Sunday, October 14, 2012



 Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room.  One man’s bed was next to the room's only window, the other’s was not. They talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, jobs, and where they had vacationed.

Every afternoon, when the man by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing all the things he could see outside. His roommate began to live for those hours when his world would be broadened and enlivened. The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Graceful swans glided on the water while teenagers sailed their model boats. Young children played amidst flowers of every color.

Days and weeks passed.  One night, the man by the window died peacefully in his sleep. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other fellow asked if he could be moved to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.  Slowly he propped himself up to take his first look at the real world. He looked out the window. It faced a blank wall.

The man asked the nurse what could have compelled the deceased to portray and create a make-believe world.  The nurse responded that the man was in fact blind. “Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.”

There is tremendous happiness in making others happy, despite our own situation. Shared grief is half the sorrow, but happiness when shared is doubled. If you want to feel rich, just count all the things you have that money can't buy. Today is a gift; that is why it is called the PRESENT.

According to a recent survey, the number one thing that people lack is happiness.  Why is it so hard to be happy?  How come so many find life impossible to cope with? Imagine for a moment, that someone gave you a unique, priceless, gift.  You open it, you start using it, and you begin to discover its features and abilities.  You barely glance at the small paperback manual that comes bundled inside.  You might skim it, but like most you throw it away or put it on a shelf. 

After a while you start to notice that things are not working perfectly. In fact, it’s getting worse.  You go to a specialist to fix up your life, put it all back together and regain joy. He shows you a copy of that small forgotten manual. You read it and for the very first time you find clarity and direction.

This week we start reading the Torah from the beginning.  How many times have we heard its first words and really understood the phrase, “In the beginning, G-d created heaven and earth.”

The Torah is much more than a book of instructions or laws; it's a MANUAL OF LIFE. G-d could have just listed the commandments, making sure that we are getting them done. But G-d also wants us to add flavor and depth to our lives, hence His introduction.

What is the secret to happiness?  It should be simple: We are happy when life works out how we want it to.  If I want to go to Israel and I arrive at Ben Gurion airport, I will be happy.  If I end up having to stay at home, I will be unhappy.  Unhappiness is a result of our desires conflicting with reality.  We become angry and upset when our hopes or expectations are dashed.  So here is the ticket to happiness. We don't have much control over the universe, but we do have the ability to select our wants and desires.  So you want to be happy? Have realistic expectations.  You want to be a millionaire?  Ask yourself whether it is realistic.

Let’s be honest. One person might believe that winning the lottery is realistic, another might still believe that he will find the unattainable woman.  Reality is not how we would like to define it.  Reality is defined by Torah. If you set your expectations according to the MANUAL OF LIFE, if you define your reality in accordance with that true reality, you will never know of fear or worry in your life. G-d wrote the Torah not just as a guide for us, it’s the blueprint for all life and the entire universe.  Reality, nature and Mazal follow the Torah, not the other way around.

In His very first words, G-d shares a critical, and often overlooked, detail of creation. G-d purposefully created a dichotomy, heaven and earth.  Two different realms: good and evil, truth and falsehood, the physical and the spiritual. And though these forms seem complete opposites, they are not in conflict, for G-d and the universe do not contradict themselves.  

In regards to these contrary domains, He created the heaven first in order for it to rule the earth.  We therefore might translate the opening verse as, “G-d first created the spiritual heavens and only then the physical earth.” 

In Torah there are no contradictions.  If life ever seems to diverge from your being happy, if we are ever anxious or experiencing stress, it is because we have forgotten the opening line of His manual.  We have forgotten that our physical existence is subservient to our spiritual lives. 

This is the foundation of everything.  Chassidus tells us that in truth the physical world is only a veneer of reality. G-d’s creative energies have to continuously compel the fragile framework of physicality into an illusion that it is a more powerful entity than the spiritual energy that gives it shape.

All stress in our lives is a result of having an erroneous perspective and unrealistic expectations.  In order to live a happy and fulfilled life, we must set our expectations to the blueprint of the Torah.  We must put heaven before earth, we need to fit our lives into the reality of the Torah rather than trying to fit the Torah into our physical lives. 

