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 Torah Study for the Soul:
Selections from Netivot Shalom:  2 NS Noah

Peshat | Drash | Remez | Sod

 
Netivot Shalom

Greetings!  

Welcome to the Torah Study for Your Soul, contemplative study of Hasidic texts. This week we continue our study of the contemporary Hasidic text Netivot Shalom, by the Slonimer rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky z"l. We are happy to provide this to you as an introduction to the Institute for Jewish Spirituality Ongoing Text Study Program. You will receive it free through the first five weeks of the Torah reading cycle, after which it will be sent only to those who have subscribed to the program.

To subscribe to Torah Study for Your Soul, paying by credit card or check, please visit our website here.  If you have questions about this study program, please contact me at jonathan@ijs-online.org  or 914-772-0394.

Each week, the text can be read in this email, or it can also be accessed as a clean Word document by clicking the link at the top of the page. I will present the lessons using the classical PaRDe"S structure in this manner: Peshat will be the translation of the text; Drash will be a commentary, unpacking the core elements of the lesson; Remez will be a series of reflection questions for discussion or personal inquiry; Sod will be additional commentary, expanding on key concepts, and offering suggestions for personal practice and application.
I have prepared an introduction to Netivot Shalom, giving the background of the text and a bit of the history of the Slonim lineage. You can access it here.

You may wish to purchase a copy of Netivot Shalom on the Torah to accompany your study, as we are unable to provide the Hebrew text here (due to copyright protections). You might also wish to purchase the two volumes on the Mo'adim and Middot as well. Here are some links to online sellers where you can purchase book.
Nehora

I have also had positive experiences purchasing books from Biegeleisen Books in Brooklyn. Their phone number is (718) 436-1165, and you can purchase the books with a credit card.

I look forward to studying with you this year, engaging with R. Shalom Noach as teacher and companion in deepening our spiritual lives. Be well.

Jonathan. 

Peshat peshat
s.v. inyan hateivah ledorot (pg. 51)
 
The story of the Flood in all of its details, as it appears at the start of the Torah, must come to teach a lesson. The Torah is a "Torah for Life", and does not simply report what happened in the past. Now, as mentioned earlier, the Flood did not come as a form of punishment. Rather, the corruption of that generation reached the point that it perverted the whole of creation: "for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth", which in turn corrupted everything else... to the point that it could no longer sustain itself.... Now, just as we learn from the story of the Flood the extent to which the corruption perverted the earth - where one person may act corruptly in private, but inserts some degree of corruption and impurity into the rest of the whole world - the Torah also teaches us how to respond to a situation like that of the Flood: by means of a "Noah's Ark". Just as there was an Ark for the sake of the whole world, there is one that applies to the individual; a power of protection that the blessed Holy One gave so that such corruption should not spread abroad. Thus, even if we sin, such corruption will not recur because there will be some small corner somewhere, pure of all those things that spread corruption.
[Some of those gifts from God that can serve as a "Noah's Ark" are: Shabbat, likened to Noah (Tikkunei Zohar 54b), a comfort to both upper and lower realms, a day on which our souls can "rest in the shelter of God's wings"; Shabbat, the foundation of faith, where all three levels of soul find repose and restoration, like the three levels of the Ark; the Torah, an antidote to the yetzer hara, training us through all three periods of our lives: youth, productive years and old age; connection with other spiritual seekers, those who "fear God", reinforcing our own goodness and keeping us from sin.]
(vy"l: ve yesh lomar be'od ophan; pg. 52b): There is yet another matter that we are to learn from the story of Noah's Ark. The Torah is instruction for life, teaching each individual how to live. We might fall to a degree that we are like the generation of the Flood (in which the earth had become corrupt before God). We look at ourselves and see that we have sunk to the lowest depths, and are completely disfigured, the corruption surrounding our little world completely. Similarly, it may be that the whole of the Jewish people have fallen to such a low state. The response to this: "make yourself an ark". Understand this in light of the teaching of my master, the tzaddik, the author of Birkat Avraham, on the verse (Ps. 37:10): "A little longer and there will be no wicked man (od me'at ve'ein rasha); [you will look at where he  was--he will be gone]". In every Jew there is some small bit that is still not bad (od me'at ve'ein rasha), a small portion of vitality due through which one is able to turn back and build one's spiritual world once again. How loving of God to have planted in us even one spark from above from which we gain incomparable powers. No matter how coarse we may have become, it is in our power to rise up due to that spark in us.
 
