A Water from the Well blog post, Parashat Noach
by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
In a world that has lost its way, a world in a which a violent storm is about to rage, G-d finds a righteous man and tells him: Make yourself an ark – עֲשֵׂ֤ה לְךָ֙ תֵּבַ֣ה (Gen. 6:14). NoaH – נֹחַ whose name means “rest” is told to build an ark, a place of repose within which to weather the oncoming storm. Within this solitary space he and his family will safeguard all that is precious in this world. They will rest securely as the winds and rain whirl around them. In the end they will emerge into a new world with the promise of security as the rainbow stretches across the sky.
While often thought of as a children’s story, Noah’s Ark offers us several useful and beautiful ideas for how to sail safely through a tumultuous and dangerous storm. And indeed, this is the kind of Torah, the kind of teaching we need for we too must now weather a great storm, a powerful and world-wide upheaval.
Our sages have taught that the challenge and the gift is to build for ourselves, an inner ark within which to find meNuHah – a place of rest and repose within the storm itself. The Torah’s language here is interesting because it does not simply say: make an ark. Rather, it says: make for yourself an ark. But this can also be read as: make of yourself an ark.
Many of our great teachers through the ages have taught that the inner ark we need to build is a settled place within the mind, free of destructive thoughts and emotions. To build an inner ark is to create an inner experience of settled thought and buoyant trust. This does not mean we are to seal ourselves off or shut out the world completely. Rather, Torah teaches that the Ark must include an opening, a window, that is, a place of connection with the outer world while still maintaining an inner place of calm within which to ride out the storm.
Our tradition offers many ways to create an inner ark. These include meditation, a regular prayer practice and our weekly observance of Shabbat. The Sabbath itself is meant to be an experience of separation from the ills of the world where we can find a settled place of inner peace. Indeed, one of our traditional Sabbath table songs (z’mirot) recalls the moment toward the end of the Noah story when the wandering dove finally finds a tree on which to rest. The song contains the refrain:
יוֹנָה מָצְאָה בוֹ מָנֽוֹחַ, וְשָׁם יָנֽוּחוּ יְגִֽיעֵי כֹֽחַ
Yonah matz’ah vo maNOAH v’sham yaNuHu y’giyei kho-ah
The dove found a place to rest, and there (on Shabbat) will the weary rest.
In our chaotic and disorienting times, may we each begin to build an inner ark, a place of calm in which we can safeguard all that is truly precious and from which we may re-emerge strengthened, renewed and at peace.