Chapter 6

9 The following are the descendants of Noah: The Torah's introduction to its account of Noah's descendants provides us with two lessons in childrearing:

The Torah first describes his righteousness: From this we learn that we should articulate our reverence for the special, saintly people who grace our world. It is not enough to think about how grateful we are for these people; our children must hear us talk about them. At the mere mention of their names, we should start talking about their saintly behavior, just as the Torah does regarding Noah.

In particular, we should articulate our admiration over the fact that they, as Noah was in his time, are "complete" in their saintliness—meaning that it extends to all facets of their lives, even seemingly mundane acts like eating.

Our true offspring are our good deeds: From this we learn that we should raise our children to sense that our greatest aspiration for them is that they excel in good deeds, which carry on our lineage in the spiritual sense.

Blessed with such an upbringing, our children will follow the right path in their relationship with God, with their fellow human beings, and especially with their parents. Such an atmosphere will unite the entire family under the common goal of excelling in acts of goodness and kindness.1

The Torah first describes his righteousness: Speech activates dormant qualities. When we speak negatively about others, it strengthens their negative traits; to an even greater degree, when we speak positively of others, it strengthens their positive qualities.

In light of the above, we see that the purpose of praising the righteous is to affect them positively and give them strength to fulfill their Divine mission. When God Himself praises the righteous, this gives the righteous enormous strength to fulfill their mission.

This teaches us that we must always try to see the good in others and speak about their good qualities. The result is twofold: we cause the other person's goodness to be revealed to an even greater degree, and we assist them in fulfilling their Divine mission. Furthermore, by praising others, we elicit God's blessings, since when our Father looks down upon His children and sees that they love and take care of each other, He is pleased and therefore happily showers His blessings on us.2

He was faultless despite (or relative to) his generation: These two different ways of reading the verse encourage us to emulate Noah's attitude toward his milieu, even when we might be inclined to do otherwise:

When feeling spiritually robust, we might argue that we don't need the protection of "entering the ark," i.e., immersing ourselves in words of prayer and Torah study, for we do not feel threatened by any raging "floodwaters." The first way of reading this verse negates this notion, since even the righteous Noah needed to "enter the ark."

Then there are other times when, like Noah in the second way of understanding this verse, we are righteous only in comparison to those around us. We can then learn from Noah that, despite the "raging waters" threatening us, we nevertheless all have the capacity to save the entire world and ourselves. Our one good deed can tip the scales and cause the world's merits to outweigh its demerits. Just as Noah "beheld a new world" after the Flood,3 so can we all build a new world.4

He was faultless relative to the corruption of his generations: This implies that had Noah lived in the generation of Abraham, he would not have been considered righteous. Rashi therefore says that this interpretation disparages Noah. Rabbi Dovber (the maggid) of Mezeritch, however, finds cause to praise Noah even in this context: Since Noah lived in a generation of extremely wicked people, he was unable to elevate them, and moreover, they hampered his own spiritual growth. He was like a person on a rooftop, trying to pull up a heavy load with a rope: if the load is too heavy, the person eventually has to drop the load and is nearly pulled off the roof himself. This is why Noah needed God's assistance to maintain his righteousness.

In contrast, the people of Abraham's generation—having internalized some of the lessons of the Flood and the Dispersion—were not as wicked. They therefore did not hamper Abraham's spiritual growth, so he was able to progress without being completely dependent upon God and even influence many of them to join his ranks.

Thus, even in the context of the "disparaging" interpretation, Noah was still righteous and faultless according to his ability under the circumstances. But had he lived in Abraham's generation, he, too, would have been able to grow in his righteousness on his own.5

(Although Noah died when Abraham was fifty-eight, he is not considered to have lived in Abraham's "generation," since it wasn't until Abraham left Charan at seventy-five that he began to truly influence his generation to think like he did and to thus merit being called "the generation of Abraham."6)

He lived in corrupt times. Although Noah was the only righteous person of his generation, this singularity incredibly did not negatively affect him!

This thought can serve to inspire us when a defeatist inner voice taunts us: "Why do you even bother to study the Torah and fulfill God's commandments at all? After all, you are just one very small person in a very big world that is often cold and even hostile to goodness and holiness."

The story of Noah provides a fitting response to this defeatist inner voice: Noah resolved to behave properly despite the antagonistic behavior of his contemporaries, and furthermore, his conduct brought salvation to the entire world. If Noah, who was truly on his own, was capable of this, certainly we today, who are not alone in our commitment to Torah, should be able to courageously withstand the challenges of our world.7


[9] The Torah first describes his righteousness: Why doesn't the Torah describe the righteousness of other outstandingly righteous individuals, such as the patriarchs, immediately after mentioning their names?8

In the case of the patriarchs, the Torah need not mention their righteousness immediately upon mentioning their names since it details their righteousness at length throughout the narrative of their lives. However, in the case of Noah, the Torah does not provide us with the details of his righteousness. Even the fact that he indeed carried out God's command in building the ark does not necessarily mean he was righteous, since: (a) the purpose of the ark was to save him, and (b) the Torah does not indicate that he went beyond what he was commanded to do. It must therefore immediately inform us that he was indeed righteous.9

Alternatively, the Torah mentions Noah's righteousness to teach us the idea of praising the righteous. Once we have internalized this lesson, the Torah need not repeat it each time a righteous person is mentioned.10


[10] Shem, Ham and Japheth: Noah's sons are not listed according to the order of their birth but rather in the order of the root of their souls:

Shem is rooted in the right axis of the ten sefirot, the axis of kindness; Ham in the left axis, that of strength and severity; and Japheth in the middle, the axis of harmony.11

14 I want you to build it yourself: God could have easily allowed Noah's sons to help him build the ark, or even have allowed him to hire outside workers. But this would have accelerated the ark's completion, which would have run counter to its purpose. God knew that Noah was not terribly interested in saving his contemporaries from destruction, for he did not pray for them at all.12 The only way Noah would encourage his fellows to mend their evil ways if commanded to do so—and even then, only in order to discharge his obligation to God. By stipulating that Noah build the ark alone, God forced him to engage in an activity that would perplex the world continuously for a protracted period of time, thereby forcing him to reply to their questions about it.

To be sure, a standing, completed ark would also arouse everyone's curiosity, but in a far less effective way than would the drama of a lone man laboring endlessly. Thus, had the ark been built quickly, the world would have been less likely to pay attention to it and Noah even less likely to discuss its significance with them.13

You shall caulk it inside and outside with pitch: The word for "caulk" (kofer) can also connote "atonement" (kaparah). Our sages teach us that Torah study and deeds of kindness effect atonement, cleansing a person from the spiritual contamination caused by sin. The phrase can thus be read as follows: When you are in need of atonement [as the generation of Noah was], you shall "caulk yourself" on the interior with the kofer of Torah study [an inward activity], and on the exterior with the kofer of deeds of kindness [an outward activity].14


[14] Cypress (gopher) wood: Cypress wood embodies gevurah (severity), which is why the numerical value of the word gopher (גפר, 283) equals the sum of the numerical values of the words binah (בינה, 67) and gevurah (גבורה, 216), the two principal sefirot of the left axis. The pitch used to coat this wood embodied chesed, since its purpose was to coat the ark and protect its passengers. Hence, "you shall caulk it inside and outside with pitch." Gevurah needs to be sandwiched between elements of chesed to sweeten the severities. We find similarly that Isaac, who embodied gevurah, was sandwiched between Abraham, who embodied chesed, and Jacob, who embodied tiferet, which is biased towards chesed.15

[15] The length of the ark shall be 300 cubits: The generation of the Flood damaged and corrupted the three worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah [but not the world of Atzilut]. Noah was therefore commanded to build an ark whose length was 300 cubits, corresponding to the three worlds, each world comprising ten sefirot that further subdivide into 100 sub-sefirot. By entering this ark, he would rectify those three worlds.

In our own lives we rectify the three worlds through holy thoughts, speech, and deeds:

Thought: Through our holy thoughts during prayer, Torah study, and contemplation on the meaning of the commandments, we draw Divine light into the world of Beriah (the world of thought).

Speech: Through our holy words spoken during Torah study, prayer, and reciting the blessings over the commandments, we draw Divine light into the world of Yetzirah (the world of speech).

Deed: Through our holy deeds in performing the commandments, we draw Divine light into the world of Asiyah (the world of deed).16

Its width 50 cubits: Noah embodies the "male" sefirot of chochmah and Z'eir Anpin, whereas the ark embodies the "feminine" sefirot of malchut and binah. Hence the ark's width is fifty cubits, corresponding to the "fifty gates of binah."17 It is particularly the width that alludes to binah, since binah develops and adds "width" to the concentrated essence of chochmah. Corresponding to these two elements of the ark, Noah's name appears twice in the opening verse of this parashah, alluding to the two elements within Noah, chochmah and Z'eir Anpin, which he was to bring to the ark in order to unify chochmah with binah and Z'eir Anpin with malchut.