There is another lesson we should learn from the opening words of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to Life, the Torah. Every so often a company like Microsoft launches another version of Windows.  But before it is finished it is in the Beta stage.  Beta is when a company sends the unfinished product to many individuals, who test it, send feedback, and help them fix all the problems. If you would take a closer look at your Life’s manual, you would notice that our world too has the words ‘Beta’ written all over it.  The universe G-d created is not the finished product. 

The second Torah passage reads, “The spirit of G-d hovered above…”  If you were building a home, wouldn’t you enter it? Wouldn’t you go and live it in it?  Yet He hovers above it.  Why?  Because His world was incomplete.  He is waiting for us to finish the job. How can we improve that which He has personally created?  By testing the world and identifying its bugs so that it is perfect for it’s big launch, the coming of Moshiach and the completion of creation: Universe 1.0

Until then we do our job...happily.


A Lesson from two Failures (11:4)

Abraham does not tolerate selfishness or central planning. What then is the basis of a Jewish society?


A Lesson from two Failures (11:4)

The two great epochs of human history described in this week’s portion are not mere historical accounts but rather they are portraits of a classic human dilemma that persists till today. It is therefore no accident that these two time periods dissect this Biblical reading precisely in half. The first seventy seven verses deal with the life of Noach prior to the promise of, “This is the sign of the covenant.” And immediately following the appearance of the rainbow and a new world order we are told the story of the succeeding generations and their attempt at building the Tower of exactly seventy seven verses.

The flood was brought upon the world because of robbery and immorality. Where bridges of trust might have been built, gridlock occurred as competing interests collided. The fabric of society thus frayed and became irreparably eroded due to rampant individual selfishness. Ultimately, with no central authority, anarchy flourished.  This is the picture of pre-Deluge humanity which till today remains a model of societal failure.

The next great era was a response to the prior. The age of corruption and thievery was washed away by the powerful waves of the Flood.  A sense of tranquility and brotherhood reigned as all put aside their personal agendas  to rally around a  symbol of unified strength and common goals. A tower would be built to correct the problems associated with the chaotic past. Thus a king arose who herded everyone together. An iron curtain was created to hem humanity into a single location and the Tower of Babel became the showpiece of  man’s new spirit of cooperation. Yet this experiment in creating the paradigm  of what a community  should be  disintegrated and  toppled like a house of cards. Why?

Interestingly enough, not one person is mentioned by name in the recording of that event. Instead we are informed that, “Come let us build a city and a tower with its head in the heavens and let us make a name for ourselves. The achievement and the accolades were for the group. Individual identities were to be rendered meaningless and merged automatically with the purposes dictated by the whole.  Our Sages expressed it this way: when a brick fell down people agonized because of the lost material, but when a person died in the process of building they carried on without acknowledgment.                                                                    

These two stages in human development represent the ongoing human dilemma. When the individual enjoys unfettered freedom and society places supreme value on personal happiness, then lawlessness prevails and the goals of humanity as a whole are frustrated. Conversely, when society is all-powerful the individual suffers. All his personal ambitions are squelched  his talents are sacrificed, and his liberties are repressed for the sake of the state made holy above all.                                                        

What then is more important? The individual or the society! Is this not the  the debate of every political election? Is this not the argument that has worried us since 9/11 as we try to  balance security with personal liberty? And is this not the cause of much of the struggle in the world today?                        

The answer is simple and difficult. The answer is Abraham, the Jew. After the dispersion of the Tower builders, the first patriarch appears on the Biblical horizon. How does Abraham’s life show us the solution? Because even with the Torah’s focus on one person and his extraordinary accomplishments, it does not mean that the pendulum has swung back to a time when selfish individuals occupy center stage. Neither is Abraham who is called and revered by his neighbors as, “The Most High, Maker of heaven and earth” a megalomaniacal tyrant. But if Abraham’s life is not either extreme, neither is it the healthy compromise of the two. The answer is a radical departure: An existence that does not include selfishness or dictatorship, but rather a life of service.  Because a society of Abraham-like people would produce a qualitatively different world order that would address everyone’s private needs as well as the general public.