That spark, that little bit that has still not become bad, can be a Noah's Ark to save us from a generation like that of the Flood. This is the quality of being fully devoted to one thing (chasid ledavar echad), where we have one particular practice that we uphold and preserve no matter what, even in the worst possible circumstances, never turning back.... This can be likened to someone who is drowning in the sea, and a plank from the sunken ship floats by, which saves him. If we have even one thing that we keep with all of our might, no matter what, we can be saved from even the worst possible situations.... God gave us the power to choose and thereby implanted incomparable power in us, so that even in the worst situations (even when "The earth becomes corrupt before God"), we have the power to return to our root-source, which serves as our "Noah's Ark"....
 
(umei'ein zeh):In a slightly different vein, we can learn from Beit Avraham: after being confined for twelve months Noah exited the ark, and "Noah built an altar to YHVH" (Gen. 8:20). This act represents total devotion of one's self (moser naphsho) to God. And, after this act we read: "YHVH smelled the pleasing odor, and YHVH said to Himself: 'Never again will I doom the earth [because of man, since the devisings of man's mind are evil from his youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done']" (ibid. 21). This teaches us that even in the context of a generation like that of the Flood, which was so completely corrupt, there is something to be done: to build an altar to YHVH, to offer ourselves fully to God. In response to this devotion, God promises "Never again will I doom the earth": because there are effective things that can be done to counteract the blemish even of that generation, it is no longer necessary to bring a Flood. Through serving God and the various aspects of "Noah's Ark" in each generation, there are means to purify that generation. That is the significance of that "some small bit that is still not bad (od me'at ve'ein rasha)": there remains for us from the blessed Holy One the power by which we are able to free ourselves and escape from even the most difficult situations (like the generation of the Flood). Even then we are given balm and healing.
Drash Drash
It is difficult to read this lesson and not to hear its programmatic instructions for R. Shalom Noach's hasidim. The vital heart of the Slonim community was wiped out, along with its original yeshivah, in the Shoah, leaving only a small remnant in Israel. Surely, the time of the Shoah was a period as bad as the Flood. Similarly, the secular state flourishing around the surviving community in Israel may seem an existential threat. Although committed to the Hasidic communities in the Land of Israel, the earlier Slonimer rebbes were anti-Zionist and anti-socialist. Their apprehensions regarding the non-traditional forms of Jewish life in the 19th century were borne out in the 20th. In response, perhaps, we then hear in this teaching instruction for the Slonimer community as to how to survive even in Israel, even when the surrounding culture is so opposed to Torah life (as they see it).
 
This may help us to understand something of the Slonimer community in Immanuel, a settlement in the north of the West Bank, which is now (in)famous. Families there strenuously defended the segregation of those students who do not comport themselves according to Slonimer traditions within a girls' school. We might even see the partition erected in their school as a physical manifestation of the "Noah's Ark" that they hoped to erect around themselves, to save them from the corruption they perceived in the world. This is not to excuse or promote such behavior, but to put it in a context.
 
There is, of course, more to this lesson. The elements summarized at the start surely reflect values of the Slonim community: Shabbat, Torah study, internal cohesion and connection among the hasidim. In the rhythm of the week, in the practices at the root of Slonimer hasidus, followers of this rebbe will find refuge and safety. These practices are directed toward the whole community, and require the participation of others to make them work. But, this is not enough to save one from the flood-waters that constantly threaten to overwhelm one: loss, failure, fear, frustration, anger, jealousy, grief. For that, inner work is also needed, and this is reflected in the sections translated above.
 