"Entering the ark" in our lives translates as acquiring understanding (binah) of the Torah, and accepting the kingdom (malchut) of Heaven by fulfilling the commandments. The commandments are related to malchut because they must be performed in total submission and selflessness, like a servant in the presence of his king. Torah study, in contrast, is related to binah because it must be studied with understanding and self-awareness.18

[16] A lower deck, a second deck, and a third deck: In their spiritual parallel, these three decks correspond to the three general dimensions of the soul as well as to the three general dimensions of the spiritual worlds from which the dimensions of the soul derive:

Level of Ark

Dimension of Soul

Spiritual World

lower deck

nefesh, ruach, and neshamah

Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah

second deck



third deck


Adam Kadmon

As the soul descends, becomes submerged in the "floodwaters" of this world, and then enters the spiritual ark of prayer, it not only does not drown, it is uplifted, as was Noah's ark19 This elevation occurs to all aspects of the soul, paralleled in the three decks of the ark, up to and including even the highest level, yechidah.20

16 A skylight and a luminous stone: A window creates no light of its own; it simply allows existing outside light to enter. A luminous stone, on the other hand, is in itself a source of light.

Metaphorically, creating light for the ark means bringing Divine consciousness into a world that obscures Divinity. This is achieved in two stages:

Skylight: The first step is to pierce through the façade of nature, which obscures God's presence and makes it appear as if the world is independent from God. The truth is that God is very involved in the world; we can often sense the hand of God at work in the "coincidences" that occur in our lives.21 But in order to see God's presence clearly, we must first see past the veil of nature that obscures it.

We must also train our children from a young age to view miracles as the "norm" and nature as "unnatural." Young children have not yet been "indoctrinated" by the façade of nature and can still be educated in the reality of the supernatural. The latter reality should be so tangible to them that, instead of finding miracles mysterious, they find nature mysterious! How can such a thing as "nature" exist in God's world? How can the physical be of more overriding importance than the spiritual? How can empty, brute strength prevail over purity and holiness? How can it be difficult to follow the Torah's precepts? If the world is, after all, God's creation, then it is nature, and not miracles, that should surprise and puzzle us.

This is what it means to make a window: to break through the façade of nature and allow "Divine light" to enter, and to recognize that, beneath the façade of independence and self-sufficiency, nature is nothing more than God's tool.

Luminous stone: Once we make the window and allow supernatural Godly light to permeate our awareness, we attain an even higher perspective: we learn to see nature itself as an object of light and revelation. In the first stage, we look past the façade of nature and see that it is God who creates and sustains nature, but the façade itself continues to seemingly contradict the truth. In the second stage, the façade itself serves as a revelation of Divinity. For example, as we will see later,22 nature's consistent behavior is a reflection of God's immutability.

This is alluded to by the "luminous stone": A "stone," which appears to be a lifeless and dim inanimate object, becomes a "luminous" source of revelation.23

17 A flood: The word for "flood" (mabul) is related to the word for "confusion" (balal).24 Metaphorically, the waters of the flood drown us, along with our minds, by confusing us as to what is primary and what is secondary in life. The truth is that the purpose of the soul's descent into this world is to fulfill its Divine mission. Furthermore, the soul's relationship to material matters, such as eating, is also a part of that mission since, as Maimonides writes, keeping the body healthy is a religious obligation. But when the soul is confused, the awareness of its true mission becomes submerged and forgotten. We then go about our material lives "soulless," lacking Divine meaning and purpose.25

18 You and your family shall enter the ark: The Zohar26 cites two opinions regarding Noah's failure to pray for his generation: Rabbi Yehudah says that, unlike Moses, who prayed for the worshippers of the Golden Calf, Noah had no righteous forebears in whose merit his prayers would be accepted. He therefore cannot be faulted for not having prayed for his generation. Rabbi Yitzchak, however, criticizes Noah and maintains that Noah should nevertheless have prayed for them.

It seems strange that Rabbi Yitzchak would criticize Noah's behavior when he could have justified it, as Rabbi Yehudah did. After all, we are enjoined to always judge others favorably.27 Furthermore, if the Torah (in its instruction to Noah!) takes pains to not even speak disparagingly of a non-kosher animal, how much more so in regard to a human being. Similarly troubling is the opinion of Rabbi Yochanan in the Talmud, who interprets the phrase "faultless in his generation" to mean that he was only righteous relative to his contemporaries but would have been considered as naught in the days of Abraham. Given the option of interpreting the phrase positively, i.e., that he was righteous despite the corruption of his generation, why does he indeed interpret it negatively?

The answer is that, although Noah cannot actually be faulted for being less righteous than Abraham, since the corruption of his time impeded his spiritual growth, nonetheless his actions might serve as an inappropriate example for future generations. Rabbi Yitzchak therefore "criticizes" Noah, not because he was at fault, but to discourage us from emulating Noah's behavior. In this light, we can assume that Noah himself would welcome this critique, since it transforms his otherwise blameworthy behavior into a positive didactic tool.28

Before the Flood, the concept of repentance was extremely foreign. Although Adam and Cain managed to repent, we can attribute this to their having been born in the Garden of Eden. Moreover, while there were some individuals who were righteous, the majority was wicked and did not repent. Thus, although Noah rebuked his contemporaries who mocked him,29 he did not succeed in inspiring them to repent. Methuselah and Enoch also tried to inspire the masses to repent30 but apparently were unsuccessful, since only Noah and his family were saved from the Flood.

This resistance to repentance and character refinement was due to the coarseness of the physical world at that time. After the Flood, Noah "saw a new world,"31 meaning a world that had been purified and refined to the point where repentance was no longer only a remote possibility.

This explains why Noah did not pray for his contemporaries nor seek to judge them favorably: in order to judge another person favorably, one has to have gone through a similar experience of failure and repentance. Thus, the Ba'al Shem Tov once caused one of his students to arrive at his court just prior to the onset of the Sabbath, almost making him desecrate it. This allowed him to taste the difficulty of keeping the Sabbath and thereby enabled him to judge favorably those whose observance of the Sabbath was lacking in some way.32 Indeed a true judge—and this is how the Messiah will judge—takes into consideration the background and causes of a crime, not just the crime itself.

Noah, however, had never experienced the terrible temptations his contemporaries had, and therefore could not fathom a person not obeying the word of God. He had never fallen and repented, since repentance did not yet exist. He therefore did not judge them favorably or pray for them.33

Today, however, we have no excuse to behave as Noah did, to "don a fur coat," so to speak, to protect ourselves from the cold winds of the world. We must light a fire that not only provides warmth for ourselves, but also for everyone else around us and, indeed, for the entire world.34

19 Of all living beings and of all flesh: Metaphorically, this teaches us that it is our duty to bring anyone and everyone in danger of spiritually "drowning" into the shelter of our personal, spiritual "ark." The doctrine of Divine Providence implies that when God arranges for us to find out that someone needs help, it is because we are meant to draw him into our lives and bring him closer to Godliness.35


[18] It is not proper to engage in marital relations while the earth is being destroyed: This applies any time that a calamity, such as a famine,36 befalls a community. However, a childless couple is permitted to try to procreate even during times of calamity. Why, then, were Noah's children, who were childless at the time, prohibited from procreating? The answer is that, since the world and all the planets were in a "frozen" state, God knew that they would not become pregnant. We are told, in fact, that although the dog, the raven, and Ham transgressed this prohibition and did cohabit with their mates,37 there is no record of any offspring having been born in the ark.38

[20] Will come to you on their own…the ark will allow only the animals who did not crossbreed to enter: There were additional miracles that enabled Noah to save the animals. For example, it is totally unnatural for predatory animals to remain constrained in a compartment for a complete year. A regular zoo needs to employ a sizeable staff, both to control the animals and to ensure their safety. The ark, however, was only "staffed" by Noah and his children, who were constantly occupied with feeding the animals, which was such an enormous and painful burden by itself that they never slept soundly throughout their stay on the ark.39

Nonetheless, peace reigned in Noah's ark, a taste of the messianic times in which the wolf will lie peacefully with the lamb.40 We must assume, then, that the nature of the predatory animals miraculously was transformed during their stay in the ark.41

Chapter 7

1 Come into the ark: Metaphorically, "entering the ark" refers to entering the words of Torah study and prayer, which serve to protect us from the "flood" of worries that threaten to inundate us. When enveloped by these letters and words, we are impervious to harm, just as Noah and his family remained completely safe despite the flood that raged outside the ark.

This is why, immediately upon awakening and prior to entering the "raging waters" of the world, the liturgy of the Prayer Book has us thank God for returning our souls to us. We thereby recall that the vitality we feel within us stems only from God. Through the other blessings we recite in the morning, we recognize that everything we have—clothing, food, etc.—is constantly being created by God and could otherwise not exist. (Hence the tale of the man who would pray for his food even as it lay before him on his plate—he was praying that God continue to enliven it so that it would still be there when he would bring the fork to his mouth.42)

Once we have come to the recognition that: (a) the physical world cannot exist on its own, (b) it requires God to recreate it constantly, and (c) the entire purpose of its existence is to be a home for God, we can enter the world and involve ourselves in its activities without fear of the "raging waters."