How can such service oriented individuals be produced and how can they appreciate that they too would benefit? Listen to the following story. The saintly Chofetz Chaim once softly rebuked two students who came late to class one day. It was not the lateness that was the issue. Each had retrieved a chair after realizing that all seats in the room were occupied. The Chofetz Chaim pointed out to them the lost opportunity. If each would have gotten a chair for the other, both would have had a chair and both would have had an act of kindliness. This was the principle of thoughtfulness and kindness exhibited by Abraham. It was this new order upon which our Jewish heritage and communities were built!



 Only when G-d is G-d can man be man. That means keeping heaven and earth distinct.



The story of a Tower rising in the valley of Shinar is central to the Biblical vision of what can go wrong in society. The story itself, told in a mere nine verses, is a compact masterpiece of literary and philosophical virtuosity. The first thing to note is that its historical background is exceptionally precise. The tower or ziggurat was the great symbol of the ancient Mesopotamian city states. It was here that human beings first settled, established agriculture, built cities, and invented (along with the wheel, the arch and the calendar) the ability to manufacture building materials, especially bricks. This made possible the construction of buildings on a larger scale, which came to have a profound religious significance.                                       

Essentially these towers, of which the remains of at least thirty have been discovered, were man-made “holy mountains,” the mountain being the place where heaven and earth most visibly met. Inscriptions on several of these buildings refer, as does the Torah, to the idea that their top “reaches heaven.”                     

Not only is the story of Babel historically accurate. It is also shot through with literary devices. One of the most masterly is that the two key words, לבן-brick, and נבל-confuse, are precise inversions of one another. As so often in the Torah, literary technique is closely related to a deeper message. In this case it is the phenomenon of inversion itself; the results of human behavior are often the opposite of what was intended. The builders wanted to concentrate humanity in one place, “And not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” The result was that, “The L-rd scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”               

Their pride lay in their newfound technological ability to construct buildings of unprecedented grandeur. They did not realize that the greatest creative power is language (“And G-d said . . . and there was”). Thus it was not a technical problem that caused them to abandon the project, but the loss of the ability to communicate. What is holy for the Torah is not power but the use to which it is put, the medium in which we frame our ideals, construct imaginative possibilities, and call others to join us in realizing them. The word is prior to the work.

What though was the builder’s sin? To understand we must return to Genesis and its description of creation. Two words in that account are decisive. The first is טוב/tov-good, which appears seven times. G-d says, “Let there be,” and G-d sees, “That it is good.” Creation is not about the power of G-d but about the goodness He provided in the universe. This is an extraordinary statement. For the ancients saw the world as a dangerous and threatening place, full of dangers, disasters, famines and floods, a result of clashing gods. Against this, Judaism made the astonishing assertion that the world is good. It is the result not of blind collisions or random mutations, but of a single creative Will. This alone set Judaism apart as the most hopeful of the world’s faiths.        

There is another key word הבדיל/hivdil-to separate, which appears five times in Creation (light & dark, upper & lower waters, etc), signifying that the goodness of the universe is due to order and boundaries.  So important was this idea that we have a special ceremony, havdalah, to mark the end of Shabbat and the beginning of each week. Like G-d, we begin our creative weekdays by havdalah: consecrating distinctions.

Creation itself is seen as the slow emergence of order from chaos. An ordered universe is a peaceable universe in which every being has its proper place. Violence, injustice and conflict are forms of disorder, a failure to respect the integrity of others. The pagan world of old was one in which boundaries were not observed. There were human beings who were like gods and gods who were like human beings. There were strange mythological hybrids, like the sphinx, half human, half animal. Religious ecstasy was often accompanied by a ceremonial breaking of boundaries in various ways. So while G-d created order, man created chaos.                                                                                   

That was the sin of the builders of the tower. Their aspiration to “reach heaven” was laughable, and indeed the Torah makes a joke of it. They imagined that their edifice had reached heaven, whereas G-d had to, “Come down.”  However it was worse than laughable. The Tower was the world’s first construct into totalitarianism in order to control the masses. Intoxicated by their technological prowess, the builders of Babel believed they had become like gods and could now construct their own Cosmo polis, their man-made miniature universe. Not content with earth, they wanted to build an abode in heaven.                               

