Noach Builds an Ark — Tangible Physical Gets Miraculous

Hashem set Noach to a task:  build an ark, a big one, a tall one, and one quite waterproof.  Into that ark was to go food for a year, animals of all types and size, from the flying birds, to the buzzing bees, to the mighty lion.  It would take a miracle to fit all the creatures into that floating zoo.  It would take an even bigger miracle to ensure the ark would withstand the stormy, boiling waters that welled up from the earth and came pouring from the skies.  So violent was the upsurge of raging stormwaters that mountains were formed from the pressure[g1] .  The ark sailed on peacefully only by miracle. 

Well then, if miracles had to happen in order for Noach, his family and the living creatures to be able to survive in the ark, one is left puzzling why bother Noach with the work of building an ark.  He Who Created Miracles could have just as well done a miracle to save ‘em all without the ark!

A similar thought.  A widow tells one of our great prophets (both Eliyahu and Elisha do this miracle) about lack of food.  In each case, a miracle occurs.  But it requires a vessel for it to happen.  For one, her jar of meal and her jug of oil become replenished for a full year.  In the other case, her jug of oil flows non-stop into many jugs, jars and basins she had  been commanded to set up, giving her a commodity to sell.  No flying carpet brings a fridge full of food to the door.  Rather, what existed and what seemed natural was stretched to become unnaturally miraculous. 

The message for us:  for miracles to manifest, oft times, we are asked to use our “natural” gifts to give the miracle a conduit that makes it seem physical our salvation but allows the physically impossible to happen.

Wow – just reread that last sentence and realized it would take many readings to get it.

A story my mother always uses to illustrate it.  My sister was engaged during an economic downturn.  Where the money was to come from for her marriage, my mother had no idea.  However, she decided, “G-d, I’ll go through the motions of going ahead and planning but I don’t know what will happen.”  And so, off she went with a small amount of cash she had to an outlet store to get a few articles of clothing.  She arrived to a massive clearance sale – got a few clothing, a winter coat and lingerie.  All for the price she thought she’d pay for the few outfits.  It was off next to see about furniture, and a floor model was there, for the price that was right.  The next week it was off to book the hall, and, yes, after giving the deposit, G-d sent the money through an additional order my father got for his business.  She moved ahead and each step she took was met with something out of the ordinary.

My parents would reiterate again and again, you, as man, must go through the motions of helping yourself.  However, realize that G-d helps.

Let me try to explain in another way.  Ever allow a three-year-old child to “help you” move a heavy box?  You let them put a hand to the box, one, cute pudgy hand holding that corner of the box.  The little pixie face puckers up as the precocious helper says, “wow, the box is heavy.”  And you laugh, for you realize, as does everyone else around, that really you are carrying the box.  Yet, you are allowing the kid to feel like he/she is holding up his/her end of the deal of carrying that box with you.

My friends, miracles happen.  But it often requires us to act out the charade that we are “helping” save ourselves.   And that leads us to the challenge of realizing, when all is said and done and in the final analysis, that we were just the little tykes “helping” and all credit goes to The One Who Does It All.


 [g1]It is very interesting to note that the Malbim (in this week’s Parsha) comments that attempts to date our world, therefore, will be faced with a veracity issue.  You cannot figure out what the effects of boiling, roiling groundswell water would have on geographic items.  Nor could you figure out what the effect of no sun or moon for that long a period would do to items.  I find it fascinating that the Malbim, who lived before carbon dating developed, already addressed the fallacy of it.  Here is modern science saying something else about the flaws of this:

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Parshas Noach – building a spiritual Tayvah to protect from riptides of physicality

This week’s Parsha begins with the Passuk[verse], Ayleh Toldos Noach, Noach[these are the generations of Noach, Noach].  Why does it say “Noach” right after the verse claims it will list his offspring.  To show that Tzaddikim [righteous people] don’t just live for their children.  It is easy to say, “I will make sure my children are good people”.  However, Tzaddikim know they have to first “raise themselves”, they have to work on themselves.  The first person we must rear/discipline is us.  Never live just for the children – our efforts must be put into making OURSELVES good people.