Before morning prayers, the world seems to us to exist self-sufficiently, independent of God. Through praying, we come to realize that, in reality, there is no independent existence outside of God. With this realization we are ready to enter the world, since we will then consciously avoid engaging in any activity that does not further the goal of making the world into a home for God, and instead see every moment of our lives as an opportunity to fulfill this mission.43

You and your entire household: Although we have said that "entering the ark" metaphorically signifies immersing ourselves in the words of Torah study and prayer, this does not imply that we should be oblivious to the needs of others. We must not be content with our own self-preservation alone. We are obligated to bring our families, our children, and ultimately the entire world into a wholesome, safe haven of Torah study and prayer. The plight of our fellow should give us no rest, for we are all like one organism—if one of us is spiritually ill, we are all affected.44

2 Animals that are not ritually pure: Instead of referring to the non-kosher animals bluntly as "ritually impure," God refers to them indirectly, as "those that are not ritually pure," thereby adding eight seemingly superfluous letters to the Torah. This teaches us that we, too, should go out of our way to use only clean speech and euphemistic expressions.45 True, the expression "ritually impure" (tamei) appears numerous times in the Torah, but in these instances, the Torah is stating a law, and a law must be stated clearly and unequivocally. Besides, the direct term is not considered negative in such contexts, since the issue is the law and not the impurity. However, in a narrative—even when the narrative serves as the basis for a legal ruling—the euphemism is preferred.

The Kabbalistic explanation of this is as follows: When God first had the thought to create the world, it immediately came into existence, but only spiritually. Afterwards, when God spoke the words of creation ("Let there be light," etc.), the world came into physical existence. The state of the world as it exists spiritually in the realm of thought is called "rest" (menuchah). Noah's ark also expressed the concept of rest, as alluded to in his name, Noah (Noach, related to menuchah, "rest"). Thus all the inhabitants of the ark existed on the plane of "thought," which is why they lived peacefully together.46

This is the reason that the ark's non-kosher animals are not referred to as "impure." When in the ark, each animal reverted to its spiritual root, where impurity cannot exist. For example, the terrestrial lion is a non-kosher animal, while its spiritual antecedent is one of the holy beasts of the Divine Chariot!47

This, then, is the deeper meaning of the instruction that one should seek to use a clean expression: one should try to see everything as it exists in its pristine state within its spiritual roots.48

9 On their own: Obviously, the fact that the animals came to the ark on their own was miraculous. It was likewise miraculous that no one was able to prevent Noah from entering the ark and that, as has been mentioned, the animals he sheltered dwelled together peacefully. Noah was only required to fulfill God's instructions to the letter; the rest was taken care of by God Himself.

Similarly, if we commit ourselves absolutely and passionately to our Divine mission, and act on that commitment, we will be blessed with miraculous success.

Once, when the Ba'al Shem Tov was raising money for charity, he knocked on the window of a home but then immediately went on his way without waiting for a response. Eventually, the resident of the home came to the Ba'al Shem Tov and gave him a donation. Later, the Ba'al Shem Tov was asked: "If you needed that person's help, why didn't you wait for him to come to the window? And if you didn't need his help, why did you knock on his window?" The Ba'al Shem Tov explained: "God wants us to make a natural 'vessel' for His blessings. I accomplished this by knocking on the window. However, I had many important things to take care of, and I didn't have time to wait for him to come to the door, ask me what I need, etc. I already had made my vessel, so I was ready to move on to my next task."49

11 In the six hundredth year: The Zohar interprets this verse as a prophecy: "In the six hundredth year of the sixth [millennium, i.e., around the year 1840], the gates of supernal wisdom and the wellsprings of earthly wisdom will open up. This will prepare the world to be elevated in the seventh [millennium, i.e., the messianic era]."

"Supernal wisdom" refers to the wisdom of the Torah, while "earthly wisdom" refers to secular knowledge. Indeed, the era referred to in the Zohar's prophecy saw an explosion of knowledge, both in the realm of rational articulation of the inner secrets of Torah as well as in the realm of revolutionary scientific discoveries. On the one hand, we can readily understand how the revelation of the inner dimension of the Torah prepares the world for the messianic era; we are taught that these revelations are a foretaste of the Divine knowledge with which the world will be filled at that time. On the other hand, in what way do the revolutionary revelations in the realm of secular knowledge serve to prepare the world for the messianic era?

The answer is threefold:

(a) Firstly, the newly-revealed technologies provide us with a foretaste of the spiritual climate of the messianic era. At that time, our perception of Divinity will not be limited to intellectual appreciation alone. On the contrary, the physical eye will be able to see the Divine energy that sustains the world.50 Modern technology affords us a glimpse into such empirical perception of Divinity. For example, the knowledge that a telephone or radio can enable us to hear a voice from the other side of the world gives us an empirical example of the concept that God sees and hears all that occurs in the universe.

Without this and similar examples, our appreciation of God's omniscience would be limited to an abstract, intellectual understanding, which does not always affect us fully. Now, however, with the aid of such examples, we can meditate upon the concept of God's omniscience based on our own empirical experience. Such meditation has a much more powerful impact, both on our emotions and on the three "garments" of thought, speech, and deed.

(b) Furthermore, new technologies can not only serve as an example of Divine concepts (as above); they themselves can be used to convey the new revelations of Torah's inner dimension in a way that helps prepare the world for the messianic era. In fact, this is their true and primary purpose.51 When the secrets of Torah are broadcast over the radio waves, for example, they can be physically heard wherever they are broadcast throughout the entire world. This is a foretaste of the messianic era, when Divine wisdom will spread without any restriction or limitation throughout the entire world and will be perceptible by our physical flesh (just as the teaching of Torah's inner dimension on the radio can be heard physically and instantaneously).

(c) Furthermore, scientific advances do not serve merely as a tool to broadcast the secrets of Torah, a means to an end; rather, they themselves reflect the concepts expounded in Torah's inner dimension.

This concept of God's oneness, for example is evidenced in science itself: scientists used to believe that every organism comprises many, distinct elements. But as science develops further, the more it recognizes that the diversity within the universe is only superficial and that the universe is essentially the unification of form and matter.

This explains the intrinsic connection between the development of the sciences and the revelation of Torah's inner dimension as a preparation for the messianic era: The revelation of Torah's inner dimension automatically leads to the development of the secular sciences. It is indeed through the latter that the foretaste of the Divine knowledge that will fill the world in the messianic era is experienced in an empirical way. When we see the world's oneness through the eyes of science, we realize that this oneness is identical to the oneness of Divinity (which is revealed through Torah's inner dimension). This, in turn, "prepares the world to be elevated in the seventh" millennium.

(The value of secular knowledge does not justify exposing ourselves to the spiritual dangers present in the vast majority of academic institutions devoted to study of secular knowledge. The atmosphere in these institutions is so saturated with atheism that it is considered an obvious truth requiring no proof. Most of these institutions also discourage modesty and chastity, tacitly if not officially, and people who do adhere to a moral code are mocked. The licentious climate on the campuses and in the dormitories is well known. All this makes college a challenging place to be a religious person. Some claim that they will not be affected by the atmosphere, but even the most righteous of people is not allowed to intentionally subject himself to temptation.)52

In the second month, Marcheshvan: The metaphoric Flood also begins in Marcheshvan. During the month of Tishrei, we spend most of our time in the "ark" of the High Holy Days, Sukot, and Simchat Torah. Only in the following month, Marcheshvan, do we return to our ordinary lives. Although this progression appears to be a spiritual descent, there is, in fact, an advantage to the mundane lives we resume in Marcheshvan, since we fulfill the goal of creating a Divine home in this world specifically by infusing mundane existence with Divine consciousness.53

The wellsprings of the great abyss…the floodgates of the heavens. As mentioned above, the raging waters of the Flood symbolize the worries that flood a person's mind. These worries can take two forms:

The great abyss: These are worries over lowly, material matters, such as finances;

The floodgates of the heavens: These are worries over more spiritual and lofty matters, such as community service, which impede a person from studying the Torah and fulfilling the commandments. While it is, of course, important to be involved in community service, it must not come at the expense of Torah study and observing the commandments, for it is precisely through observing the commandments that a person connects to God and thereby earns His assistance. Therefore, the argument that we are too busy to perform God's commandments because we are inundated by the "floodgates of the heavens," i.e., lofty spiritual matters, would never be put forth by our Divine soul, for the Divine soul would never put forth an argument that contradicts the Torah, which requires us to fulfill the commandments regardless of our inundation with communal matters. When such an argument occurs to us, we should be aware that it is being voiced by our ego, which thinks it has found the perfect excuse to avoid performing our religious obligations. Rather, it is only by maintaining a proper balance between our communal activism and personal religious observance that can we hope to succeed in both.54

12 A final chance to repent: Although God had forewarned about the impending Flood one hundred and twenty years earlier, the people did not repent during that entire span of time. Even after watching Noah enter the ark and witnessing the attendant miracles, they still didn't repent. And yet, if they had repented at this point—even after the rain started—not only would they have been spared the Flood, they would have been showered with rains of blessing. This demonstrates the incredible power of repentance.

