Are you anxious? Are you constantly plagued with thoughts of, “What’s going to be? How am I going to make enough money to cover my expenses this month? What will happen if my kids come home late from school and don’t tell me? Will I ever be stable enough to hold down a job? Will my friends like what I’m wearing tomorrow? What will people think when they see my messy house?”

And on, and on, and on.

It’s debilitating.

According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population.1 If you think about it, that’s an incredibly high number, if not a tad bit frightening.

So what should we do with all this anxiety? Of course—of course!—if the matter has reached clinical levels (and many times, even before that), a competent professional should be sought for guidance. Anxiety and depression are serious matters, and must be handled with extreme care and sensitivity.

As a baseline, overall positive approach that can certainly help anyone, a great Chassidic master penned a seminal essay over 200 years ago that offers a shining beacon of light for the over-anxious. It’s our luck that this essay is set in the storyline of our parshah.

The Waters Lift the Ark

We all know the story, one of the most dramatic and earth-changing of all time. The world has gone entirely off the rails, people are utterly corrupt, and after tolerating their shenanigans for far too long, G‑d decides He has had enough. He’s fed up with this base and perverted world, so He’s going to obliterate it with a giant flood.

Out of the entire world population, there’s really only one “good guy”—Noah (and his family). So G‑d instructs him to build a big boat, to pack it with a sampling of every animal under the sun, and use it as a rescue device to ride out the earth-cleansing flood.

The skies open and heavy rainwater pummels the ground for 40 consecutive days, destroying everything underneath. As the water rises, the watertight ark lifts off the ground, floating above with its surviving crew. The Torah describes this part of the story:

Now the Flood was forty days upon the earth, and the waters increased, and they lifted the ark, and it rose off the earth.2

A conventional reading presents us with a pretty straightforward description: the waters lifted the ark off the ground. But in the Chassidic rendering, these words reveal much more; they speak of how raging waters, a monsoon of inner anxiety can, in fact, be something that not only doesn’t cripple you, rather, it “lifts your ark off the earth.”

Ark = Words

Picture a flood, especially the one that wrecked planet Earth during Noah’s times. Endless rain whipped by ferocious winds that tear up the landscape. And it doesn’t relent. For over a month, it continuously hammers the terrain, always rising, offering no chance of reprieve.

Is this not the internal state of a mind and heart eaten up with anxiety? The raging thoughts, the feeling of never knowing reprieve, and constantly being haunted by another torrent of concern that will pummel you as soon as you even try to put your foot on the ground.

This is the “raging waters of Noah.” It’s the tormented, anxious mind.

So what do you do?

Do what Noah did. Build an ark.

In Hebrew, the word for ark is “teivah” (תבה). Another translation for this word is, well, “word.” And so, the Baal Shem Tov taught, when G‑d told Noah “enter the teivah,” an alternate translation of those words is, “enter the words”—the words of prayer.

Noah had a rescue plan. It was the precious, serene, and calming words of prayer that offered him solace, hope, and rescue.

You, too, can take advantage of the same rescue plan. You, too, can “enter into the words of prayer,” pour out your heart to G‑d, and thereby find comfort and, more importantly, rescue.

Uplifted Through Prayer

But the good news doesn’t stop there. Referring back to the description in the verse, the raging waters “lift the ark off the earth.” In other words, when escaping the internal monsoon of anxiety and finding refuge in the words of prayer, it’s not just “refuge” or “escape” that you’re netting; you’re netting far more. Your prayer, your dedication, your connection to the Divine is now enhanced and enriched by the experience.

You see, when a regular person prays to G‑d, someone who isn’t necessarily plagued with anxieties and concerns, their prayer is definitely worthy, but it lacks a certain intensity, a particular passion and yearning. After all, if life’s all hunky dory and it’s all a cakewalk, it’s nice that you’re praying, but you lack the life experience to give it that extra edge.

But when an anguished and tormented soul turns to her Creator in prayer, the angels stop, the world stops, and G‑d listens. It’s a passionate, soulful, heart-rending experience. It is sincere and deep, a cry from a place of darkness that bares the entire self.

It is such prayers that G‑d cherishes, and He’s listening out for them.

No one wishes to have “raging waters” in their life, but inevitably, they will come. They could very well crash over your mind and heart one day like a tsunami threatening to knock you entirely out of your senses.

If and when they do, remember the powerful refuge you possess. Remember that the words of prayer offer a potent lifeboat that can carry you above those waters.

And to sweeten the deal, you will then appreciate the fact that it is your prayers—not the rabbi’s, the rebbetzin’s, or even the cantor’s—that G‑d cherishes most.3