I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars. — Og Mandino

This D’var Torah was delivered on the sabbath Torah reading service of October 9th, 2010, on the occasion of my 60th birthday, at Romemu, a Renewal synagogue in New York City, led by Rabbi David Ingber.

My bar mitzvah date, October 11th, in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah readings, corresponds with Parashat Ha’azinu, Moses’s poem—a remarkable coincidence, given my inclination to understand life through the eyes of poets. This year, on the Gregorian calendar, the date coincides with Parashat Noah, another coincidence of serendipity, aligning with a life-long interest on how dark and light forces play out on our collective lives. I thought how lovely it would be for all of us to enter Noah’s Ark today!

Chasidic rebbes look at scripture as sacred clay from which transformative insights are extracted, and this classic story is no exception. It can be read as a historical event, or as a journey of personal transformation, offering insight into a passage for renewal—the root cause of building the ark.

The Torah is as a web of stories, each in its unique way underlining a theme of return. Each narrative sheds light on how a past generation paved a trail of return for a future one, so we too can find our way home. In Parashat Noah, it is the return to our initial purity. From this perspective, it is easy to see this story as an allegory shouting, “there is a pathway back to your estranged home and here are the keys to the front door.” The message is, no matter how astray we’ve strayed from our essence, there is a bridge to the other side, and goodness will survive.

At Romemu, it is customary to select three segment of verses from each story for the Torah readings. You will be invited to come to the bimah and form a circle around the scroll for the portion that speaks to you. I will leyn the first segment in the Sephardic Egyptian cantillation of the Jewish community I grew up in, which I taught myself as an adult, Rabbi Henry Glazer will leyn the second, and Rabbi Jennifer Tobenstein, the third.

The first verse of this story tells us: Noah eesh tzadik tamim, Noah was a righteous man and he was blameless in his age. The text hands us two words, back to back: “righteous” and “blameless” as keys to the allegory. In Hebrew, the word for “blameless”, tamim, means “complete, whole, perfect, intact, without blemish or defect.” This is the inner light, each of us was born with.

Because no human can avoid being contaminated, containing only purity, “Noah” is that part of our being that is “truthful.” Noah is the inextinguishable light that we sometimes stray away from. But, no matter how far we stray, it is comforting to know that within us is a seed or flame called “Noah.”

The first aliyah is found on page 43 in the Etz Hayim chumash. Let’s look together at Genesis 6:17-22:

6.17 “For My part I am about to bring the Flood — waters upon the earth — to destroy all flesh under the sky in which there is breath of life; everything on earth shall perish. 18 But I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark, with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives.  19 And of all that lives, of all flesh, you shall take two of each into the ark to keep alive with you; they shall be male and female.  20 From birds of every kind, cattle of every kind, every kind of creeping thing on earth, two of each shall come to you to stay alive.  21 For your part, take of everything that is eaten and store it away, to serve as food for you and for them.”  22 Noah did so; just as God commanded him, so he did.

Just as we keep alive our departure from Egypt, year after year, we also continue to build Noah’s ark. Rabbi Ingber built one here and named it Romemu, a place of refuge. Each one of us comes to it with a different need.

This first aliyah invites us to enter a safe enclosure, a place that offers shelter, a place to wait in faith for renewal.

The word ark in English as well as Hebrew etymology points to a box or chest, not specifically a boat. The Mishnah uses the word tevah, Hebrew for ark, to denote the Ark of the Covenant. An ark can be any hallowed place, as inside our prayer shawls, or where we house the Torah, or the place within us that serves as sanctuary against extinction.

The dream of every life is to realize itself. A life that never engages with the risk, is an unlived life.

So for those who would like to begin again, for whatever reason. For those who need an ark to return to, a place that protects the light we are born with, and for those who wish to befriend the innocent child within, please come up for this aliyah.

Blessing for 1st Aliyah: For all who came up, may you be guided by the light within to enter the safe place, and may that light illuminate a path of return and rebirth. May you enter along with all the animals that have made their way into your life, that you now wish to release. Let us all say, Amen.