We learn in Mishna Assarah Doros M’Adam Ad Noach[there were ten generations from Adam until Noach] and Assarah Doros M’Noach Ad Avraham”[ten generations from Noach until Avraham]. Ten generations of thousands of people lived ‘twixt Adam and Noach in which there was no purpose to Hashem keeping people alive because the world was corrupt, but Hashem withheld punishment.  Ten generations and the world was still corrupt, so G-d brought the flood and wiped out the world, starting the world population again by saving one family who was not corrupt (Noach’s).  The same thing happens between Noach and Avraham – ten generations of corruption and Hashem waits.  Yet, after ten generations, Avraham comes along and Hashem decides not to destroy the world.  Rather, Hashem gives the world’s blessings over to the power of Avraham.  What was the difference between Noach and Avraham that only Noach was saved and in Avraham’s times the whole world was saved?  Noach was good for himself – he stuck to himself and his family and made sure to do the right thing.  However, he gave up on everyone else and did not try to change them.  Avraham, on the other hand, moved around from place to place, a nomad, in his attempts to get the world to change.  Because of that, he merited to keep the world alive.  G-d waits and waits.  Sees corruption and holds back punishment.  Allows thousands of humans to live and play in His world and use its blessings.  And then, if even one person comes along who is righteous and tries to change others, well all those thousands of empty lives were worth it for G-d just for that one precious bloom.

The generation of the flood was corrupt in many ways.  The underlying thought of each person, however, was the same:  “les Din V’les Dayan”[there’s no judgment and no judge].  Each person did as he pleased, thinking there was no judgment from Hashem.  They stole – and made sure not to get caught.  Each person stole one grape – reasoning that no one would prosecute for one grape, but the grape seller was left with no grapes.  They perverted marriages.  They were the “me, me, me” generation – all about their own physicality, their own greed, and cared nothing about right and wrong.  It was all about not getting caught and still getting anything they desired.  Just because punishment doesn’t come right away, we should never err and think “les Din V’les Dayan.”  G-d doesn’t punish on the spot.  He waits.  But there is a reckoning eventually.

Hashem tells Noach to build a Tayva [ark] publicly and spark folks’ curiosity.  When asked what he was doing, Noach was to explain that Hashem would wipe out the world with the flood.  Many, many years pass and folks poke fun at Noach.  When we learn that Hashem will punish us for not keeping Mitzvos, we think it is automatic.  A generation doesn’t keep Shabbos, boom, they’ll get punished then and there.  Hashem is patient, though.  Sometimes, He waits ten years, sometimes, twenty, sometimes 100.  Don’t think because “Tov Lee” [things are going good for me] that there won’t be a punishment if we or our children don’t return to Hashem.  In Noach’s generation they didn’t take his threats seriously because he spent so many years building that Tayva.  A word for a ship can be Sefina (see Sefer Yonah).  But the word for the vessel that Noach built is Tayva.  Hashem tells Noach to put a Tzohar, some sort of light (the Meforshim [commentators] explain it was a brilliant gem that cast light) in the Tayva.  Torah, as we know, is not a history book.  Every word, if it was written and the way it was written is only done so to teach future generations how to live their lives properly.  So the Sefas Emes explains that if you live in a generation that is so engrossed in gashmiyus, in the pursuit of greed and physicality, then you must do what Noach was instructed to do – use a Tayva.  That is why the vessel is called a Tayve and not a Sefina, because Tayva has a few meanings, and one of its meanings is the Aron where we place the Torahs.  So Noach’s instructions were to shine a light in his Tayva.  What that means, according to the Sefas Emes, is that in a generation that’s corrupt, our instructions is to “shine a light” on the Torah scrolls – illuminate the words of Torah – look at them, learn them – and save yourself from the corruption around you.