If repentance wielded such power in the generation of the Flood, even before the Torah (and the commandment to repent) had been given and the world was still spiritually estranged from God, how much more so is it true that nowadays, repentance has the power to transform all misfortune into good, even in a split second.55

12 Rain fell upon the earth: Until the third day of creation, the world did not appear to be independent from God; it was evident that its entire existence consisted of nothing more than the Divine energy that created and sustained it. This had its parallel in the physical realm: until the third day of creation, the entire earth was covered by water. The earth's submersion under water was a reflection of its self-nullification; its identity as a creation that appeared independent from God was concealed and nullified. This metaphor of submersion in water is also used to describe the Divine awareness that will prevail in the messianic era.56

On the third day of creation, however, God caused the dry land to emerge, which meant in spiritual terms that Divinity was obscured; the world began to appear independent from God. This condition continued until the Flood, when God caused the world to revert back to its original state of submersion under water.57 During the Flood, the world's spiritual state resembled its lofty state at the beginning of creation, when it was covered by water.

How can we possibly reconcile this lofty interpretation of the Flood with its plain significance, i.e., a means to destroy all flesh?

The answer is that the Torah exists on two levels: (a) in its original, spiritual pre-creation state, as in the Talmudic statement, "The Torah preceded the world by two thousand years";58 and (b) in its descent into this material world, where it takes on terrestrial meaning. In its primordial state, every word of the Torah has a spiritual meaning, according to which it is studied in the spiritual worlds. This refers both to the laws of the Torah as well as to its narratives: although every detail of all of the narratives in the Torah actually took place in this physical world, nevertheless, since the Torah preceded the existence of the world, it follows that the Torah's narratives also possess a spiritual meaning that is coherent in the spiritual worlds in which physicality does not exist.

In other words, it's not that the Torah can also be explained spiritually. On the contrary: the Torah speaks primarily about the supernal and alludes only secondarily to the terrestrial.59 The Torah exists originally in a heavenly, spiritual state and from there descends into this world and "dons" terrestrial garb.

In addition, nothing in the primordial Torah is evil, since there is no evil in the supernal worlds. Everything that appears negative in the Torah's terrestrial meaning is, in fact, good and holy in its primordial origin. In a similar vein regarding the Flood: the statement that the Flood came to punish the people and even to purify the world only holds true in the Torah's terrestrial context. In its supernal context, where evil and impurity do not exist, it cannot be claimed that the purpose of the Flood was to destroy evildoers or to cleanse the world from its impurity; it can only be the expression of an increase in holiness. Indeed, in Jewish law, immersion in a mikveh not only purifies the impure, but also elevates someone who is already pure to a higher level of purity. For example, on Yom Kippur, the High Priest would immerse himself five times, even though he was already technically pure after the first immersion. The subsequent immersions were intended to elevate him to progressively higher levels within the realm of holiness.

Moreover, the supernal version of events affects the terrestrial version as well. Thus, the physical waters of the Flood, which wiped out all flesh and cleansed the world of impurity, also increased the world's holiness, similar to how the waters function in the primordial Torah.

By way of metaphor: The love of parents for their children as it exists in its truest and strongest form within their hearts is pure goodness. But when children misbehave, the parents express their love by punishing them, for their own benefit, to train them to refrain from self-destructive behavior.60 Similarly, the waters of the Flood as they exist in the supernal Torah, in the "heart of the Parent," are love and goodness. As the floodwaters descend into this world, they become waters of punishment and purification. But even then, they never lose their essential nature, which is love and goodness.61

Forty days and forty nights: As mentioned, the Flood served not only as a punishment but also as a spiritual cleansing for a world that had become spiritually contaminated. This is why the waters of the Flood are called "the waters of Noah,"62 meaning "the waters of [Divine] pleasure and satisfaction [nachat]."

Inasmuch as spiritual defilement is associated with the concept of death, spiritual purification is a form of rebirth. This is why the flooding lasted for forty days and nights, since the number forty is related to purification and rebirth: it takes forty days from the time of conception for a fetus to become completely formed. Similarly, the minimum amount of water that must be present in a mikveh (a ritual pool used for spiritual cleansing), through which a person becomes spiritually "reborn," is 40 se'ah.63 (Indeed, precisely due to the fact that immersion in a mikveh is an experience of rebirth, many Jews have the custom to immerse themselves in a mikveh before the Sabbath,64 since on the Sabbath we become "new" people. Similarly, immersion in a mikveh is an integral part of the process of conversion, in which the convert becomes a "new" person.65)66

Metaphorically, the floodwaters correspond to our financial worries, which likewise serve to purify us spiritually, as will be explained presently. In fact, the parallel between financial worries and the mikveh goes much deeper:

The waters of the mikveh represent Divine awareness. When immersing ourselves in these waters, we are meant to envision ourselves submerging in Divine awareness, such that our normative awareness becomes swallowed up and submerged in Divine consciousness.67 (This relationship between immersion and self-nullification is alluded to by the fact that the letters used to spell the word for "to immerse" [טבל] can be rearranged to spell the word for "to nullify" [בטל].)

This is why a mikveh is required to contain a minimum of 40 se'ah: this is the amount necessary to ensure that the entire body is immersed in it at once.68 In other words, immersing oneself in a mikveh means to transcend oneself and thereby rise to a level in which one is able to become receptive to holiness.

This is also the reason why God gives us financial worries. True, they temporarily distract and confuse us, but they simultaneously also break down our walls of self-assuredness, thereby enabling us to go beyond our ego. It is then that we become receptive to holiness.

Since the true purpose of financial woes is not, God forbid, to punish us but rather to deflate our inflated ego, this can be accomplished in one short moment: if we quickly extract the inner message hidden in the financial worries, thereby enabling us to transcend our egos, we no longer need the financial worries to rectify ourselves, and can henceforth enjoy nachat (pleasure and calm), both physically and spiritually.69

13 God protected Noah by summoning lions: Despite all his efforts and arduous work, ultimately Noah needed Divine intervention in order enter the ark. Similarly, if we enter the ark of Torah and prayer with only our own strength, we are not assured spiritual protection. Sometimes we can study the Torah diligently yet forget about its Author,70 thus forfeiting its protective properties. Similarly, if we are immersed in our prayers without actually internalizing their message, we will fail to imbue our mundane activities with their spirit.

In order for our study and prayer to be as they should, we need Divine assistance—we need God to "seal" the door of the ark behind us. And how are we deemed worthy of receiving just such assistance? By devoting ourselves to helping others. Working to save others from the "raging waters" with earnest dedication and warm devotion is the surest way to ensure that we ourselves remain unharmed.71

Noah…entered the ark: One of the lessons we can derive from this part of the narrative is that we should never despair in the face of what is occurring in the world around us. Even when threatened with a devastating Flood, we should retain our optimism, for God watches over us and shelters us, and for Him, anything is possible. Furthermore, we should realize that by entering our spiritual "ark," our prayers and study of the Torah can save the entire world and even raise it to a higher level of being, just as Noah "beheld a new world"72 when he emerged from the ark.


[16] The animals that came to the ark behaved peacefully: There are a number of parallels between Noah's ark and the sukah that we are commanded to build and live in during the holiday of Sukot:

(a) In the ark, all the animals coexisted in peace and unity. Similarly, the sukah is an expression of Jewish unity, inasmuch as we are permitted to use another Jew's sukah to fulfill our own obligation to live in a sukah during the holiday. (In contrast, it is not permissible to fulfill our obligation to hold a set of the four plants of Sukot with a borrowed set.)73 In the liturgy,74 the sages even use the sukah as a metaphor for peace: "Spread over us the sukah of Your peace."

(b) The actual construction of the ark was an integral part of God's command to Noah to go into the ark. Similarly, the actual construction of a sukah is an integral part of fulfilling the commandment to live in a sukah. (Therefore, according to some opinions, a blessing must be recited upon building a sukah.75)

(c) The materials used to construct the ark had to be Noah's property.76 Similarly, a sukah must be made out of the owner's own materials (or materials he has been given permission to use) and is not valid if made out of stolen materials.77

(d) The purpose of the ark was to provide protection and shelter; similarly, the sukah serves as a reminder of how the Clouds of Glory sheltered and protected us in the desert.78

Yet we also find distinctions between the ark and the sukah:

(a) Whereas Noah had to build the ark himself, we are permitted to delegate the building of a sukah to another Jew.

(b) Whereas the ark had to be Noah's own property, we may use someone else's sukah if the owner grants permission us to do so.