===========

The second aliyah is on page 45. The verses we will be reading are Genesis 7:11-20:

Gen. 7.11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day All the fountains of the great deep burst apart, And the floodgates of the sky broke open 12 (The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.) 4.6) 13 That same day Noah and Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, went into the ark, with Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons —  14 they and all beasts of every kind, all cattle of every kind, all creatures of every kind that creep on the earth, and all birds of every kind, every bird, every winged thing.  15 They came to Noah into the ark, two each of all flesh in which there was breath of life.  16 Thus they that entered comprised male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him. And the LORD shut him in.  Gen. 7.17   The Flood continued forty days on the earth, and the waters increased and raised the ark so that it rose above the earth.  18 The waters swelled and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark drifted upon the waters. 19 When the waters had swelled much more upon the earth, all the highest mountains everywhere under the sky were covered.  20 Fifteen cubits higher did the waters swell, as the mountains were covered.

It is noteworthy to note that an ark is a vessel that has no rudder or sail, nor any other navigational aid, it drifts aimlessly upon the waters, so we arrive on firm ground only by being tossed at sea first and surrendering to this vulnerability. Noah waited 40 days before he could leave the ark. The Torah is reassuring us that if we endure a period of introspection, in this story, 40 days—a number often connected with purification and cleansing, we too can emerge stronger.

Any moment now, engineers will be piercing through to the trapped Chilean miners. Thirty-three men who waited patiently for sixty-six days in the dark will be hoisted up one by one into the light of day.

So, when we befriend the dark with the pure Noah part in us, our fears are released. It is the compassion we apply to ourselves that transforms the dark into a doorway. On my wall at home, are three Buddhist words, “Smile at Fear.” It is our mastery over fear that will carry us to safety.

A key to understanding this transformation it to substitute the word “dark” for the word “ark” in the verses that we just read. This unveils the underlining power of the ark—a power made clear in a poem by Maurya Simon, called The Gift:

This darkness is a rope, not a prison:
hand over hand I haul myself in
to touch your face, to blossom.

My fingers crawl toward heaven
leaving behind whirling shadows;
this darkness is a rope, not a prison.

I follow light through forgotten
canyons and grattos;
I touch your face and I know

like a night-blooming jasmine,
or a well widening with echoes:
this darkness is a rope, not a prison,
I touch your face, I blossom.

So for all of you who wish to befriend the dark let it go, please gather around the bimah for this aliyah.

2. Rabbi Henry Glazer.
בִּשְׁנַ֨ת שֵׁשׁ־מֵא֤וֹת שָׁנָה֙ לְחַיֵּי־נֹ֔חַ בַּחֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ הַשֵּׁנִ֔י בְּשִׁבְעָֽה־עָשָׂ֥ר י֖וֹם לַחֹ֑דֶשׁ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֗ה נִבְקְעוּ֙ כָּֽל־מַעְיְנֹת֙ תְּה֣וֹם רַבָּ֔ה וַאֲרֻבֹּ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם נִפְתָּֽחוּ׃
בִּשְׁנַ֨ת שֵׁשׁ־מֵא֤וֹת שָׁנָה֙ לְחַיֵּי־נֹ֔חַ בַּחֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ הַשֵּׁנִ֔י בְּשִׁבְעָֽה־עָשָׂ֥ר י֖וֹם לַחֹ֑דֶשׁ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֗ה נִבְקְעוּ֙ כָּֽל־מַעְיְנֹת֙ תְּה֣וֹם רַבָּ֔ה וַאֲרֻבֹּ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם נִפְתָּֽחוּ׃
וַֽיְהִ֥י הַגֶּ֖שֶׁם עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ אַרְבָּעִ֣ים י֔וֹם וְאַרְבָּעִ֖ים לָֽיְלָה׃
בְּעֶ֨צֶם הַיּ֤וֹם הַזֶּה֙ בָּ֣א נֹ֔חַ וְשֵׁם־וְחָ֥ם וָיֶ֖פֶת בְּנֵי־נֹ֑חַ וְאֵ֣שֶׁת נֹ֗חַ וּשְׁלֹ֧שֶׁת נְשֵֽׁי־בָנָ֛יו אִתָּ֖ם אֶל־הַתֵּבָֽה׃\
הֵ֜מָּה וְכָל־הַֽחַיָּ֣ה לְמִינָ֗הּ וְכָל־הַבְּהֵמָה֙ לְמִינָ֔הּ וְכָל־הָרֶ֛מֶשׂ הָרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָ֖רֶץ לְמִינֵ֑הוּ וְכָל־הָע֣וֹף לְמִינֵ֔הוּ כֹּ֖ל צִפּ֥וֹר כָּל־כָּנָֽף׃
וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ אֶל־נֹ֖חַ אֶל־הַתֵּבָ֑ה שְׁנַ֤יִם שְׁנַ֙יִם֙ מִכָּל־הַבָּשָׂ֔ר אֲשֶׁר־בּ֖וֹ ר֥וּחַ חַיִּֽים׃
וְהַבָּאִ֗ים זָכָ֨ר וּנְקֵבָ֤ה מִכָּל־בָּשָׂר֙ בָּ֔אוּ כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֛ר צִוָּ֥ה אֹת֖וֹ אֱלֹהִ֑ים וַיִּסְגֹּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה בַּֽעֲדֽוֹ׃
וַֽיְהִ֧י הַמַּבּ֛וּל אַרְבָּעִ֥ים י֖וֹם עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַיִּרְבּ֣וּ הַמַּ֗יִם וַיִּשְׂאוּ֙ אֶת־הַתֵּבָ֔ה וַתָּ֖רָם מֵעַ֥ל הָאָֽרֶץ׃
וַיִּגְבְּר֥וּ הַמַּ֛יִם וַיִּרְבּ֥וּ מְאֹ֖ד עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַתֵּ֥לֶךְ הַתֵּבָ֖ה עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃
וְהַמַּ֗יִם גָּֽבְר֛וּ מְאֹ֥ד מְאֹ֖ד עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַיְכֻסּ֗וּ כָּל־הֶֽהָרִים֙ הַגְּבֹהִ֔ים אֲשֶׁר־תַּ֖חַת כָּל־הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃
חֲמֵ֨שׁ עֶשְׂרֵ֤ה אַמָּה֙ מִלְמַ֔עְלָה גָּבְר֖וּ הַמָּ֑יִם וַיְכֻסּ֖וּ הֶהָרִֽים׃