I’ll end off this post with an old Yiddish story which explained why Moshiach hasn’t come yet.  Here’s the story:

There was once a simple but good man who did the right thing in his service of G-d, but never had any luck with livelihood.  One day, he walked through town, hungry and downcast.  “How can I serve G-d with no dollar to my name?  How can I continue being good with no way of keeping alive?”  And that is when Heaven pitied him and off was dispatched Moshiach to save this poor man.  Moshiach handed the man a little bag, telling him, “Because you were devout, I hope you will use this to good ends.  Here is a magic sack.  What you request of it, it will produce for you.  And anyone or any trouble that comes to harm you, the sack will swallow, if you request it to do so.”  The man was overjoyed.  His troubles were over.  He asked for money galore and the sack faithfully churned it out.  He asked for any competitors to be swallowed by his sack, and the field was open to only him.  But, like most, he became enamored with himself and his desires.  Riches went to his head and soon all he could focus on was his needs, wants and whims.  No longer cognizant of G-d’s will, all that mattered was what he wanted.  Eventually, his time was up in this world, and the Malach Hamaves [Angel of Death] was sent to collect his soul.  From his sick bed, he grabbed his bag and said, “oh, magic sack, swallow this angel”.  And so it was.  Up in Heavens, the courts awaited the Angel of Death’s return with the soul, but no one showed up.  Angel Michoel were sent to investigate and, once again, the selfish man had the sack swallow the angel.  Now Moshiach got involved as he was the one who had given the man the sack.  Off to earth headed Moshiach, but, alas, when he arrived at the man’s home, the man said, “you too want to bother me – oh sack, swallow this one, too”  And into that money-churning-money-producing sack slipped Moshiach, disappearing into it. 

A tongue-in-cheek old Yiddish tale, to be sure, my friends.  But how many of us act like that man, becoming so enamored with our desires and quest for riches and bodily pleasures that we allow all our spirituality and saving graces to disappear into our physicality?  After the Holocaust, survivors rebuilt and G-d gave us a land and time of plenty to rest in.  Kinda like the sack that churned out the money for the man, America has been a haven for our community.  But, isn’t it also swallowing up our spiritual focus?

May we all, this week, shine a light on our Torah scrolls, lift our heads above the corruption and make all the decades that came before us be worthwhile to have existed for the good we create.

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Creation of World – Parshas Braishis

We start again, the cycle of learning with Parshas Braishis which begins with the Hebrew letter Bays which is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  We do not start with Alef, with number one, with the first letter, for there is a limit to how far back to the origin of the world a human mind can grasp.  We can only understand from creation onward and not anything previous for we are finite with finite intelligence.

The Torah begins with the story of creation of the world.  All the world was planned out on day one with all the “building materials” put into existence.  It was creation of Yaysh Mee’ayin – of existence from nothing.  The rest of the days were setting up the world with the matter created the first day.

Rabbi Amnon Yitzchok – proof of G-d in one word:   YOU.  You did not create yourself.  Therefore, some force had to create you.  At a certain point in going backward in the history of the world, you have to get to Infinite – to a Being that Created the matter of the world.  Even those who believe in the “big bang” are stupid because they don’t take their reasoning fully to the end.  What banged?  Even if you said gases collided and created the world, you would have to answer, where did those gases come from   And if gases existed, they had to be created – hence you have to admit eventually that there is a Creator.

But, my friend, I would suggest you go to this link and take time to hear Rabbi Amnon Yitzchok discuss science and evolution.  Just a warning — the first four minutes of the clip are just promotional material.  The actual program is four minutes into the clip.

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The Love of Succos

For those of you who’ve never heard Rabbi Vaknin speak, I would urge you to take a trip to one of his lectures.  This post is a take-off from his speech at the Safra Synagogue last week.  With a caveat you must read it — his speech was just the springboard to the post and not verbatim.  The best pearls are his — but I have taken his lesson as the basis for this, but have built upon it.