The reason for these differences is that, as mentioned above,79 Noah was not overly concerned with the fate of his fellow human beings. His ark was therefore a private affair and he was not allowed to involve anyone else in it. The Torah, however, transformed all Jews into one entity, and therefore a borrowed sukah or one built for us by another can be considered our own.80


[20] The waters surged fifteen cubits above: As we have seen, entering the ark is a metaphor for immersing oneself in the words of prayer; hence the connection between the ark and the number fifteen, since many aspects of our prayers relate to the number fifteen. A few examples:

  • There are fifteen expressions of praise in the prayer Yishtabach (song, praise, etc.).

  • Most of the prayers in the section of the liturgy called "Verses of Praise" [Pesukei d'Zimrah] begin and end with the word Hallelujah, the last letters of which (yud and hei) equal fifteen.

  • In the prayer Emet v'Yatziv, there are fifteen successive words that begin with the letter vav.

  • King David recited fifteen songs of ascent (Psalms 120-134) in order to protect the world from the waters of the deep.81

Additionally, fifteen is the numerical value of the first half of the Name Havayah, the letters yud and hei. The Torah's passive commandments (the prohibitions) are associated with these two letters. In contrast, the active commandments are associated with the second half of the Name Havayah, the letters vav and hei. Since the people had sinned by transgressing the prohibitions of the Torah—licentiousness, theft, etc.—which are associated with the first half of the Name Havayah, the waters surged to a height of fifteen cubits.82

24 Noah often groaned or even spit blood from sheer exhaustion. Once, he was late in delivering the lion's meal, and it struck him: Metaphorically, Noah's feeding the animals can be likened to our providing spiritual nourishment to others. When, at times, we encounter major difficulties in this work, we must persevere under all circumstances, as Noah did, especially since the hardships and discomforts that we encounter are rarely so severe as to cause us to "groan and spit blood."

Nevertheless, even as we learn to overlook our own personal discomforts, we must learn to be acutely sensitive to our fellows' discomfort (and not analyze whether what others require is a necessity or a luxury83), and provide for their needs on time, for two reasons: Firstly, we have no way of estimating other people's worth or true stature; each one might possess a lofty soul, a "lion," a "king."84 And secondly, while it is proper to assume that we ourselves deserve all the hardships that may befall us in life, we must assume that others deserve only the best.85

Chapter 8


[4] On the seventeenth of…the seventh month the ark came to rest: According to the Zohar, the seventh month refers to the month of Tishrei, which is the seventh month from Nisan. During this seventh month, on Rosh HaShanah, God sits, so to speak, upon "the Throne of Judgment." This is alluded to in the phrase:

The ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat: The "Mountains of Ararat" allude to the prosecuting angels who demand that justice be done and punishment meted out. But through our prayers and shofar-blowing on Rosh HaShanah, we transform judgment into mercy.86

The parallel between the ark and Rosh HaShanah can also be seen in the following: Rosh HaShanah is the day on which our Matriarchs, Sarah and Rachel, as well as Chanah (the mother of the prophet Samuel), who were all barren, were remembered on High and subsequently conceived.87 Each of these three-letter names contains one unique letter that appears only in that particular name, whereas the remaining two letters also appear in the other names, as well.

Sarah: the unique letter in the name Sarah is sin, whose numerical value is 300, corresponding to the 300-cubit length of the ark;

Rachel: the unique letter in the name Rachel is lamed, whose numerical value is 30, corresponding to the 30-cubit height of the ark;

Chanah: the unique letter in the name Chanah is nun, whose numerical value is 50, corresponding to the 50-cubit width of the ark.88

6-7 To see if the water had abated: It would seem that since Noah had entered the ark by God's explicit instruction, he would also have to await a similar instruction to exit it. Indeed, it was not until after God instructed him to leave the ark that he did so.89 Why, then, did he bother investigating the water level to see if the time was ripe to leave the ark?

The answer is as follows: Since God had entrusted him with the formidable task of caring for the survival of the world—by building the ark, taking in the animals, and feeding them so that they could survive and then repopulate the world after the Flood—he felt that he had to take the natural steps that would facilitate the earth's rehabilitation, i.e., to create a natural "vessel" for God's blessing. So, as soon as he thought that the waters had sufficiently subsided to allow him to emerge from the ark, set foot on dry land, and begin the process of repopulating the world, he didn't hesitate nor tarry; he immediately took the steps which would help him to determine the earth's condition, i.e., sending out the raven and, a few days later, sending out the dove.

Furthermore, Noah's efforts—which revealed his great yearning to leave the ark and fulfill the task that God had given him—in fact expedited God's command to leave the ark.

This lesson is particularly relevant and timely, as we approach the messianic era and the end of the exile. The exile can be compared to the Flood: just as the Flood created disorder and displacement,90 so, too, the exile sows spiritual disorder and confusion.

The "true colors" of the world, i.e., the underlying Divine energy that sustains everything, is not openly visible in the physicality of this world. We cannot see that God's presence fills the earth91 or that the world's true and ultimate purpose is to be a home for God. All of these truths are obscured.92 But the ultimate end of this "flood" of confusion is the removal of all impurity from the world,93 making it a pure and perfected world that will never again experience the "flood" that is exile.94

Yet even before that time comes, as we begin to sense that the floodwaters have subsided and that the time has arrived to emerge from the ark and behold a new world, we must do all we can to hasten the redemption.

Although, in the final analysis, it is God Himself who will bring the exile to an end, we should not await it passively. When God sees that we are actively yearning for the redemption and doing all in our power to hasten its immediate arrival, with our impassioned outcries of "We want Mashiach now!" and "How much longer?" He will surely hasten the command of "Leave the ark," instructing us to leave the exile and enter a new world.95

14 Exactly one solar year: Rashi refers to it not as a "solar" year but as a "complete" year. This idiom emphasizes that, spiritually, the year in which the Flood took place was not just a solar year, but rather the synthesis of a lunar year, which is 354 days, and a solar year—a complete year.

The explanation for this is rooted in the differences between studying the Torah and performing the commandments, on the one hand, and engaging in mundane activities, on the other. The Torah and the commandments are like the sun since, like the sun, they are self-illuminating. Mundane activities, in contrast, are, like the moon: lightless by nature until we illuminate them with properly-focused intentions.

Now, one would assume that since the Flood is a metaphor for engagement with the mundane, it should have lasted one lunar year. Why, then, did it last an extra eleven days to constitute a complete year?

The answer is that the synthesis of the two modes of action creates an additional element of completeness. For example, if we discuss the Torah while eating with others, we are considered to have "eaten at God's table."96

This is what is meant by a complete year, the synthesis of sun and moon. When we go into "lunar mode," the descent into the "floodwaters" of our mundane, worldly activities, we must also illuminate them with the "sun," the self-illuminating acts of studying the Torah and observing the commandments.97

16 Leave the ark: As we have seen, "entering the ark" is a metaphor for enveloping oneself in the words of Torah study and prayer. It may be tempting to remain in this protective spiritual atmosphere, and its serene perfection might delude us into thinking that there really is no need to perfect the world around us. We are nevertheless instructed to leave it, for the true purpose of entering the ark is to ultimately emerge from it, enter the world, and transform it into God's home. (This is reflected in the law that one only becomes purified through immersion in a mikveh after having emerged from its waters.98)

We should not view the departure from our personal ark as self-sacrifice for the sake of others, since leaving the ark benefits and completes us, as well. As lofty as the levels we can attain in our own arks may be, they are nonetheless finite. Such levels are incomparable to the levels we can reach through our work in the "real world," in which God provides us with the opportunity to share in the experience of infinity by creating a home for His infinite essence.99

The time that we spend inside our own personal ark, immersed in words of study and prayer, should influence our behavior outside it. But this will occur only if, during prayer and study, we remain completely oblivious to the existence of the world and only aware of Godliness. (Similarly, during the original ark's journey, the world was relatively "non-existent" since it was submerged underwater; even the planets had ceased revolving in their orbits.100) Then, when we emerge from our ark and enter the world, we will behold, like Noah did, "a new world," and be ready to fulfill our mission in it.101

You may now resume marital relations: This command—the first given to Noah in connection with leaving the ark—was meant not just to release Noah and the animals from the prohibition of cohabitation that had been in effect while in the ark, but also to convey the purpose of their leaving the ark. After the Flood obliterated all that was on the earth, it was Noah's job to rebuild it through being fruitful and multiplying and ensuring that the animals did the same.

Procreation reveals God's infinite power here in this world, since it can potentially perpetuate a species from one generation to the next ad infinitum. Even though the ark was a lofty spiritual environment—or rather, precisely because it was so lofty and spiritual—it was not the place where God's infinite essence could dwell. It is only in the mundane world that we share in the experience of infinity by creating a home for God's infinite essence. This is why procreation, a reflection of God's infinite power, could not occur in the ark, but only outside it.102

21 God smelled the appeasing fragrance: The Midrash tells us that God smelled the fragrance of those who, in the future, would dedicate themselves to their Divine mission even to the point of self-sacrifice.103 It then cites three examples: (a) Abraham, who, while in the court of Nimrod, chose to be forced into a fiery furnace rather than accept idolatry (and was subsequently miraculously saved);104 (b) Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who, while in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, acted in the same manner as Abraham;105 and (c) those of our pre-messianic generation who, despite living under conditions of intolerable persecution, would nonetheless remain passionately committed to their Divine mission.

Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah exhibited greater self-sacrifice than Abraham, since God's presence was more hidden in their time than it was in Abraham's. Idolaters had invaded and desecrated God's Temple and the Jewish people were in exile.106 Yet despite this challenge to their faith, they remained committed to God.

But our generation has shown even greater self-sacrifice, since it follows a lengthy exile, rife with horrific persecutions. This generation can surely ask: "How is it possible that all we've already suffered through is not enough? Why are we still languishing in an exile that is so permeated with intense spiritual darkness? We have witnessed so many horrific occurrences that cannot possibly be explained in any way. We see that even those who fulfilled God's commandments—which should certainly have afforded them His protection107—have unfortunately met with unspeakable fates." And yet, despite God's nearly-total concealment, many of this generation have remained unfalteringly committed to their Divine mission. Indeed, when Moses foresaw this generation, he was humbled.108

And it was indeed the sweet fragrance of these very individuals from our generation that "inspired" God to promise that day and night would never again cease:

It is not within the capacity of nature to be eternal and unchanging. Therefore, God's promise that the laws of nature would not cease means that it would be imbued with the Godly attribute of infinity and immutability, as expressed in the verse: "I am God; I have not changed."109

(Once nature became constant, it became a reflection of God's eternal and immutable essence. In this aspect, interestingly, nature serves as a more precise reflection of God's greatness than do miracles.)

When God saw those who would continue to engage in their spiritual work with self-sacrifice and unabated enthusiasm despite His concealment, and that their commitment would be stable and unchanging, He correspondingly endowed nature with the same stability.110

(Parenthetically, Noah's offerings resembled self-sacrifice. When we offer a sacrifice, we are intended to imagine that all the procedures being performed on the animal are actually being performed on us, causing our ego and body to be elevated to God. This also creates a "fragrance" that reaches God, although not to His actual essence, from which the stability of nature descends.111)

The inclination of a person's heart is evil from his youth: This statement, employed in this verse as an argument why human beings should not be destroyed, appears earlier112 as an argument for precisely the opposite, i.e., why they should be destroyed!

The explanation of this seeming contradiction is as follows: Noah's sacrificial offerings caused the selfsame argument that called for God's use of His attribute of strict judgment to now dictate employing His aspect of kindness and mercy. In this lies the incredible spiritual power of the sacrifices.

It is the same in our own personal lives: when we "sacrifice" ourselves by supra-rationally forgoing our own desires in favor of doing God's will, we merit to receive the same kind of treatment from on High: evidence that would normally be used against us will be used in our favor.113

22 Seedtime and harvest…day and night will not cease: The purpose of creation is to achieve a synthesis of the spiritual and the physical, which Abraham began and was consummated with the Giving of the Torah. But in order to create this synthesis, both the spiritual and the physical had to be present in the world.

As mentioned, before the Flood, the justification for the world's existence had to come from a level of God's consciousness that transcends the world, since on its own merit, the world did not deserve to exist. After the Flood, justification for the world's existence could come from the now-purified world itself. These two eras served as a prelude to reality after the Giving of the Torah, in which humanity's task is to unite these two realms: the physical world with the Godliness that transcends the world. In order for this synthesis to take place, both modes of existence had to have had their time in the world.

Furthermore, in order for us to effect the synthesis of creation and transcendence, God created the world with an inherent element of transcendence, namely the Sabbath. (The creation of the world is therefore considered to have been complete not after the six days of creation, but after the Sabbath,114 when the concept of transcendence over creation was introduced.115)

Although the world remains in motion on the Sabbath, operating within time and space, we, through keeping the laws of the Sabbath, experience transcendence over creation. (One who keeps the Sabbath thus experiences emotional changes—for example, the Talmud takes it for granted that a usually-dishonest person will not lie on the Sabbath.116 We even experience physiological changes, such as in our complexion117 and pulse rate,118 as well as even changes in our perception of the taste of food.119)

We thus effect the synthesis of creation and transcendence by experiencing transcendence within creation. This is why a non-Jew is allowed to perform commandments besides those included in Noahide law, but after the Flood is prohibited from keeping the Sabbath in all its detail.120 The Divine mission of the non-Jew is to keep the world in existence, to perpetuate God's promise that the world will exist unchangingly as a reflection of God's immutability. In contrast, it is the Jew's task to introduce the transcendence of Sabbath into a world in motion, synthesizing the two.121


[22] Seedtime and harvest…day and night will not cease: As mentioned above,122 God's promise after the Flood to never again destroy humanity gave the world a strength and stability it did not previously possess. Still, even after this promise, miraculous phenomena continued to occur, as exceptions to the rule.

The dichotomy between the stability of nature and individual miraculous events is reflected in the dichotomy between the six days of the workweek and the Sabbath.123 Similarly, the sun, whose light is constant, alludes to the stability of nature; the moon, whose light disappears and then is renewed each month, alludes to that which contravenes nature's constancy, namely, miracles. Therefore, since our holidays commemorate miraculous events and revelations of Godliness that transcended nature, they fall on a particular day of the month, whose beginning and end is determined by the orbit of the moon, and not on a particular day of the week, whose beginning and end is determined by seven consecutive orbits of the sun.124

Chapter 9

1 Be fruitful and multiply: The very first commandment with which humanity was entrusted after having experienced mass destruction was to "be fruitful and multiply," to populate the world anew. The same holds true in our post-Holocaust generation: after witnessing the obliteration of a massive segment of our people, the first-and-foremost obligation incumbent upon the survivors and their descendants, and their holy privilege as well, is to rebuild the Jewish people physically.125

We should not be satisfied with the minimum number required by Torah law, namely one son and one daughter: Maimonides rules that, as long as one is still physically able to bear more children, one should continue to do so.126 This ruling is alluded to in the difference between God's command to Adam and His command to Noah: Whereas Adam was commanded to procreate even before he had any children, Noah is here commanded to procreate after he already had fathered three children.

The same holds true for spiritual procreation, i.e., educating our pupils: We should not be satisfied with having taught pupils in our younger years; we must continue to educate new pupils as we grow older.127

8 Noah was still hesitant to procreate: Noah's initial doubts were not completely allayed by God's assurance. Even if his yet-to-be-born, hypothetically sinful descendants would not be physically destroyed, they would still be spiritually lost. (And surely Noah's primary concern was for his children's spiritual state.) Why, then, did God's assurance succeed in changing Noah's mind?

Like Noah, some people harbor doubts about the prudence of having children. They argue that raising children is an awesome responsibility. Some wonder whether they have the capacity to raise children who will grow into healthy adults, both physically and spiritually. Such people therefore focus on first achieving financial security and/or spiritual preparedness, and only then start thinking about having children.

But from Noah we learn the fallacy of this approach. Once God commanded him to have children, he no longer hesitated to procreate, despite his apprehensions about his descendants' spiritual future. Because ultimately, it is not our job to predict the future but to fulfill God's will. If God tells us to have children, we should not let our doubts prevent us from doing so.

Even if we somehow foresee a less-than-perfect spiritual future for our children, we would still not be justified in refraining from having them. King Hezekiah saw prophetically that he would have immoral children and therefore refrained from procreating. The prophet Isaiah rebuked him for this, saying, "God's mysteries are no business of yours. You must do what you are commanded."128

Certainly, then, when we only entertain uncertainties about our children's spiritual future, we should not refrain from fulfilling God's command. (Furthermore, in Hezekiah's case, we see that a number of very righteous kings eventually descended from him.)

We should also not be concerned about the financial responsibilities that raising children entails. Since God is the one who commands us to have children, it is axiomatic that, for each additional child born, He will open up an additional channel of blessing and sustenance.

Likewise, we should not worry that we might lack the physical or emotional strength to raise many children,129 for God does not ask of us anything that is beyond our capabilities.130 In fact, having many children actually promotes physical and spiritual wellbeing. In contrast to the popular notion that having many children is not conducive to living a calm and stable life, the truth is that having too few children is unnatural and can lead to anxiety, marital disharmony, and the disruption of family life.