When human beings try to become more than human, they quickly become less than human. Only when G-d is G-d can man be man. That means keeping heaven and earth distinct, organizing the latter only under the conscious sovereignty of the former. Without this there is little to prevent human beings from sacrificing the many on the altar of the State which sees itself above the law (after all, the State has reached Heaven).

Babel was the first civilization, but sadly not the last, to begin with a dream of utopia and end in a nightmare of hell. A world of tov-good is a world of havdalah-limits. Those who cross those boundaries make a name for themselves, but they name they make is Babel-confusion.


How High Have We Gone? (11:1)

Meet the fellow who slept cross-wise on his bed since it provided the illusion that he had grown taller.


How High Have We Gone? (11:1)

Man had fallen so low that it no longer seemed possible for punishment to serve merely as a deterrent or a warning. What evil had the human race perpetrated that it was perceived as unredeemable and thus slated for destruction? According to the Torah, “The land was corrupted before G-d, and the land was filled with violence.”

The word used for violence, Chamas, is explained by Rashi to mean robbery. It was on this chaos that the flood descended, laying the world bare and ready for a new beginning.

If we read further on in this week's Biblical portion, it seems as if man had finally learned his lesson. The generation that built the Tower of Babel exemplified the opposite behavior. They organized a social system under which men suppressed all private interests for the common good.

Yet, if one but peruses the various commentaries, it becomes obvious that in their opinion, the children were in fact repeating the sins of their fathers. The only thing that changed was their methods, for now they were far more efficient.

In truth, the generation at Babel had no interest in reaching heaven and its values. Their intent was to keep heaven at bay.

Quoting Rashi once again we come across this comment, "After the flood, the people calculated that 1656 years had lapsed since the beginning of time till the Flood. As a result they declared that once every 1656 years the heavens crumbled and caused a catastrophe."

Imagine that! The Flood had occurred but once and already it was reduced to a natural phenomenon, one within man's power to foretell and forestall. Thus the verse describing their efforts, “Let us make a tower with its top to the heavens...  lest we be scattered,” suddenly makes sense.

Like the robbers and thieves of the generation prior to the Flood, they desired no moral interferences from Above. So while man had made enormous technical progress, there was no spiritual growth. This can be compared to the man who would sleep cross-wise on his bed since this gave him the pleasing illusion that he had grown taller. In reality, his stature remained the same; only his position was altered.

Today as we rocket to the stars and distant galaxies, it might be worthwhile to consider how much further we really have traveled.

Every JEW is an ARTIST (9:27)

Every JEW is an ARTIST (9:27)

What is the true purpose of Jewish art?


Every JEW is an ARTIST (9:27)

Which of these statements is true? 1) Torah has been an inspiration for Jewish art. 2) Torah severely discourages and limits the use of art.

On the one hand, Moses introduced the idea that G-d should be “adorned” with beautiful religious implements. (Exodus 15:2) The first artists (Betzalel and company) mentioned in the Bible were contracted to design a Sanctuary for G-d. (Exodus 35:31) Inference: Decorative items for ritual purposes are firmly rooted within Judaism.

On the other hand, the Second Commandment reads, “You shall not make any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heaven above, or the earth below.” Implication: Judaism is antagonistic to art. But, upon further study, this verse forbids imagery only if used for idol worship. True, the text does not specifically permit representational art for other purposes; and hence the ambiguity concerning the propriety of artistic endeavor.

Surprisingly, human figures do appear in 3rd century Syrian synagogue murals. However, Jewish visual art did not acquire a ‘Kosher’ stamp, until the 11th century, when Rashi allowed two-dimensional wall frescoes depicting Biblical scenes. (Shabbos, 149a) In the next century, Maimonides permitted three-dimensional animal sculptures. (Avodas Kochavim.3:10-11)

In Medieval Europe, religious intolerance excluded Jews from the world of art. Western art was Christian art commissioned by the Church or nobility. So instead of painting and sculpture, artistically talented Jews used art for utilitarian purposes: to make a living. They became jewelers, goldsmiths, silversmiths, engravers, ceramicists, weavers, embroiderers, glassblowers, wood-carvers, calligraphers, and illustrators of Hebrew manuscripts.

