A nation's stories reveal its national psyche. What distinguishes the ancient Jewish spiritual tradition is its complete negation of fiction. With the rare exception of a small section of the ethical literature and one branch of Hassidic literature, the story is not a story — it is a statement of reality, and truth is stranger than fiction.

Take the story of Noah and the global flood. A man hears a Divine instruction from Above and spends decades constructing a huge ferry that carries the species of the world across time into a new future. A mere story? Some will say so. Yet it is a curious fact that the account of the flood is contained in so many of the ancient pathways.

But the mystics of the Torah never doubted the veracity of the story. There was indeed a huge tidal destruction of the inhabited world. Why? Was it an act of cosmic wrath? Not really. Kabbalah teaches that the foremost energy that guides the cosmos is that of chessed — goodness and compassion. Wrath is incompatible with this spiritual posture. There is clearly something much more sublime in the account of the flood.

Anyone who has been involved in renovating their house will recall those moments of self-doubt: I should have started right from scratch rather than tinkered with a bit here and bit there. But starting from scratch also destroys the memories and the emotions that are the fabric of our context and consciousness. What we would desire is the best of both worlds: a house with clean aesthetic lines and function, while retaining the warmth and hominess of its antecedent. We want to clean it up.

Something went wrong — not with creation, but with the "wild card" — the joker of the pack — the human being. The cosmic house had to be renovated. Noah was chosen as builder-foreman.

That is why the Chassidic master, Rabbi Shneur Zalmen of Liadi, describes the flood as a cleansing process. The waters of the flood are like the waters of a ritualarium — a mikveh — where the waters spiritually cleanse the dross that accumulates in the course of our life's endeavors. The world received a spiritual cleansing, and this set the course of history on a course of hope and purpose.

Noah's is not a story. It is an account of spiritual redirection. Noah's very name reflects the positive nature of the events. The name "Noah" is etymologically connected to the word for inner peace and tranquility. This describes the mind and heart of the world after the "clean-up" of the flood. Just as a mikveh has to have 40 seah (an ancient measure of volume) of "living" waters, so did the rains of the flood last for forty days.

In all seeming adversity there is both opportunity and positivity. It may not always be apparent — even if we look for it. But it is there. But that is only true of true stories. The fiction that derives from a finite human mind cannot contain the code for eternal truths. Hence the bias against fiction.

MASTERY: Every moment and place has a doorway for our entry. But we may not have the agility to enter with ease or elegance. Our clothes may become soiled. Our thoughts may become confused. Our feelings may be inappropriate. How many words do we say that later we would like to retract? How many thoughts do we think that we would like to recant? Therefore be pure in the spiritual clothes you wear. Be spiritually agile. Move elegantly through the trappings of life.

MEDITATION: Sit silently and recall your last meaningful conversation. What door did this episode open? Replay your words in your mind and determine what legacy they left — both for you and the other. What feelings did that conversation awaken in you? Are these optimal? Could they be spiritually refined, even now, long after the conversation has ended? Every week, perhaps on Shabbat, enter your ark and rise above the turbulent waters of everyday affairs. Enter your spiritual spa and purify both body and soul.

Follow-up resources: The Healing Light (audio) and Relax and Breath (audio) available at Rabbi Wolf's Website (see link below)