All of the above has always held true, but its truth is especially relevant in our present generation, as we approach the messianic age: According to the Talmud, the Messiah will not come until all the souls have descended from their heavenly "storehouse" and experienced life in this physical world.131 Thus, every child that is born brings us one step closer to the messianic era.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. In some instances, the Torah actually forbids parents to have another child, usually because of severe health concerns or danger to life. Such cases must be brought before a competent rabbinic authority, and never be determined by our own subjective pessimistic apprehensions.132

9 I am setting up My covenant with you: The objective of this covenant was not solely the physical maintenance of the world. Its deeper intention was that the world operate in accordance with the ultimate purpose for which it was created,133 that it assist the Jewish people in fulfilling its Divine mission. True, we have not yet seen the fulfillment of this promise; on the contrary, we have sadly suffered far too much and undergone far too horrific religious and physical persecution. Nevertheless, by clinging tenaciously to our heartfelt hopes and fervently praying that we should never again undergo or witness such horrors, while at the same time dedicating ourselves to our Divine mission with joy and alacrity, we can bring about the fulfillment of God's intention that the world assist us in our Divine mission. When that occurs, even those nations who formerly persecuted us will be transformed into our allies.134

11 Never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth: As we have seen,135 in the supernal narrative, the Flood was a reversion to the initial state of creation, in which the earth was physically submerged under water and spiritually submerged in Divine awareness. From this perspective, God's promise to never again bring a flood seems puzzling: why shouldn't He?

The explanation is as follows: At the very beginning of creation, all was water because dry land did not yet exist.136 On the spiritual level, this means that the world was filled with Divine awareness because dry land, which represents the façade of a self-sustained world independent of God, did not yet exist.

God's ultimate desire, however, is that Divine awareness permeate even a world with "dry land," i.e., self-awareness. Indeed, this will be the state of the world in the messianic age, when "the world will be filled with the knowledge of God like water covers the seabed."137 At that time, even though the world will not be covered by water and we will still be in a state of self-awareness, we will nevertheless enjoy the Divine awareness normally associated with submersion under water, i.e., self-nullification.

However, for the earth to reach this stage, it first had to have been immersed in the waters of the Flood, which "destroyed the earth," i.e., which nullified the earth's sense of self. This one-time experience conditioned the earth to be able to later attain Divine awareness—even after the waters receded and the earth reverted to dry land. The Midrash138 therefore compares the messianic age to the days of Noah, since the Flood initiated the process of conditioning the world for its ultimate state—Divine awareness despite the presence of self—which it will attain in the messianic age.

Once this conditioning occurred, God promised never to Flood the earth again, in keeping with His original intention for the world to exist in its "natural" state and still be a vessel for Divine awareness.

In fulfilling our own Divine mission on earth, we also experience a period of immersion in the waters of Divine awareness: the High Holy Days of the month of Tishrei. Our challenge is to successfully experience Divine awareness even after Tishrei, when the "waters have receded" and our "dry" self has emerged.139

18 Ham was the father of Canaan: Ham means "hot." Metaphorically, Ham alludes to the soul's ardent desire and yearning to draw near and cleave to God.

Canaan, which is sometimes translated as "merchant,"140 alludes to the soul's pursuit of the profit it earns by studying the Torah and observing the commandments: its increased connection to God.

Ham was the father of Canaan: When the soul descends into this world and clothes itself in the body and the animating soul, it experiences an intense longing for Godliness and an ardent yearning for God's presence—it becomes Ham. This longing inspires it to earn the reward of increased connection to God by studying the Torah and performing the commandments—to become Canaan.141


[21] He drank some of the wine and became drunk: The Zohar notes that while "Eve entered the world and became attached to the snake… and Noah entered the world…drank from the wine, and became drunk… Sarah descended [to Egypt] and went up unscathed."

A fundamental concept in Judaism is the importance of serving God with joy. The renowned kabbalist, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the Arizal), when asked by his students why he had merited Divine inspiration and encounters with the prophet Elijah, replied that it was only by virtue of performing the commandments with intense joy. Performing the commandments joylessly is lacking and incomplete, and therefore cannot bring the world to perfection.

According to the Midrash, the forbidden fruit Eve offered Adam was wine; Eve was aware of the importance of joy and sought to attain it through wine. But she failed to experience holy joy, since she succumbed to the feelings of self-awareness and ego that are the by-products of less-than-holy celebrating. Prior to the sin, Adam and Eve were merely a vehicle for Divine expression; once they took the fateful sip of wine, they gained self-awareness and began to operate in a realm of seeming separateness from God.

Noah attempted to rectify Eve's error, to experience joy without self-awareness. He therefore sought to negate his selfhood through drunkenness. But this endeavor was misguided, since the goal is not to numb the mind and emotions through drinking, but rather to lose the self through humility and surrender to God.

Selfless joy was finally achieved by Sarah, who is associated with malchut (the name Sarah is derived from the word serarah, "rulership"). Malchut, the lowest sefirah, has no intrinsic "content" of its own, and receives whatever it has from the higher sefirot. This is the epitome of selflessness. True joy is born of humility, since one who is humble does not feel deserving of anything and is therefore never disappointed. Joy born of selflessness has no negative consequences; on the contrary, it brings us to the highest levels of spiritual experience, a taste of the World to Come. This is why Sarah's son was named Yitzchak ("laughter"), a foretaste of the messianic era, when "our mouths will be filled with laughter."142 This is why King David, who also embodies malchut and selflessness, also epitomized serving God with joy.143 Similarly, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria was a spark of the soul of Moses, the humblest of all men, and therefore experienced true joy.

We, too, when we emulate the humility of Sarah, Moses, King David, and Rabbi Luria, can fulfill our Divine mission with true joy and without fear of negative repercussions.144

23 They did not see their father's nakedness: If, indeed, they walked in backwards, as the verse explicitly tells us, isn't it obvious that they did not see their father's nakedness?

The import of these words is twofold: in addition to not seeing their father's physical nakedness, Shem and Japheth did not focus on their father's shameful behavior, but focused instead only on what they had to do to correct the situation. Ham, in contrast, "saw his father's nakedness." Not only did he did not remedy the situation; he focused on his father's shortcoming and even told his brothers about it.

Why the dissimilar reactions among the brothers?

The face of another person, says the Ba'al Shem Tov, is like a mirror. If we see evil in another, we are really seeing a reflection of our own evil.145 Shem and Japheth did not share Noah's weakness for drunkenness; therefore, they did not focus on this shortcoming of their father's. Ham, on the other hand, whose name connotes hot-bloodedness, did share Noah's weakness; therefore he saw and focused on his father's shame.

This teaches us that when we notice shortcomings in someone else, we must also take note of how we react to them. If we take immediate steps to remedy his shortcomings, we can be assured that this is why God arranged for us to notice them in the first place. But if we find ourselves focusing in depth on the other's shortcomings, beyond what is required to correct the situation, then it is clear we are doing so only because we share exactly the same flaw. Since we are generally blind to our own faults, God arranges for us to notice them in someone else, expecting us to take the cue and recognize that we possess these same faults, as well.

Thus, whenever we see or hear about something negative in our fellow, we should try to correct the situation while simultaneously "walking backwards," doing all we can to refrain from seeing and focusing on our fellow's shame.146

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26 The Court of Death: The Midrash explains that the people of "the Court of Death" were ascetics who ate very simple foods, dressed in simple clothing, and awaited death every day.147 Although this was before the Dispersion and physical pleasures abounded, these people preferred not to be steeped in the physicality of this world. On the contrary, they were anxious to move on to a more spiritual existence and be free of the limitations and desires the accompany materiality. This was therefore a place free of jealousy and of the pursuit of pleasure.

How, indeed, were they able to resist the abundance of worldly pleasures? The answer is that Chatzarmavet was the child of Yoktan (the "Small One"), so named because of his humility. A humble person is capable of remaining above the hedonism that others fall into.

We, too, should learn from this father-and-son pair. Our society places great emphasis on ostentation and prodigality: this emphasis is so pervasive that we are willing to go into debt to capitulate. Then we claim that we have no money to give to charity, which is unfortunately actually true since we are living off borrowed money! Our ostentation traps us in a vicious circle: as soon as others see our conspicuous consumption, they feel compelled to outdo us.

We should rather strive, like Chatzarmavet, to rise above the material distractions of this world and neither bury ourselves in the luxury of gourmet food and fancy clothing nor succumb to envy. But in order to raise such children, we must, like Yoktan, strive to be humble and selfless ourselves.148

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[3] Let us mold bricks: The souls of the Generation of the Dispersion were rooted in an extremely lofty spiritual level. However, when they descended into the physical world, they fell into depravity. Because they sinned with brick and mortar, they had to be purified of this sin through labor that involved brick and mortar. They were therefore reincarnated as the Jews who were enslaved in Egypt. This is the deeper meaning of Pharaoh's statement: "You must impose upon them the same quota of bricks as they made until now,"149 i.e., they must produce the identical quantity of bricks now as they made during their attempt to build the tower in their previous incarnation. This is also the deeper answer to Moses' question: "What sin have the Jews committed for which they have been singled out from among all nations to suffer such backbreaking labor?"150 Moses did not know that it was not their sin, but rather the sin of their previous incarnation, from which they needed to be purified in order to receive the Torah. Once their souls had been purified, they reverted to their original lofty stature. They were then fit to receive the Torah, through which their arduous labor of creating physical mortar (chomer) and bricks (leveinah) was replaced with the intellectual labor of deriving new laws through a fortiori reasoning (kal vachomer) and refining their understanding of Torah law until they reached authoritative legal decisions (libun hilchata).151

[4] Let us make ourselves a name: The Generation of the Dispersion wished to receive sustenance from on High without curbing their egos and desires. Their plan was to elicit sustenance from the Name Havayah, although they deserved no better than to receive sustenance from the lowest levels of the Name Elokim. They desired to reach beyond the law-and-order world of Tikun to the world of Akudim, where the structure of Tikun does not exist. This verse can thus be interpreted as follows:

Let us make ourselves a name: "Let us draw from the Name Havayah."

so that we will not be scattered: "lest we receive from the lowest levels of the Name Elokim."