Kabbalistically speaking, creative expression can be traced back to the Biblical persona of Noach.  When spelled in reverse, Noach (נח) becomes Chen (חן), meaning grace or beautyCheN itself is an acronym for CHochmat Nistar, hidden wisdomCheN thus denotes inner beauty.

Of Noach’s three sons, we read, “G-d shall enlarge Yafet.  He shall dwell in the tents of Shem. Cham shall be their servant.” The name Yafet, the progenitor of Greek and Western civilization, is related to the word Yafa, visible or surface beauty, while Shem correlates to Shma, hearing, and Cham to CHomer, matter and tactility.  Just as Noach’s family includes three sons, so too CHen, true artistic beauty must incorporate these three modalities; the visual, aural, and tangible.

In different cultures, one modality tends to dominate. Ancient ethnic art is largely tactile, albeit symbolic (i.e., African masks from the family of Cham).  Modern Western art is primarily visual. Jewish art, CHen, requires a union of modalities. Example: At the climactic Giving of the Torah at Sinai, “The people heard that which was normally seen and saw that which was usually heard.” In Judaism, the sense of sight is not always limited to surface perception.  It is associated with insight.  While, most cultures see the external and hear the internal, in Judaism, the opposite is true. Panim, face and P’nim, internal are the same word.

This dynamic interplay of the aural and visual, where perception penetrates beyond the surface to the interior, is essential to Jewish art. So though G-d’s “enlarging of Yafet” allowed Cyrus, a descendants of Yafet, to build the Second Temple, the Divine Presence was manifest only in the First Temple which King Solomon built.

Though Yafet, the master of the visual arts “constructed a glorious edifice,” (Succot 51b) he could not create a perfect beauty.  Only King Solomon’s First Temple, the epitome of splendor, actualized the ideal of CHen. For Jewish art not only combines the different senses, it connects the physical and spiritual dimensions of our lives. 

Thus the words for spirit, ruach (רוח) and matter, chomer (חמר) are intimately related when inverted. (In Kabbalah, the letters ‘vav’ and ‘mem’ are also interchangeable.) Whereas in certain traditions you have to renounce physicality in order to attain spirituality, in Judaism they are essentially one.  Jewish art, then, is about the spiritual nature of one’s encounter with the physical world.

This unique interchange necessitates an active involvement on behalf of the viewer, since Jewish art is a multi-media, all-involvement event. Compare the passive spectator of traditional Western theatre to a Passover Seder. We follow a Haggada, but it is not a text in the classic sense. We drink four cups of wine, we cry over bitter herbs, we chase an Afikomen. The audience and the performers are the same people. It is a multi-sensory, multi-media event.

The Temple in Jerusalem embodied that same totality of experience. One smelled the incense, ate the sacrifices, heard the Levites singing, etc.  Thus the Sanctuary established the essential prototype of Jewish art: 1) Man does not create for the sake of art alone; 2) art reveals the spiritual in the physical, the ruach in the chomer.

Sadly enough, true Jewish art did not flourish during much of our history. Many non-Jewish factors contributed to this phenomenon. Under Islamic rule, much of art was off-limits. In the Christian world, the illiterate masses required pictures, while Jewish children who could read the Biblical stories made depiction unnecessary. A more encompassing reason: Unlike churches, ornate art in synagogues did not exist because of political and economic weakness of Jewish communities, plus their own desire not to draw attention.

In the twentieth century, Jews are no longer restricted by the outside world. Consequently, Jewish artists have proliferated. The Rebbe addressed one such artist. “The essential quality of an artist is his ability to detach himself from the superficial appearance of the image ... [and] penetrate the true essence of the object and transform his impression into a picture with physical dimensions.

“This artistic production reveals to the viewer that which he could not recognize on his own, an essence that was obscured by superficial layers. Only an artist has the skill to reveal the inner dimensions of an object, thus enabling the observer to see it with a different perspective, and to realize the limitations of his previous awareness.

”In short, one who is divinely gifted, whether in sculpture, painting or another artistic endeavor, has the privilege of being able to convert inanimate objects (such as paint, brush and canvas) into a vital form. In a deeper sense, this implies the ability to transform the material into the spiritual…In the esoteric teachings of the Torah the entire creation emanates from, and is constantly sustained by, the word of G-d. However, because of the process of divine concealment, His word is hidden, and only the material substance is visible.

