Weekly Torah Commentary – Noah October 28, 2011

Our parsha this week relates the events surrounding the life of Noah, builder of the ark at Hashem’s command. There are some interesting links between Noah and Shabbat which we’ll look at today.

When Noah was born, his father, Lamech, prophetically exclaimed: “This one will bring
us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands, from the ground which Hashem
had cursed.” (Gen. 5:29) The word “Noah” is related to “rest”. Rashi, the eminent
Torah commentator, writes that with the advent of Noah on this earth, it became easier
to work the earth which had been cursed since Adam ate from the Tree of the
knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. With Noah’s birth, concurring
closely with Adam’s death, the curse was diminished. The invention of the plow is attributed to Noah historically, making agriculture easier. As a result, for the people
of that time, the backbreaking and still unproductive labor was eased.

Given the meaning of his name and the measure of ‘rest’ he brought to mankind, it
comes as no surprise that the Zohar links Noah to Shabbat, our day of rest. Noah
happens to be the first person in the Torah who is described as a “tzaddik”, a righteous person. In Chassidic writings, a ‘tzaddik’ is often called Shabbat to express that the
state of consciousness of an exceptionally righteous person through the entire week continually draws from and reflects the peace of Shabbat. This type of person has a
deep sense of trust and confidence in Hashem that — in our everyday language —
keeps him peaceful and calm even in trying and difficult circumstances for his trust in Hashem overrides every earthly care or trial.

Various commentaries allude to the fact that the time Noah and his family spent in the
Ark, being carried, as it were, above the turbulent waters of the Flood, is a visual
picture of what Shabbat is all about. At the end of each week when we have navigated
the unpredictable and often chaotic issues of everyday life, Shabbat grants us rest.

As we all know by experience, there is ‘rest’ and there is ‘rest’. Have not each of us experienced going to bed, for example, and though our body is ‘at rest’, our mind
refuses to shut down and we lay there awake and unable to sleep?

So too with Shabbat. There are two levels of ‘rest’. One of our Sages has commented
that it is possible to observe all the instructions regarding Shabbat and still not truly experience Shabbat for an observance based primarily on external do’s and don’ts can easily become joyless ritual. True, abiding by the restrictions of Shabbat gives a
measure of ‘rest’, but only by connecting to the spirit of Shabbat in the deepest way
do we truly have ‘rest’. Restrictions do not make Shabbat – relationship with Hashem
makes Shabbat real, alive and full of joy.

Another of the Sages, the Slonimer Rebbe, discusses the symbolism of three levels of
the Ark to true observance of Shabbat. He says that the upper floor of the Ark
represents our thoughts, the middle floor our speech and the lower floor our actions.
He cautions us that we may observe all the externals of Shabbat yet spend the day
thinking and speaking about issues or matters that are totally out of sync with the
essence of what Shabbat is.

He concludes that the two levels of Shabbat rest are only experienced when each
Jew’s actions, words and thoughts ALL reflect the peace, the joy and the calm of this
holy day, Shabbat.

In Tune with Torah this week = elevating our observance of Shabbat to include directing
all our thoughts, all our words, as well as all our actions towards deepening our
relationship with Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom

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