To achieve this unity, they planned to build a tower. As the medieval commentator, Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra explains, they were shepherds who often roamed far from one another. This tall tower would be visible to them all from afar, so they would be able to return to it to regroup and reunite.

God therefore could not allow their plan to succeed, since through unity they indeed would have been able to elicit Divine beneficence from the Name Havayah and channel it into impurity. (Similarly, once Adam had internalized evil by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, God did not want him to eat from the Tree of Life and gain immortality, thereby eternalizing evil.)152

The sin of this generation caused the Divine Presence to retreat from the fourth firmament to the fifth.153

4 Let us make ourselves a name: The incident of the Tower of Babel occurred in the aftermath of the Flood. The survivors sought to ensure their self-preservation and protect themselves from destruction, but overlooked the Flood's lesson that we must look to God to ensure our well-being.

Today, the Jewish people are also living in the aftermath of a "flood" that killed millions of Jews. We, the survivors, must be careful not to make the same mistake as the survivors of Noah's flood.

Although building the infrastructure of civilization, and certainly that of Jewish civilization, is a praiseworthy cause, it cannot be an end in itself. Nothing is shallower than simple self-preservation, historical self-perpetuation, and the endless drive to enhance our standard of living.154 Moreover, if these are our sole aspirations in life, it is a small step from there to believing that the end justifies the means, and we can eventually find ourselves justifying all sorts of unethical behavior to achieve our ends.

In order for our "city and tower" to endure, it must possess a deeper, Godly purpose. We should therefore respond to the "flood" by constructing a holy and Godly "city and tower," which means that our religious institutions—our houses of prayer and Torah study—should be the most cherished and well-maintained institutions of our society, and should be housed in the most prominent buildings in our cities.155 They are the true "tower" of the city, which will protect us both from external and internal adversity.

If we make our devotion to the Torah and religious life our highest priority, and express this by aggrandizing our religious institutions, not only will our "city"—our civilization—prosper, our enemies will be transformed into allies. In addition, we will perpetuate our names eternally in the annals of Judaism and justice.156


[9] God dispersed them and revoked their privilege of entry into the afterlife: Although their punishment in this world was less severe than that received by the Generation of the Flood, their punishment in the next world was more severe.157 This is because the Generation of the Dispersion sinned against God, not against their fellow, whom they treated with love and friendship. Their punishment is therefore accordingly spiritual, to be meted out in the next world.

In contrast, the Generation of the Flood sinned against their fellow: they stole from each other158 and fought constantly, thus disrupting the peaceful order that God intended for this world. They were therefore punished in this world. Nevertheless, at least according to one opinion, they do have a share in the afterlife, since they did not sin against God.

The truth is that sins against God are also sins against our fellow, since our failure to fulfill the Torah's precepts prevents God's beneficence from coming into the world and others from benefiting from it. Similarly, sins against man are also sins against God, who commanded us to be good to each other. Nevertheless, the clearly "social" sins are more closely related to this world and the clearly "religious" sins are more closely related to the next world.159

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[30] She had no child: This phrase reads literally, "there is not to her a child." The word for "there is not" (אֵין) can also be read as "nothingness" (אַיִן), which alludes to the sefirah of keter, since it is above normative consciousness and is therefore "nothing" from our perspective. The verse can thus be read to mean that her future child, Isaac, stemmed from the lofty sefirah of keter. Because of his lofty origin, this child took a long time to descend into this world, and therefore Sarah underwent a long period of infertility.160

[31] God's anger…had been increasingly intensifying: Despite this anger, the early generations enjoyed great longevity. The simple explanation for this is that they were the first descendants of Adam and Eve, whom God Himself created and designed to live forever. They therefore inherited this genetic longevity. When God did not continue replenishing it, it gradually waned over a period of twenty generations, ending with Abraham.

The mystical explanation is as follows: As we have seen, the first twenty generations of humanity were sustained by God's attribute of indiscriminate kindness161 that transcends reason and the orderly descent of Divine energy through creation (seder hishtalshelut). Human virtue and vice are irrelevant to indiscriminate kindness;162 sin is not punished as severely as appropriate and sinners can therefore benefit from God's beneficence even though they do not rightly deserve to. Hence this era is referred to as the "two millennia of chaos."163

The reason these generations were sustained by God's indiscriminate kindness was because there was no one to elicit God's beneficence by virtue of good behavior. This being the case, God chose to overlook these generations' lack of merits. With the advent of Abraham, however, God's beneficence could once again be earned. The transcendent aspect of God's energy began to be absorbed by holiness, thereby preventing the forces of evil from siphoning off the transcendent energy as it did during the first twenty generations. Abraham thus began the "two millennia of Torah,"164 in which the world no longer had to receive its sustenance from God's indiscriminate kindness (at least not to the same extent as it did during the first twenty generations).

This internalization and absorption of God's transcendent energy is alluded to in the final nun that concludes this parashah and that separates between what occurred before it and what was to occur after it. On the one hand, the numerical value of the nun is fifty, alluding to the transcendent energy of the "fiftieth gate of understanding." On the other hand, the final nun's elongated shape, which extends below the line of the other letters, connotes drawing down this lofty energy and internalizing it in reality.

The "two millennia of Torah" thus serve as a preparation for the "two millennia of the Messiah," when all transcendent energies will be internalized, leading to the fulfillment of the promise:165 "I shall remove the spirit of impurity from the earth."166

31 God's anger…had been increasingly intensifying: The ten generations between Adam and Noah behaved immorally, so God brought the Flood to wipe them out. There were also ten immoral generations between Noah and Abraham, but God did not wipe them out; He simply gave the reward that was due them to Abraham.167 Why was Abraham deemed worthy of receiving the reward for the generations that preceded him, whereas Noah was not?

The answer lies in the fact that the generations that preceded Noah did not deserve any reward. And even if they would have deserved some reward, Noah was not worthy of receiving it, since he neither edified his contemporaries nor prayed for them.

In contrast, the generations that preceded Abraham did deserve reward for co-existing harmoniously and treating each other kindly. But their simultaneous rebellion against God neutralized their merits for this reward. The Divine blessings elicited through their good deeds were absorbed by the forces of evil.

(Similarly, when we study the Torah and perform the commandments without having repented for our sins, we do elicit Divine blessings. But our sins block them from reaching us; instead, they are diverted to the negative energies of the world and give them extra vitality until we repent and thereby retrieve those energies.168)

Abraham, the personification of kindness, tried to draw every person closer to God. He even prayed for the inhabitants of Sodom! Through this work, he retroactively refined the previous generations and therefore received their reward, retrieving the Divine blessings that had been temporarily diverted to the forces of evil.169

To phrase this in simpler terms: There are two types of evil, each requiring a different response: (a) evil that is entirely evil and contains no good, and must therefore be eradicated; and (b) evil that, although we can't see any good in it, does contain a spark of goodness. This type of evil is not meant to be destroyed, but rather transformed into good.

The evil of the first set of ten generations was utter, of the sort that destroys the world. God therefore completely wiped out these generations through the Flood. In contrast, the evil of the second ten generations was of the sort that can be transformed to good. Abraham was therefore able to rectify and complete the good that was concealed in their deeds and therefore "received the reward for them all."

These two eras in world history are mirrored in the individual history of every person, since every person is a microcosm of creation.170 There are occasions when, sadly, we may squander a period of precious time on ungodly activities, yet still enjoy material success. This deludes us into believing that such a situation can continue indefinitely. The truth is, though, that this material success is only thanks to God's patience, which will eventually come to an end.171 We must therefore "bring a flood" upon these ungodly activities and destroy them completely, just as God destroyed the first ten generations who were completely evil.

But this is not enough. During that wasted time, positive things could have (and therefore should have) been accomplished. After all, we are allotted only a certain amount of time on earth in which to accomplish our Divine mission. We must therefore, like Abraham, not only destroy the negative, but also salvage the past through rectifying it and completing what was lacking, thereby transforming darkness into light.172

Another lesson that we learn from noting the differences between Noah and Abraham: The generations that preceded us prepared the world for the messianic era, when the purpose of all of creation will be realized.173 The task of our generation is to bring all their work to fruition. We must therefore emulate Abraham, lovingly befriending all Jews and awakening their innate connection to Judaism. This will reveal the holy sparks that lie hidden within them. And then, like Abraham, we will "receive the reward for them all," by channeling these sparks toward their ultimate purpose: the true and complete redemption.174