“Therefore, the challenge (as well as  the  goal)  is  to  become  aware  of  the G-dliness extant in all objects, and in so doing, minimize the concealment of the true G-dly reality.” (Igros Kodesh, Vol. 4, p. 223)

This is the true purpose of Jewish art, and indeed, of all life. In that sense, every Jew is required to be an artist.



Noach walked in the footsteps of Adam. Big mistake!



After saving humanity and the animal kingdom from oblivion, Noah is given no rest. Once again he is charged with a Divine mission; rebuild civilization! So the one time shipbuilder and zookeeper embarks on a new project. He plants a vineyard. Unfortunately, it did not end there. He becomes drunk and uncovers himself in his tent. What is the meaning behind this strange episode? Why did Noah, formerly called “a saint and perfectly complete,” start drinking?

Could it simply be that Noah cracked under the strain?  Was this Noah's method of dealing with a completely devastated world?  Instead of joining the Twelve-Step Program, he went for the bottle! This may be an all-too-familiar human failing, but for Noah!  One who “walked with G-d”! Could Noah not have opened an AA chapter!

One more question. Noah lived another 350 years after the flood. Yet, we are told absolutely nothing of what he did during all this time, save the one incident of his intoxication. Since Torah stories serve as a blueprint for life, it follows that Noah's drinking is relevant today. How so?

The Talmud provides a hint. Some 1,500 years before Noah, Adam and Eve betrayed G-d's explicit command by eating the fruit of The Tree of Knowledge.  The results were life-changing. Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, while struggle, pain and death became the plight of the human condition.  One Talmudic opinion is that the tree was a grapevine. Eve squeezed the grapes and presented Adam with a goblet of wine. So G-d said:  Noah, you should have learned from Adam. Here we learn of a link between Adam and Noah. Both degraded and debased themselves through wine. The great foundational work of Kabbala, the Zohar, takes this a step further. Noah was determined to fix Adam’s mistake by redefining the act of drinking. Unfortunately, he also failed.

Let’s retrace history. What was so tempting about the Tree of Knowledge? True, “It was a delight to the eyes, and attractive as a means to wisdom.” But was this the only attractive tree in Paradise?  Answer: This tree was not merely tasty, delightful and attractive. It embodied the very experience of taste, delight and attraction. Originally, Adam & Eve did not feel themselves; they lacked self-consciousness. They did not experience taste, delight or attraction - because they did not experience themselves.

It is difficult for us today to comprehend what this even means. We, who process all of life via awareness of the self, cannot appreciate man’s psyche prior to the forbidden fruit. In fact, in our culture, a person who does not experience himself is seen as dysfunctional and is sent to a therapist. In truth, Original Man’s lack of self was a symptom of the ultimate healthy life.

How do you know when your body is healthy? When you don't feel it! When you feel a body part - because of pain or for any other reason - it is a sign that something is wrong. The healthier the body, the less you sense it.  This is true not only in respect to our physical; it is equally valid for our psyche. How do you know when your psyche is healthy? When you don't feel it! Artists are keenly aware of this axiom. When writers or musicians cease to be conscious of their existence as an independent entity, when they solely experience themselves as conduits for a deeper creative spirit, it is then that the artist performs best.  His self has seamlessly merged with his work. They are not separate.

Another example: A two-year-old playing in the mud. Ask him: Do you feel good about your life? Do you feel worthwhile? The toddler will look at you strangely, implying: How would I know; I'm too busy living. When you're busy living life, the "you" does not occupy independent space. This was man’s initial condition. But Eve was tempted. The snake stopped her in her tracks and offered her the one thing she lacked.  

The Hebrew term for knowledge-da’as, can also be translated as experience.  Eve now encountered for the first time something completely unfamiliar - the reality of experience. Eve learned that a human being could experience reality in terms of “I like; I feel; I crave.” Till then, she had not experienced life; she was living it. So Eve and her husband reasoned that this would be a better way to live and thus serve G-d. They decided to experience what it was like to have an experience. So they partook of the Tree of Experience.

