Parshat Noah: Zen & the Art of…Wait, Was That My Phone?

Every now and again I look at my kids and marvel at how different they are from me.  They are, of course, their own individual persons, but they come from me, and they carry my DNA in their cells which will pass to their children…so how different could they really be?  But, we all know, my DNA sitting inside their cells does very little to shape them in my image.  Even so, over the years, I have tried doing things with each of them that they have suggested, and since it clearly interests them, I hoped it might interest me as well.  One of these moments was the day I tried hot yoga.

One of my daughters explained to me how much she loved it and I need to go with her so I could love it too.  She remembered that I used to be very involved in yoga exercises but she forgot that I overheat easily and prefer cold climates to hot ones.  The moment we entered the yoga studio I knew I’d made a mistake.  As everyone gathered for the class, the temperature was only slightly tropical so I thought it might be ok until I was told the temperature would be turned up every few minutes.  The instructor introduced herself (her name was Blossom…I kid you not) and she explained to everyone how vital it is to leave the world outside the studio.  This space is about our breathing, said Blossom, it is about relaxation and letting go, so all electronics are to be outside the studio.  She said it with a smile, a glow, an ethereal glint in her eye.  

The class started, but within 10 minutes I had overheated and wondered if Blossom would mind if I poured my water bottle over my head. I could do it quietly, no one would need to know and everyone was already so drenched in sweat I wondered if anyone would even notice the puddle…but then IT happened.  The woman on the mat next to me had her phone on vibrate and…yes…it vibrated with an incoming call.  I barely noticed it, but Blossom immediately appeared out of nowhere and gone were her smile, her glow, her ethereal glint in the eye.  This was Blossom Imperial Guardian of Hot Yoga.  “GET THAT PHONE OUT OF HERE!!” (the capital letters aren’t because she yelled but because the bite in her tone was worse than if she’d yelled).  The woman guilty of the phone violation apologized but Blossom was having none of her apologies – not until the phone was gone and the woman with it.  Once the offending woman was exiled from the hot yoga paradise, Blossom’s smile reappeared as she floated from mat to mat to encourage our relaxation.  I only lasted a few minutes longer, I needed to recover from the heat but mostly I needed to recover from Blossom.

Interestingly, I usually think of my hot yoga experience when we read this week’s Torah portion, parshat Noah.  We know the story so well, Noah built the ark that God told him to build, he put animals and plants in it and God flooded the world destroying everything except what was in the ark.  The grandeur of the narrative easily overtakes the nuances.  

The Torah states that the world had become ‘corrupt’ and that’s why God decided to destroy it.  The Sages question what kind of corruption could have warranted such a Divine response.  One of the answers is that everything had denied its true nature and chose to express other than what was its genuine expression.  According to this midrash, you could plant corn but the earth would decide to grow wheat instead, or an apple tree would decide to grow pears.  Everything in nature denied its authentic true core and tried to be something else – something it saw someone else doing.  The world became a place of imitation and superficial gestures, it had redefined itself.  

Chaos was returning to the world because the uniqueness of each creation was being denied, and the singular, distinctive nature of each voice was missing.  God created a world of authenticity but the world itself had erased that authenticity to produce blended chaos and a facade filled with impersonators.

After the flood, the world changes.  The seven Noahide laws are introduced, and free will gains parameter.  The ground can no longer choose to grow corn when I plant wheat and an apple tree cannot prefer to grow pears.  Likewise, although I have free will, I cannot become something other than my authentic self, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking I can.  

We often know things about ourselves and believe we have accepted who we are, but then we don’t follow through to the next step — the celebration of who we are.  Part of what I should celebrate is how easily I overheat and how detrimental an encounter with Blossom can be to me.  Part of what Blossom should celebrate is how easily she can go from ‘Zen’ to ‘superhero – defender of the tranquility’.  

What we should all celebrate is how magnificent the world is when we feel proud to be authentic.  It seems to be the Divine Plan.

If you would like to learn more about this story in the Torah and Rachael’s commentary on what truly took place, consider joining us this spring for Reserve Me An Aisle Seat Please: A Look At Noah’s Ark.

If you would like to know what happens before the ark, The Garden of Eden: The Best of Times and The Worst of Times begins November 3rd. If mindfulness is more of interest, Mussar: Finding Empowerment and Healing the World begins November 4th.

More information on our Learning Page.

I Can Sing A Rainbow

Hi everyone,

Hope you had a great week.  This week’s parshah is Noah, the story we all learned as children about the Great Flood, the Ark and the animals who came in twosie-twosies.

The story lends itself to fantastic imagery and grandeur.  And while that may speak well to children and their developmental stages of understanding, it is the nuances of the narrative that amaze me.

But before we get there, I think we can all appreciate how animals have enriched our lives.  I grew up with a myriad of pets that included many dogs, 1 cat, endless birds and tanks of fish.  I rescued wounded birds from our porch and nursed them back to health in shoe boxes in my closet. My parents never knew.  A few times the birds disappeared from my closet and I spent days quietly searching the house for where they may have flown…(hi mom).

I had a Mynah bird I named Mozart because I was so excited to hear him sing.  Mynah birds imitate sounds and since we had 2 dogs at that time, Mozart learned to bark.  I learned never to underestimate the free will of animals.

And so, we arrive at Noah and the ark of animals.

We know he collected animals to save from the impending doomsday flood.  We know it rained for 40 days and 40 nights and we know Noah sent a dove out to check on things and the dove brought an olive branch back, to show the earth had dried.  Peace was in place between God and humanity so the olive branch has become synonymous with peace.

Ah, if it were only that simple.

The story of Noah and the ark is a birth story.  It is an ark surrounded by water that is carrying the seeds of life within it.  It will take 40 days and 40 is the number of weeks it takes for a human baby to gestate.  And while the image of birth is strong and beautiful, the destructive image of the battle with God is devastating.

The Torah says that God decided to destroy the world because the ways of flesh had corrupted its nature.  Many commentaries have been written to explain what that might mean. Murder, mayhem, immorality, the list becomes a litany of horrors.  But the plainest of meanings is that life had denied its nature, had become inauthentic.

In essence, it means I don’t know who I am or where is my natural place.  Worse, I choose to defy who I am or my natural place. It only gets worse when I add that I am the image of God.  Now it means I don’t know, nor do I care about who, or what, God is. That means I have ignored God or, in the worst of cases, I challenge God.  If I challenge God, I have thrown down the gauntlet and I have now declared God my enemy.

And so, God picks up a divine weapon and wages a war.

When all is said and done, God puts down the weapon and declares that after every rainfall we will see God’s bow in the sky.  The word used is ‘bow’, as in ‘bow and arrow’. The rain from above were the arrows which God had slung to the earth with a divine bow.  It becomes the word ‘rainbow’ because it appears after the rain, but the arch in the image is the image of a weapon, the image of a bow. God disarms and places the weapon forever hanging, forever inactive.  That is the beauty of it and that is why it should comfort us.

That is the grandeur.

And a beautiful subtle moment is when Noah sends out 2 birds to see if things are dry.  The first bird is a raven, it is male. The Torah says it won’t go far from the ark, it keeps circling and coming back.  The Sages say it is protecting its mate and will not leave her. So Noah sends out a dove, a female. She returns with a branch.  She lets Noah know that she has what she needs to build a nest. That is when he knows all is good.

The Torah says that animals go into the ark but families emerge.  The raven, who would not leave his mate and the dove who seeks to secure her babies.  The present and the future.

So let’s keep singing the Noah children’s song, ‘it rained and poured for forty daysie-daysies…’ but never allow that to keep us from enjoying the wonder that is above and living with us.