Two Rich Sources of Torah Insight for 5771/2010-11
Each year, as the Torah reading cycle starts anew I try to set aside time to study at least a commentary on the Torah I have not yet studied. This year I have chosen two commentaries, both modern, but very different. The first are the current writings of the brilliant Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks. He has a weekly commentary on the Torah portion called "Covenant and Conversation" and a recent hard cover book with essays of his weekly commentaries on the Book of Genesis. I will be sharing insights from Rabbi Sacks on Shabbat mornings. You can directly access his illuminating writings on the weekly Torah portion at: http://www.chiefrabbi.org/Articles.aspx?id=485. You can follow his writings portion by portion. I encourage you to read along with me. I am also glad to sit with anyone to study these lovely writings filled with insight.
For this week I will be referring to a beautiful presentation on Noach. Look at this one by clicking on the link: http://www.chiefrabbi.org/UploadedFiles/thoughts/noach5767.pdf.
The second commentary I am studying is by a great and recently deceased Hasidic master,
R. Shalom Noach Berezovsky (1911-2000) who wrote Netivot Shalom (Paths of Peace). Here is a brief description of R. Shalom Noach's approach to illuminating the Torah by Rabbi Jonathan Slater,
I bring you a sample of R. Shalom Noach's insight on this week's portion, Noah. You may recall my Yom Kippur sermon on surfing. I think Reb Shalom Noach has some great insight about getting through hard times. I also point your attention to the underlined section below. On Sunday, Nov. 17th we begin the Mitzvah Initiative which will focus on the notion of Signature Mitzvah-what Reb Shalom Noach calls being fully devoted to one thing. This is a particularly striking description of what it means to be devoted to one Mitzvah that can define our lives. For more information about the Mitzvah Initiative go to: http://www.tbslb.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/JTS_MitzvahFlyer_r4.pdf.
"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”…. (Translation by Rabbi Jonathan Slater, Institute for Jewish Spirituality)