This also explains G-d’s question to Adam, “Ayekah! Where are you!” At first glance, this seems strange. Was G-d truly ignorant of Adam's location? No! G-d’s “Where are you?” contained a profound psychological query. Until then, Adam knew exactly who he was. He was one with life, one with the music and rhythm of reality. He was unaware of how he was feeling because he did not feel himself. But once he ate from the Tree, he began to experience his “I as a detached, separate existence. At that moment, he - and by extension, us - became consumed: Am I happy or miserable? Do I like myself? Am I secure? Am I normal? So G-d asked, "Where are you? Where have you gone? How did you get so lost from yourself?”

Until then, the first human beings, “were naked and they were not embarrassed.” But now, they were ashamed of their nudity. When there is no sense of self or ego, being naked does not matter. You are as innocent as a naked newborn, and similarly unembarrassed. But when Adam & Eve began to experience themselves, they could no longer ignore their nakedness.

The birth of the human ego, man's perception of a self divorced from G-d’s intentions for humanity, became the root of moral degeneration and led to the total destruction of civilization. So Noah decided to go back to the source of the problem and fix it. Noah reasoned that Adam & Eve used wine as a means to experience themselves; he would use wine as a means to forget about himself. They savored every drop, relishing the experience of having an experience. Noah would drink in order to cease having experiences; he would become drunk, uncover himself, and become one with life itself.

Many alcoholics and addicts have followed Noah’s path. Like him, they hoped to liberate themselves of their self-conscious perceptions. Noah's intentions may have been profound. But the results were horrible. Intoxication only gives one the illusion of self-transcendence; in reality it merely confuses the mind and alienates the drinker from feeling what is going on inside his self.

So what path leads to self-redemption? We’re no longer innocent. The paradise of Adam & Eve no longer exists. The stupor of Noah also holds no answers. Is there any hope for man? A few hundred years later, another individual planted grapevines. Abraham “planted an orchard in Be’er-Sheva, and there he proclaimed the name of Hashem, G-d of the universe.” Abraham understood that we cannot escape the self. Our job is to search through the self, and discover in the very vestige of self, the hidden light of G-d.  That story will be told next week.



If we truly do live by the law of the jungle, what prevents man from becoming the hunted?



Dear Diary,

Even among the ancient ones, I would be considered old.  Having now lived over 600 years, I have seen many changes, including the advent of idolatry, the invention of musical instruments, the growth of the world's population and all the problems   associated with "progress". I thought I had seen it all.  But this past year…with the Flood and all, you can imagine.

At my age, to be responsible for all the thousands of birds and beasts is no picnic: Each one demanding specific foods at different times.  You see this limp that I got, that's from the lion that once kicked me when I was late with dinner.  And the stench, you wouldn’t believe it.

For the most part however, I got along with the animals fairly well.  Maybe it should all be attributed to the promise G-d made to Adam that man shall have, “Dominion over the fish, over the fowl, over the cattle and over every creature that creeps upon the planet.”

What I can’t understand is why now, after the Flood, G-d has decided to place, “The fear and dread of man upon every beast?”  Why the need for this fundamental change that sets up this unbridgeable chasm between humans and animals?

Let me share with you one of my innermost thoughts on the subject, and you - Dear Diary - can keep it for the sake of posterity.  At first, man being created, “in the image of G-d” was pretty close to perfect.  Even the animals sensed that Adam possessed a spiritual entity that made him - and the human race alone - worthy of being the Creator’s guardian upon earth.  Man, under Divine direction, was to “work and guard” the planet, bringing all that was in it closer to G-d and to perfection.

But over the years man changed.  As he behaved more and more like an animal, his G-dly image became dulled.  Soon Homo sapiens resembled nothing more that a two-legged creature and even the animals knew it.  Following the rule of the jungle whereby the strong rules the weak (and most beasts are stronger than man) G-d has to now place a fear of humans upon the animal, lest man become the hunted.  Thus, man’s primary role has changed from perfecting the world to first perfecting himself in order to regain the image of G-d.

This is all theory, you understand. But if I am right, I guess I should tell my children about this. So let me go and I'll talk to you tomorrow.

                                                                                                                  Signed, Noach