It is the attention to inner work, to the condition of the soul in response to the vicissitudes of life, that characterize this lesson as Hasidic. As helpful as community is in supporting and sustaining inner awareness, as important as traditional practice is in keeping us connected to our core values, we do still need to nurture our own link to the divine. Ultimately we have to do the work ourselves. The blessing is that even then we are not doing it alone. We have been given a pure soul to which we can return, which provides the energy for our return to ourselves.
Remez Remez
 
  1. Have you ever felt that you were facing a world so corrupt it could not survive? When? How did you sustain yourself at that time? If not, can you imagine such a world? How would you want to respond? Would withdrawal into your own "Noah's Ark" have been part of this process? Why or why not?
  2. What traditional practices, if any, do you find help you to remain balanced, engaged, feeling safe in the midst of the challenges in your life? How, if at all, has this changed over the course of your life?
  3. If you were Noah, sequestered in the Ark for the preservation of life, what do you sense to be the qualities that would have qualified you for this role? Realizing this, how might you nurture those qualities to better serve all creation now?
Sod Sod
Noah, in the classical tradition, comes in for both praise and blame. That is, he was ish tzaddik tamim, a completely righteous and upright person. On this account, he merited being saved from the Flood, to repopulate the world. Yet, he was so bedorotav, in his generation. Had he lived in Abraham's time, for instance, he would not have been considered a tzaddik. One contrast between these two, of course, is that Abraham confronted God to protest the destruction of Sodom, while we hear nothing (in Scripture) of Noah's complaint. Noah seems satisfied to protect himself and his family (and the animals he brings with him), simply to save his own life and his purity.
 
Such an attitude appears self-centered. But more, it runs opposite to the impulse to engage, to manage, to repair the world - because we must, but also because we can. Following the outrages and calamities of the 20th century, what faith many of us have is not in a God who seems not to be there (or too interested in preventing disaster), but in the human capacity to work for the good. Surely this faith is necessary, and has fed the great efforts to improve the human condition, to end abuse of civil rights and (we hope) preserve the environment for human (and other) habitation.

 
Yet, what is it that energizes that human capacity? What sustains it in the face of seemingly intractable problems, confronted by the recurrent outburst of human cruelty and selfishness? What keeps the spirit afloat when overwhelmed by so much suffering, deluged in disaster? The answer may lie in R. Shalom Noach's image of "Noah's Ark". We might characterize it as "withdrawal for the sake of advance". We first acknowledge how bad things seem: the world is a mess, people can be cruel and self-serving, it seems as if nothing we do as individuals can make any difference at all (not with government, not in the environment, not in the economy etc.). Speaking the truth in this manner can actually bring relief: we no longer deny what it is that we see, and we no longer have to pretend that we can or should be able to change what we see.
 
The second step is to sit with our own hearts, to come to know our selves more clearly. It may be a relief to admit our powerlessness before the forces of nature, or the evil devisings of the human heart. Yet to be completely powerless can also be dispiriting. In the spaciousness provided by stepping back from direct engagement we can more freely investigate our true nature. We are able to discern what it is that we are able to do. We can review our lives and rediscover when and how we were able to act with integrity, care for others, commit to the common good over our selfish interests. In this, we uncover a core of goodness, a spontaneous and natural desire to bring healing and freedom to all beings. Instead of despair, instead of failure, we find connection, aspiration, hope.
 
Having spent time in our inner "Noah's Ark" in this way, we are given the time and space to rediscover our true heart's desire. We also find what it is that we are able to do - even if only one things - in response to suffering, injustice and corruption. Identifying that one thing, we can commit fully to doing it however we can, passionately, but with balance (chasid ledavar echad). Devoting ourselves fully to that which we have the capacity to do (mesirut nephesh) offers us freedom, as we then do not have to do EVERYTHING else. We must be clear and honest in our self-reflection. Our dedication to one thing must be wholly righteous, not self-serving, not hiding from a fuller truth. If we can do this, then that which we actually DO will be our perfect offering, our pure contribution to saving the world. In this manner, withdrawal into our own "Noah's Ark" is a necessary and meaningful response to the deluge of bad news we experience each day, the flood of evil that seems poised to drown the world. It is the only means we have by which to touch the true core of our own soul, and thereby have sufficient strength and commitment to do that which we can - and therefore must - do to help save the world.
 
Thank you Rabbi Jonathan Slater

Thank you for taking time out of your day
to be with us again this week.  I look forward to studying with you this year as we engage with Netivot Shalom, the teachings of R. Shalom Noach Berezovsky z"l, the Slonimer rebbe, as teacher and companion in deepening our spiritual lives.

Be well.
Jonathan.