A little while before he died, a wealthy Jew donated $3 million evenly among a hospital, a university and a synagogue. The only condition was that a representative of each establishment would deposit $1000 dollars in the man's grave at the time of his burial. This would serve as "proff" in heaven of all his charity acts.
The time of the funeral arrived. The hospital president approached the grave, and with a tear in his eye placed $1000 in it. The university president did the same. Then the rabbi wrote out a check for $3000, placed it in the grave and gently removed the two thousand dollars in the grave.
The flood of water
This week's Torah portion describes the 40-day flood that inundated the Earth in the year 2105 BCE (1656 after Creation), drowning all of its inhabitants.
Noach, his family and two members of all animal species survived the flood by means of a massive ark that Noach constructed to shield them from the destruction.
"There was a flood on the earth for forty days," the Torah relates (1). "The waters increased and raised the ark so that it was lifted above the earth.
"The waters became very very strong upon the earth, and all the high mountains under the heavens were covered (2)."
The question we must ask is, what is the relevance of this story in our lives?
The flood of stress
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (founder of the Chabad school of kabbalah (3)), in a discourse from 1807 explains the symbolism of the mighty flood waters which inundated the world (4).
These waters represent the currents of anxiety that constitute an integral part of our daily endeavor to earn a livelihood and pay the bills. Just as a flood engulfs and overwhelms anything in its path, so, too, the burden of financial stress and the vicissitudes of the business world may heavily consume our minds and drown our spirits.
An anecdote is told about a Jew who prays and says, "G-d, if a thousand years to you is like one day (5) and a million dollars to you is like one dollar, just give me one dollar please." All of a sudden he hears a voice that says, "My son, I have decided to grant your request. I will give you one dollar; just wait until tomorrow."
As we wait for the "tomorrow" to come, the Torah vividly describes the waters of the flood becoming stronger and stronger as they surge in height until they eclipse all of the mountains.
This symbolizes, that as life progresses and our horizons of success expand, the pressures of life merely increase. Even the mountains within us, representing the tall and splendorous spirits we were once proud of, are eclipsed by the surging anxiety stemming from our inevitable entanglement with the crude world of materialism.
There comes a certain point in our life when we just stand back and ask ourselves, what happened to my soul? Where did my mountain disappear? What's the point in all of this?
The verbal island
The only way to survive the flood in our lives is by constructing an "ark" in which we may find refuge from the deluge.
What is an ark? The Hebrew word for ark, teivah, may also be translated as
When G-d tells Noach "Enter into the Ark (6)," He is telling him, "Enter into the word."
Each word of prayer is a mini ark. If you take advantage of it and "enter" into it completely, it will shield you from the tremendous pressures of your daily schedule. Prayer is a verbal island, a transcendental oasis that welcomes man into the serene world of the spirit, allowing him to melt away -- if only for 15 minutes a day -- in the all-pervading presence of the essence of all life.
Why must life be stressful?
Yet moments after we conclude our prayers we are cast out of the ark and into the raging waters of the flood. Emotional and mental serenity remain an unfulfilled dream for most of us. How can we reconcile the two realities - the reality of the spirit coupled with the necessary battle for survival - in our life?
And why must life be so stressful? Why does the journey of life need to take place amidst a flood, rather than amidst a smooth and peaceful flow of water?
Here we come to one of the most moving ideas in the philosophy of Jewish mysticism and Chassidism. It is encapsulated in the biblical words mentioned above: "The waters increased and raised the ark so that it was lifted above the earth."
In the ultimate scheme of things, not only do the raging waters of the flood not drown the ark, they raise it to unprecedented levels of spiritual heights.
The tension created as of a result of ongoing stress in our lives generates a yearning toward spirituality and G-dliness far more powerful than any we might have experienced in a lifetime of unwavering emotional tranquility.
This is the deeper meaning behind the Bible's description of the waters of the flood as raising and uplifting the Ark above the earth. The ark of prayer never could be such an elevated and profound experience without the raging floods to propel it to such heights.
When a human being - bogged down by a myriad of pressures, frustrated by the
void of spirituality in his life, tormented by vicissitudes of his daily condition - tears himself away from the darkness, enters into the ark of prayer and says, "G-d, liberate me from my endless tension!" this person fulfills the purpose for which this stressful world was created in the first place: that it be exploited to fuel a longing for G-d far deeper and truer than any spiritual longing ever experienced on the landscape of paradise.
1) Genesis 7:17.
2) Ibid. 7: 19.
4) Torah Or Noach pp. 8-10. This explanation is based on the principle that each story in the Torah contains, in addition to its literal interpretation, also a psychological and spiritual counterpart (see the many references noted in Likkutei Sichos vol. 23 pp. 37-39).
5) Psalms 90:7.
6) Genesis 7:1.
My gratitude to Shmuel Levin, a writer and editor in Pittsburgh, for his editorial assistance.