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Enter Your Ark - נח


Enter Your Ark

It's not merely an ancient story about a flood of epic proportions. The story of the Biblical flood, like all Torah's stories, is the story of our own life.  

The waters of the flood are the torrents of worry, anxiety, and distraction that threaten to drown us and divert us from the path of happiness, meaning, and fulfillment. The waters of the flood surround us from every direction, leaving us with no place to run or escape. The only solution is to enter an ark and ride the waves.  

The Hebrew word for ark, Teivah, also means "word". The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, explained that the words of prayer and Torah study are the spiritual and psychological "ark" which protect us from the waters of the flood. The words form a spiritual haven of peace and serenity that ground and anchor us when we emerge from the "ark" and engage in daily life. 

The Torah's words, "And the Lord said to Noah: "Come into the ark", is G-d's calling to each of us to begin our day with creating an "Ark", a Teivah, holy words of Torah and prayer. 

Two generations after the Baal Shem Tov, The Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad, added a new dimension to this teaching. He pointed out that while the conventional understanding is that the ark was a response to the flood, serving merely as protection from its threatening waters, upon a careful reading of the Torah's words, we see that the purpose of the flood waters was to actually raise the ark:

"Now the Flood was forty days upon the earth, and the waters increased, and they lifted the ark, and it rose off the earth." (Genesis 7:17)

The challenges that one experiences actually intensify the spiritual experience. The tension, and energy of the negative worries, become the fuel that raises the spiritual experience, intensifying the passions and drive to connect to holiness. 

When you enter your ark, you will realize that the waters are not  there to drown you. They are there to raise you ever higher. 

Which Was Created First, Heaven or Earth? - בראשית

Which Was Created First, Heaven or Earth? 

Creation of heaven and earth is described differently in two verses in our Torah portion. The first verse of the Torah mentions heaven before earth, whereas in the second chapter of Genesis the verse mentions earth before heaven. 

Indeed, based on this discrepancy, the Talmud records a dispute between the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel on this very question: which was created first heaven or earth? 

Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel dispute the order of Creation, as the Sages taught: Beit Shammai say: The heavens were created first and afterward the earth was created, as it is stated: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), which indicates that heaven came first. And Beit Hillel say: The earth was created first, and heaven after it, as it is stated: “On the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven” (Genesis 2:4).

Shammi and Hillel both agree that heaven was created before earth. Their debate is about the purpose of creation. Shammai argues that “heaven was created first”, meaning heaven is primary. The purpose of creation is that a person seek to escape the confines of the material and connect to the spiritual. Earth is the starting point for man, yet the goal is to reach heaven. Hillel disagrees, and, as in the overwhelming majority of their disputes, the law follows Hillel’s perspective. Hillel argues that while the first verse in Genesis describes the chronological order of creation “the heavens and the earth”, the second chapter of Genesis, “The Lord God made earth and heaven”, describes the purpose of creation. “Earth was created first”, because earth is primary. The purpose of creation is not to get to heaven but to sanctify earth.  

This dispute is at the core of all their disputes. Whenever a question arises, Shammai tends to be strict, and to forbid the object or practice, whereas Hillel is lenient, seeking to permit the questionable item or action, including it in the sphere of the Jew. From Shammai’s perspective, being that the purpose of life is to reach the spiritual heavens he is inclined to restrict the Jew’s engagement with the material phenomenon. Whereas Hillel’s perspective is that “earth was created first”, the purpose of creation lies in the sanctification of the material. Therefore, whenever possible, he seeks to expand the scope of the material that can be cultivated and sanctified. 


Sukkah and Lulav - Two Forms of Unity - וזאת הברכה

Sukkah and Lulav - Two Forms of Unity 

In the final portion of the Torah, as an introduction to the individual blessing to each tribe, a blessing which reflects each tribe’s unique spiritual mission, destiny, and portion of the land of Israel, Moses emphasizes the critical importance of unity: 

And He was King in Jeshurun , whenever the sum total of the people were gathered, and the tribes of Israel were together. (Deuteronomy 33:5)

Rashi explains the connection of the two clauses of the verse. G-d is the king of the people only when all tribes are united: 

When Israel is gathered together in a unified group, and there is peace among them, God is their King - but not when there is strife among them. 

There are two forms of unity, which are reflected in this verse, as well as in the holiday of Sukkot. The first is a unity that is based upon the commonality between people. The common denominator may be that we are all created in the image of G-d, all part of one people, and share a common history, a set of values, a mission, and a purpose.

This form of unity is the theme of the commandment to dwell in the Sukkah for seven days. The Talmud stated that "it is fitting that the entire people of Israel dwell in a single sukkah." for the Sukkah surrounds everyone in its embrace, ignoring the differences between people. This first form of unity is expressed in the verse “when the sum total of the people are gathered”, the “sum total” focuses on the similarity of the people being counted. 

The second form of unity is one that specifically incorporates the differences between people. We unite in a group specifically because we realize that each individual has a unique set of talents, a unique perspective, and personality. The differences between people are in fact a cause of unity, when we realize that we are interdependent and interconnected. That it takes many divergent components to create a sophisticated and advanced organism. This second form of unity is the theme of the commandment to shake the four kinds, to take four divergent species, each with its particular characteristic, and unite them as one.

While the differences between people must be ignored in order to cultivate unity based on commonality, it is particularly the differences that contribute to and intensify the second form of unity, where we are enhanced by our differences. 

Before Moses blessed each individual tribe, Moses taught us to understand that we must not be threatened by our differences, on the contrary, only when there are twelve unique tribes, can we reach a deeper level of unity, causing G-d to be our king.  



Rain and Dew - האזינו

Rain and Dew 

In the song of Haazinu, the poem he sings on the final day of his life, Moses calls heaven and earth to bear witness to his words: 

Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!

My lesson will drip like rain; my word will flow like dew; like storm winds on vegetation and like raindrops on grass.

Moses compares the words of Torah, which bring life, nurishment and growth to the world, to both rain and dew, not only for the sake of poetic beauty, but rather because an essential element of the Torah is that it contains both “rain” and “dew”. 

The Torah is a marriage and partnership between G-d and the people. Therefore, the Torah contains both the “rain”, the written Torah, the word of G-d that descends and is communicated from above, as well as the “dew”, the oral Torah, which is the effort of the people to explain, interpret and apply the Divine wisdom. Like the dew which forms from the condensation on earth, the oral Torah is brought forth not by heaven but rather by earth.

When we study Torah we are not merely accepting the word of G-d passively; we are, in fact, partnering with G-d, offering our own voice and perspective, contributing our part to the unity of heaven and earth, the marriage of the Jewish people and G-d.

Adapted from the Pri Tzadik


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