There are four expressions of love.  You say, through speech, how much you adore the person.  That is Pesach for us — Peh the mouth speaks, the essence of the night is talking and G-d talking to us through His miracles.  The next level is kissing which is symbolized by Matan Torah – Peh el Peh, mouth-to-mouth we got to experience.  Then comes Yomim Norai’m, the high Holy-days.  That is gaze, glancing — when a mere look is enough to convey the sentiments.  And the highest level of love is the hug.

Let’s talk about hugs.  They are unconditional as you don’t see the face of the person you are hugging.  You just bury yourself in the experience of accepting them and having them envelop you.  It is a safe feeling.  It is an act of reeling the other into the embrace.

A hug, at minimum, needs one arm bent to bring the person close.  A succah, to be Kosher must have a minimum of 2 walls and a Tefach.  If you drew it, it might possibly remind you of a hug.

Consider yourself hugged by G-d this Sukkot, my friends.

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Many are the things we thought we lost…

I’ve lost many jewelry pieces over the years and broken many others. I decided long ago giving away jewelry was the easiest way to keep them from my own harm. However, when my mother gifted me an heirloom necklace, pearls set off with a multi-gem intricate clasp, she did so with a caveat. She wanted it to stay in the family. She also wanted it to stay with me, which is why I was forewarned that I was not to regift it, no matter how much I might want to pass it on. I was scared of wearing that necklace. I was equally worried of leaving it around where it could be stolen. That is why this necklace came to be wrapped in a spare blanket and stuffed in the darkest corner of my linen closet. During a discussion about jewelry at work one day, I made mention of my necklace and of how I stowed it away. “Jewelry is made to be worn,” protested my workmates. Their words lingered in my ears, and one year, on the second day of Sukkos I decided they were right. I pulled the necklace out and wore it regally to services. After synagogue, as soon as I arrived home, I took the necklace off, intending to return it to its dark corner shelf. Many are the intentions that never get executed. I had a guest over for the holiday and she went to nap in the room of the linen closet. Trying to be a considerate hostess, I elected to leave the necklace as is until nighttime, when I knew my guest would depart. Night fell, and I rolled up my disposable tablecloth with the remnants of our last meal. Ahead of myself, I even managed to put it into a shopping bag and sent it hurtling down the chute to the building garbage compactor. The third day of Sukkot, early in the morning I woke up and realized I had forgotten to put away my necklace. It was gone. First, I cried with a broken heart, wondering how I would face my mother. After the crying jag was over, I asked myself, “What does G-d want of me? I didn’t return this jewelry to its box due to G-d’s commandment of welcoming guests. So what could be expected of me at this moment?” I took a deep breath and said, “Next foot forward. Go on with your day, even though your heart is pained.”

Next step forward was a trip to my Sukka where I was to make my daily blessing on my lulav and esrog. As I stepped into the Sukka, I realized that it was the day of Jacob’s Ushpizin. Each day of Sukkos the soul of another of our great forebears is invited into our Sukka and we are to capitalize on that predecessor’s spiritual strength. It hit me then – today I had lost the necklace. Years ago, Jacob had lost some small bottles. He, for something way less in value, retraced his steps and recovered the bottles at great peril to himself. It was clear what I must do about the necklace. I ran down to the super’s apartment and begged him to allow me into the compactor room. He was reluctant, telling me it was smelly…and dangerous too. I begged and entreated, and he finally let me into the room. With the aid of a box of rubber gloves, I began my spiritual journey of trying to find my lost possession. I went through bag after bag of smelly garbage. After 45 minutes I finally saw something familiar – the shopping bag I had used to dispose of my garbage. I took it out carefully. The garbage was still inside, though the bag itself had holes where it had been mangled by the compactor machine. I sifted through the remnants; but the necklace was nowhere to be found. I rebagged my building’s garbage and left the compactor room, heading back home, content though I hadn’t found my heirloom. I had done my part. I had shown G-d  I had learned the lesson of father Jacob. If G-d willed it that the necklace be taken from me, so be it, but my part in the puzzle I had done.