Blessing for 2nd Aliyah: May all of you who came up for this aliyah be blessed with the strength to befriend the darkness in your lives. May your ark rest above all entanglements that keeps suffering alive. And may the Almighty bless Rabbi Henry Glazer, who read from the Torah, a man who pours gratitude onto everything he touches, with a life overflowing with peace and joy. And let us all say, Amen.

==============

The third aliyah is found on page 47. Let us look at Chapter 8, verses 6-12.

Gen 8.6 At the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made 7 and sent out the raven; it went to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out the dove to see whether the waters had decreased from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could not find a resting place for its foot, and returned to him to the ark, for there was water over all the earth. So putting out his hand, he took it into the ark with him.  10 He waited another seven days, and again sent out the dove from the ark.  11 The dove came back to him toward evening, and there in its bill was a plucked-off olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the waters had decreased on the earth.  12 He waited still another seven days and sent the dove forth; and it did not return to him any more.

——-Verse 6 says:  “Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made“ This clearly tells us that we must consciously enter the darkness, then just as consciously, after the hard work, open a window.

Few people know that the caterpillar turns to liquid inside the cocoon before it becomes a butterfly. One of my favorite sayings is: “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”

Cleansing is the theme of this aliyah. It is about releasing the animals that we took with us in the dark which have enchained us so we can be free again. It is about coming out of the cocoon as a butterfly.

Speaking about beautiful things, a word about the rainbow mentioned at the end of the story. Rainbows are not one color, and perhaps God is saying, I will not expect you to be perfect anymore, I will love you in your complexity and in your weakness. Because your human inkling is to invite fear and create monsters, an ark will always be ready for you to enter and purify yourselves, and I will love you anyway, even when you are not so pure.

For all of you who yearn to trust the dark in order to rise above your worst fears, and those who wish to release any kind of pain that has been holding you back from the light, please come up for this aliyah.

3. Rabbi Jennifer Tobenstein

Blessing for 3rd Aliyah: To all those who came up for this aliyah, may you have strength to open the windows in your arks. May you be liberated from the creatures that have kept you enchained. May you know when it is time to leave the dark and have the courage to send out winged messengers, products of your best efforts. Not to rush out, but to wait in faith after all the waters diminish and the tops of the mountains become visible. May you have the gift of introspection so you can walk out renewed.

May the God of our fathers and mothers who has helped us open many windows bless Rabbi Jennifer Tobenstein with more of the clear light that has followed her life until now. And let us say, Amen