|A Presbyterian Minister, a Catholic Priest, and a Rabbi are discussing funerals and the question came up, "When you are in your casket, and friends, family, and congregates are mourning over you, what would you like to hear them say?" |
The Presbyterian Minister says "I would like to hear them say that I was a wonderful husband, a fine spiritual leader, and a great family man."
The Catholic Priest says, "I would like to hear that I was a wonderful teacher and a loyal servant of God who brought forgiveness and love to people's lives."
The Rabbi replies, "I would like to hear them say, 'Look, he's moving.'"
Recovering after loss
"In the face of such severe abuse, can I ever heal? Can I ever reclaim the joy, confidence and serenity that was robbed from me as a child"?
"I have been an addict now for so many years. Alcohol, codependence, over-eating, anger, excessive work, drugs, nicotine, aggressive behavior, have become my tools to cope with the deep fear and pain buried in my psyche. Can I ever recover"?
The answer to these wrenching questions, plaguing the hearts of so many victims of physical or mental abuse, is the theme of this week's Torah portion, Noach.
The Torah tells of an entire generation, which became addicted to corruption and promiscuity, to greed and lies. This is a story of a people who wrecked their souls and their bodies to an extent that it seemed it was beyond repair.
Then they were submerged in a cosmic flood -- and this was the secret to recovery.
Two layers of Torah
A little introduction would be appropriate.
The story of the flood that destroyed the world because of its absolute corruption, is naturally, one of the most painful and horrific stories in the entire Bible. Yet a fascinating Midrash (1) in this week's Torah portion (quoted below) indicates that the flood embodied a powerfully positive energy.
How do we reconcile these two opposing trends? The answer lay in a statement of the Talmud (2) that the entire Torah was written before the creation of the universe. This seems amiss, because the Bible commences with the story of creation and the entire book deals with events that transpired since!
How could, for example, the story of the flood or of Kain killing his brother Abel have been transcribed before the creation of the universe, when there was no humanity and certainly no corruption?
The answer is that each word and each episode in the Torah contains at least two layers of interpretation -- the literal and the mystical; the physical and the spiritual; the body and the soul (3). Every part of Torah must be understood not only as a concrete story about a physical human beings who lived at a particular point in history, but also as a metaphor to the journey of the soul and the spiritual realities of life. The spiritual level of Torah study was present before the creation and constitutes the nucleus of all Kabbalistic and Chassidic interpretation to the Bible.
In today's essay, we will discuss the story of the flood from this perspective.
The innocent mutes
Once upon a time, a king constructed a beautiful palace and populated it with mutes. Each morning the mutes would awake and greet the king. They could not use words to bond with him, so they employed body language to express their gratitude.
Once a thought entered into the king's mind: What a shame that these lovely people can't talk; if they would possess the ability to communicate verbally, our bond with each other would be so much deeper. So he populated his palace with speaking persons. Not long thereafter, the new inhabitants captured the palace and declared, "This is not the palace of the king; this mansion belongs to us." The king said: "Let my palace return to what it used to be, a home for mutes."
The Midrash (1) relates this moving tale to describe the reason for G-d bringing a massive flood upon the earth. "When the universe was created," says the Midrash, "the entire universe was enveloped by water. The water sung the praises of its creator. Thus the Psalmist wrote (4): "The roars of many waters, the waves of the sea, declaring 'you are mighty on high, G-d.'"
So G-d said: If even the waters which have no mouth are so filled with praise to me, how much more so would that be the case if I were to create verbal creatures. So G-d said (5): "Let the waters under the heaven be gathered to one place, and dry land shall appear."
But then humanity arose and declared war against Him. So G-d said: Let my world became repopulated with its original inhabitants. Thus says the verse (6): "The rain descended upon the earth for forty days and forty nights."
This means, that from the Midrash's perspective, when the flood consumed the earth, the world reached a spiritual zenith, similar to its lofty state at the beginning of the world creation.
Reclaiming your essence
The same is true in each of our lives.
In the beginning, we were submerged in water. As tiny people in our mother's womb, we floated for months in an amniotic sac filled with water. During that period of our lives, we were mute and innocent. No masks, no facades, no deceit. We knew G-d instinctively and we bonded with Him in a very real, simple and passionate way.
Then came the day when the commandment was issued forth that "the waters under the heaven shall be gathered to one place, and dry land shall appear." A fetus exited the worm, sheltered womb and entered into a dry and parched land. Although it's given the opportunity to develop its personality, to maximize its potentials, and to discover G-d in yet a deeper, more intelligent and sophisticated way, what so often happens, is that man attempts to seize the palace and deny the reality of the king.
Either as the result of our own errors or of those around us, as we grow older, we sometimes lose touch with the sacred "mute" infant that we once were. In our sophistication and our ambitions, we often lose our relationship with our inner Divine dignity, our simplistic humanity, and our spiritual core.
This is the time to drown in the flood. Go back to the time when you were submerged in the womb's water. Return to the innocent place in you, that has not been touched since the days you floated in that warm womb.
Some of us have been abused severely. But all of us retain a sacred space that is untouchable. This is a space that nobody has access to, besides G-d and you. The part in you that is still pure as it was when it was in your mother's womb.
Every human being possesses within him/her self an inner reservoir of spiritual innocence and profound love, described in the Zohar as "the inner child (7)." It may be dormant, even suppressed for many years, but at the end of the day, we can access it and reclaim through it sheer joy of life that is the natural possession of every man. When corruption takes over your life, its time to go back to water.
That is why Moses was named Moshe, which means "drawn from water." This great human being, who gave the world the gift of Torah, is defined by the fact that he never lost touch with the water-like integrity and confidence of the innate human spirit.
When things get tough, you, too, could always return to that space of "Moses." There you will discover the true "I," the I that is naturally happy, serene, loving and confidant.
The mystery of the Mikvah
This is also the secret of the Mikvah - the pool of natural water in which a Jewish woman immerses herself prior to the first time she experiences intimacy after her monthly cycle and in which some Jewish men immerse themselves daily, monthly or annually.
When we enter into the Mikvah, we return back to the sacred space of our essential being, before it has become hurt by the world around us. We reclaim our innate human dignity as a reflection of G-d. When we emerge from the Mikvah, we can continue to function in the "dry land" with the clarity, confidence and integrity inspired by our water-like essence (8).
(This essay is based on a talk delivered by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on 1 Cheshvan, 5746, October 15, 1985 (9))
E-mail the author at: YYJ@algemeiner.com
1) Midrash Rabah Breishis 5:1.
2) Shabbas 88a. Pesachim 54a. Berieishis Rabah 1:4.
3) See Asarah Maamoros 3:22; Shalah 13b.
4) Psalms 93.
5) Genesis 1:9.
6) Genesis 7:12.
7) See Shem Mishmuel Parshas Vayigash.
8) Yet one ought not to remain in the "womb." One must ultimately emerge and bring that holiness and innocence into the hard reality of dry land. The flood must end and man needs to learn how to integrate his inner child and his outer adult. Noach, in fact, always remained out of the domain of the flood, representing the ultimate purpose of creation to make the ordinary extraordinary and bring heaven down to earth.
9) Published in Likkutei Sichos vol. 30 pp. 16-23.