I went upstairs and began straightening my apartment. There was an old jewelry box on my dresser, and, absent-mindedly, I picked it up and opened it. There, nestled inside, was the heirloom necklace. Many are the objects we think we’ve lost. Many are the things we seek to find. And most of the time, after searching through mounds of garbage, we discover the treasure lay nestled safely within our own domain throughout.

(And I’ve learned that what Shlomo Hamelech said is so true: Marbeh Nechasim, Marbeh Da’agos – the more possessions you have, the more worries. It is way easier to get rid of your jewelry than to have to worry about its safekeeping. Or to wear costume jewelry. No expensive stuff, no sweat about its loss. )

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Forbidden Relationships Listed in Yom Kippur Torah Reading

One of portions of the Torah read out loud on Yom Kippur (during the Mincha service) contains a listing of deviant sexuality and relationships that are forbidden because “Anee Hashem” for G-d Himself has declared them so.

We are not scared of discussing such subjects head-on, and the Torah in plain, clear language tells folks what is on the “don’t” list in physical relationships.

The whole listing first starts with the Passuk [verse] that says, “I am Hashem, your G-d”.  The Meshech Chachma says that before giving us the list of forbidden relationships, G-d tells us that if He said we are forbidden to have these relationships, we can be sure that we are able to control any desires to have that relationship, because Hashem created us and knows our limitations and capabilities.  Therefore, if Hashem says a sister and brother cannot have a physical relationship, we know that there is no person who is created biologically in a way that makes it impossible for them to control themselves and not have that kind of relationship.  This goes for any of the forbidden sexualities.  If Hashem said no to the relationship, we can control ourselves and not have that relationship.  No one can claim he/she cannot control desires.  Note, it doesn’t say it is easy to control, but that it is doable.  {And a challenge for Torah sleuths – which desires might not be able to be controlled and, therefore, guidelines are set up if and when that desire strikes a person?}

The Chofetz Chaim writes that he doesn’t understand why people are horrified if someone does one of the wrong things listed in this Parsha, but then can’t care less when someone does other wrong things.  As an example, the Chofetz Chaim says that if a brother and sister got married, we would say, “Horrors – how dare they go against Hashem and do such a disgusting thing.”  But when folks randomly sleep around, we don’t say that, even though it is clear from this Parsha that it is also disgusting to Hashem when we do that.  Wrong is wrong, not based on our flawed logic, but based on what G-d said is wrong.

Hashem created our bodies, He created our desires, and He told us how to use it right.  It is sad when we take this beautiful gift He gave us called sexuality and misuse it. In fact, what we do when we misuse it is rob ourselves of what could have been.

Let me explain.  Many moons ago, I mentored some street toughs.  One of the kids, a gang member, ended up staying with me for a bit, along with her misbehaving mutt, a mangy creature with crooked teeth and a propensity to bite.  The mutt also had certain desires not under control, and, therefore, acted like an animal, to put it quite politely.  I wondered some days, how could I have been so blessed as to be forced to put up with that dog’s off-kilter out-of-control behavior.  And then, one day, when it was time to give a lecture to a group of my street toughs about abstinence until marriage I knew why G-d had sent that mutt to me.  I was able to demonstrate animalistic behavior, right up close.  I was then able to explain that there are those who have a more refined physical relationship, one that is not of the “use whatever you got nearby” variety.  Most of the kids got the message loud and clear and most of them decided they wanted sexuality only in the context of commitment of a healthy marriage.  Most didn’t want to turn into an object being used for the moment by someone who didn’t learn to control desires.

Sex, it can be G-dly and nurturing…or it can turn humans into animals.

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