Over 300 years ago, King Louis the 14th asked the philosopher Pascal, ‘Give me a proof of the existence of the Supernatural.’ Pascal replied, ‘The Jews, your Majesty, the Jews.’
In the 18th century, the Jewish world was inundated by raging floodwaters from both within and without. Yesterday, on the 18th of Elul, a rabbi was born (well, not born as a rabbi) who many say
brought an endangered Judaism back to life- Israel Baal Shem Tov.
One of his most well-known teachings was based on a verse from the Torah’s description of Noah’s ark. G-d tells Noah ahead of time that there will be a flood, and for him the salvation will be to build an ark, a teivah in Hebrew. G-d commands, ‘Bo el HaTeivah, come in to the ark.’ And make a Tzohar, a light for the ark. The Baal Shem tov gives this verse eternal relevance by explaining that the word teivah also means word. We are, he urges, advised during those times when our lives are flooded with turbulence, both literally and figuratively, to immerse ourselves into the ark of our holy words of prayer and Torah, and above all to fill and surround those words with passion and illumination. To illuminate, he clarifies, means not only to enlighten ourselves, but to stir and inspire others with our words. When we pray, learn, and uplift others in community, the words not only take on greater power, they become an arc of protection and salvation, of security, resilience, and recovery, and of recognition that we are literally all in the same boat- and we become the ark-angels of mutual support.
The Creator has a bigger plan for us, both collectively and individually, than to let the world sink into a swirling vortex of doom and gloom. When the Torah tells us, ‘v’ruach E-lokim merachefet al pnei ha’mayim, and the spirit of G-d floated over the face of the waters’, the sages say this refers to the spirit of Mashiach, the vision of peace and harmony that is like the rainbow following the rain. Indeed, the mystics tell us that the alliance on the ark between Noah’s family and the creatures was a foretaste of what the world could be in a context of cooperation and hope. Let us today all move to higher ground, connect with this spirit, and bring the pain of the past, into the healing of the present, with the vision for a better, holier and harmonic spirit for the entire universe.