbeinu, which transcends the boundaries of internal and external.

It seems to me that Rabbi Steinsaltz is making a similar kind of point here, although approaching it perhaps from a slightly different angle.  R. Steinsaltz appears to be focusing not so much on the service of Gd, but on the internal state of the one performing the service.  I hasten to add that I am taking off on R. Steinsaltz’ thoughts, not imputing the following paragraphs to him.

We have often discussed that the basis of all life is a transcendental, infinite field.  This field is unchanging, silent, and therefore completely different from all the objects of life, including our own individual personality, our thoughts, our emotions, certainly our bodies.  Our minds, however, have the ability to settle down in a very natural way and to experience and become identified with the transcendent.  When we become fully identified with the silence deep within ourselves, we stand alone, apart from all the activity around us.  We are also freed from the various hidden agendas that normally drive most of our actions, for we are no longer attached to the objects of action.  In fact, “we” are not acting at all – all action, including our thoughts and actions, are carried out by nature without the intervention (or interference) of our limited intellect.  I think this is the first level that one attains in becoming a tzaddik – a kind of “do no harm” tzaddik, but one who is maximally disengaged from the world.  This would, I think, correspond to Noach, who spent 120 years building the Ark and answering the questions his generation posed to him about it, but made no substantial effort actually to help them change their ways.  He was content to save himself and his family, and all the animals, but that was it.  And it did not end well for him.

Once someone’s mind is established in the infinite, and one is detached from the foibles and allures of the ephemeral, physical world, one is free to begin growing in another dimension.  One begins to perceive the objects of existence more clearly, since the mind is clearer.  We begin to perceive subtler aspects of the object, little things that we hadn’t noticed before, things that make the object more precious in our eyes.  Think of the process of getting to know someone you really love – each day is a new eye-opener.  Or think of Torah – each year we read the same verses, the same stories, the same laws, yet each year we find new inspiration in it.

As our appreciation of objects, and certainly other people, grows, we actually start to evaluate them in terms of their subtler levels of existence, levels of existence that are closer to the infinite source of existence, which we experience as our Self.  In other words, from a position of total dis-association with everything around us, we start to become re-associated with everything around us.  The difference between our earlier associations and these new ones, is that previously the association was one finite thing to another, a relationship built on limitations, on mutual taking.  Now we can enter into relationships from the level of fullness, and build them on mutual giving.  I think this level of tzaddik-hood describes Avraham Avinu, the quintessential ba’al chesed.  Avraham was never content to focus solely on his own self-development.  He was constantly seeking out opportunities to teach, to do good to others, to lead others to Gd by both precept and example, as we see in the next several parshiyyot.  And, Avraham is compared favorably with Noach – this is a higher level of being a tzaddik.

The logical end of this progression is a state where the infinite subject can evaluate objects as being, in essence, the same infinity as the subject.  This is a state where not only is the mind saturated with the transcendent, but the senses (the organs of perception) are as well.  This is a state of unified awareness, where infinity is all-pervading, inside and outside, and objects, including our minds, our bodies and our personalities, are all simply different expressions the the same, unified underlying field of pure being.  I think this must have been the level Moshe Rabbeinu was on.  His devotion to Gd and to his people was perfect – perhaps we could say he embodied “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” because in his eyes, his neighbor was himself – both being the infinite, which is only one.  This is a very exalted level of consciousness, which apparently none of the other prophets, including the Patriarchs, reached, as it says, “There never arose in Israel a prophet like Moses” (Deut 34:10).  Nevertheless, we can posit it as a goal of our own spiritual practice; the closer we get to it, the better off both we and the world will be!

Haftarah, Yeshayah 54:1 – 55:5

With a slight wrath I have concealed My countenance from you for a moment, but with eternal kindness shall I show you mercy, says your  Redeemer, Hashem (54:8)

We have been discussing the progression of states of consciousness; this verse from the Haftarah seems to indicate what prevents us from making progress in our development.  Gd’s wrath is, of course, an anthropomorphism, a device that ascribes human qualities to Gd in order better to understand Gd’s activity in the world.  If we “arouse Gd’s wrath” by doing something that contravenes His Will, the natural consequences of that action will be a distancing of the actor from Gd – it is as if the action produces a sooty, smoky environment in which our perception of wholeness is clouded.  It appears to us that Gd has “hidden His countenance” from us.  Of course Gd is no more hidden than He ever is behind the veils of finite existence – it is our eyes that have become clouded by the cataracts of sin.  Fortunately, Gd promises us that this occlusion will be but of short duration – we can purify ourselves through the process of t’shuvah and restore the closeness and clarity of vision that once was.