By the Grace of G-d
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Parshah in a Nutshell

Parshas Noach

Courtesy of Chabad.org

G‑d instructs Noah—the only righteous man in a world consumed by violence and corruption—to build a large wooden teivah (“ark”), coated within and without with pitch. A great deluge, says G‑d, will wipe out all life from the face of the earth; but the ark will float upon the water, sheltering Noah and his family, and two members (male and female) of each animal species.

Rain falls for 40 days and nights, and the waters churn for 150 days more before calming and beginning to recede. The ark settles on Mount Ararat, and from its window Noah dispatches a raven, and then a series of doves, “to see if the waters were abated from the face of the earth.” When the ground dries completely—exactly one solar year (365 days) after the onset of the Flood—G‑d commands Noah to exit the teivah and repopulate the earth.

Noah builds an altar and offers sacrifices to G‑d. G‑d swears never again to destroy all of mankind because of their deeds, and sets the rainbow as a testimony of His new covenant with man. G‑d also commands Noah regarding the sacredness of life: murder is deemed a capital offense, and while man is permitted to eat the meat of animals, he is forbidden to eat flesh or blood taken from a living animal.

Noah plants a vineyard and becomes drunk on its produce. Two of Noah’s sons, Shem and Japheth, are blessed for covering up their father’s nakedness, while his third son, Ham, is punished for taking advantage of his debasement.

The descendants of Noah remain a single people, with a single language and culture, for ten generations. Then they defy their Creator by building a great tower to symbolize their own invincibility; G‑d confuses their language so that “one does not comprehend the tongue of the other,” causing them to abandon their project and disperse across the face of the earth, splitting into seventy nations.

The Parshah of Noach concludes with a chronology of the ten generations from Noah to Abram (later Abraham), and the latter’s journey from his birthplace of Ur Casdim to Charan, on the way to the land of Canaan.

Special Announcement

Not applicable this week.

Newtown Shul Weekly Friday Night Dinner

The Shabbat Dinner is the traditional focal point of every Jew’s week. We at Newtown Shul, extend a warm welcome to all people to join us for a traditional Friday Night Dinner.

The Shabbat Dinner is held in the hall beside the Synagogue immediately after the 6:30pm Shabbat service.

The Shabbat Dinner is a joint project of Newtown Synagogue and Young Adult Chabad and operates by virtue of the generosity of donors and volunteers.

All of the food served at the dinner is prepared ‘by the people for the people’ with love.

There is a suggested donation of $20 per person. To make a tax-deductible donation for the Shabbat dinners, please click here.

Weekly Insight

The Flood Within

By Chava Shapiro (Courtesy of Chabad.org)

When I imagine the Torah portion of Noach, I picture something out of a Steven Spielberg adventure film, replete with special effects and an innocent protagonist who finds himself in extraordinarily wondrous and trying circumstances that transform his childlike wonder into an inner struggle for conquest and fulfilment.

Actually, from a Chassidic perspective at least, this isn’t so far off.

Doesn’t destroy the entire world due to the corruption of its individuals seem a bit . . . over the top? This Torah portion famously relates how G‑d resolves to wipe out the entire earth, which since the generation of Adam and Eve had spiralled into a society of pervasive corruption, “And G‑d said to Noah: The end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth is filled with violence; behold, I shall destroy them.” (Genesis 6:13)

As we all know, G‑d tells Noah—the only righteous man of his generation—to build an ark as a safe haven for him, his family, and two of each animal (seven of each kosher animal). And then, for 40 days, the world is flooded with unrelenting waters, destroying all breathing life.

Since we all know the story so well, it’s easy at first glance not to realize how utterly bizarre it is. Not to mention disturbing. First, doesn’t destroy the entire world due to the corruption of its individuals seem a bit . . . over the top? And second of all, if G‑d is all-powerful, why couldn’t He just—Boom!—strike down all of these violent, base, degenerate human beings roaming the planet, sparing Noah and the rest of the ark-niks? It would have been a much simpler, much cleaner solution. There wouldn’t be a need for Noah to spend 120 tedious years building an ark. We could sidestep the sewage problems. At the very least, it would save a rainforest or two.

There are so many ways to wipe out a civilization. Did G‑d really choose to flood the world just for the dramatic effect?

According to Jewish mysticism, by bringing the flood, G‑d was dunking the world into a giant mikveh (ritual bath). The 40 days of the flood hint to the 40 se’ah-measures of water required for a mikveh to be kosher according to Jewish law. The flood, then, was not a punishment, but a purification process that the world needed to undergo in order to be cleansed and reborn. Welcome to World 2.0. In this new reality, the knowledge of G‑dliness not only affected but actually saturated (pun intended) the earth and every being upon it. Spirituality became so entrenched, so deeply rooted in the essence of existence that every human being could now access it within themselves. It became an awareness that penetrated and ingrained and was expressed in the very fibres of the universe.

But the message of the flood goes even deeper. The flood represents all of our issues—namely, the ones that plague us from without. The demands that incessantly crash like waves around us, thrusting us into an insular, inflexible mindset in which there is time only for doing and none for being, in which we must constantly strive and compete to make something of ourselves (e.g., “I must get good grades, so I can go to a good college, so I can get a good job, in order to make lots of money, so I can to go on vacation—and spend more time thinking about how my worth is directly proportional to how high I stand on the corporate ladder, or the numbers of zeroes on my bank statements”).

The flood is all those things that threaten to smother the G‑dly spark that lies within us, which is crying and yearning to express itself, but feels it’s being drowned by the overwhelming anxieties and pressures of life.

The flood is all those things that threaten to smother the G‑dly spark that lies within usBut the beautiful thing is that we have an ark. A part of us that is pure, unaffected by the painful anxieties of the material world, a part of us whose relationship with G‑d is natural and deep, whose essence is uncontaminated by the flood of physical and material concerns. And no matter how ferociously the storm of problems and worries thrashes upon us, that part of us remains unaffected, in a tranquil state of oneness with G‑d. (In fact, the name “Noach” shares a root with the Hebrew word nechamah, “comfort.”) In the expressive words of Song of Songs (8:7), “Many waters cannot extinguish the love, nor can rivers flood it . . . ”

And yet, despite its violent and threatening nature, the flood is not just an enemy to be overcome or obliterated. It’s the very vehicle that pushes and elevates the ark to greater heights. A foundational axiom of Judaism is that our material world is not the enemy of spirituality. In fact, the opposite is true. They are made for each other, like hand and glove. It is one of those ironic paradoxes of life: only when one is immersed in the material world, and forced to wrestle with it, can one’s relationship with G‑d become something potent and real.

When we struggle and overcome anxieties that threaten to drown us in a life void of meaning and purpose, when we fight our obsessive and selfish pursuits of materiality and superficial quests for self-worth—these challenges bring out the best in us. They allow us to feel the anguishing pain of distance from our true selves, the part of us that is totally in sync with G‑d. They empower us with a new resolve to redirect our lives toward a higher meaning and purpose.

Do not allow the floods to drown you into oblivion. First, find solace inside the ark. Then grab hold of the helm.

The above is based on a Chassidic discourse of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (Torah Ohr, Noach, Maamar Mayim Rabbim).

Shabbos Chuckle

    October 11th, 2018
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