The timeless story of Noach and the Ark is so profound that many other cultures have adopted a similar narrative. Whether it’s the Epic of Gilgamesh or an ancient tribal tale of many canoes strung together and separated throughout the world by stormy flood water, the storyline is one that is far reaching. It speaks to cultures far beyond the Atlantic and carries a deep and meaningful message. The overarching premise that mankind needed to change their ways carries a powerful message of the consequences connected to our actions.
It’s interesting to note that the Torah’s description of the evil displayed by the people of those times pales in comparison to the focus on the actual Ark. From its materials to the dimensions, the Torah is very specific about its structure and purpose. At first glance, it’s rather puzzling that a mere two verses are devoted to the destructive behavior of the generation while dozens of verses are dedicated to the building of this enormous ship. There seems to be a deeper message.
About 20 years ago, there was a Chasidic commentary that I would study related to the weekly Torah portion. I was constantly struggling with one problem. No matter how seemingly “mundane” the week’s reading was, the commentator would constantly reiterate that “this week is the most important.” Noach was no different. He eloquently answers our question that the Ark is representative of our physical place in this world. It is paramount that we surround our home and workplace with the proper influences, so we do not fall into the “flooding waters” around us. The Torah goes out of its way to discuss the intricacies of the Ark to set the example for us. We must take the time to carefully create a space that is conducive to growth. Once again commenting that “this week is the most important.”
I must say that idea about the Ark is very insightful and explains why the Torah’s focus is the actual Ark, but this was the final straw. I felt that Noach’s Ark is one of the stories that isn’t at the pinnacle of our lives. Still fresh from a holiday season filled with shofar blasts, sukkah dwelling and lots of time in the synagogue, describing the message of Noach’s Ark as the apex just didn’t sit well with me. There are so many books in the Torah library, so I shifted to a different weekly commentator never giving much thought to the question.
Three years ago, a holy sage visited Phoenix and I was privileged to spend many hours in his presence. He delivered several inspiring lectures over the weekend, but I found that he too, spoke in a way that described the week’s portion as the climax of our lives. I decided to pose the question to him. How can it be that every week the message is “this week is the most important?” He opened my eyes to another way of seeing our Torah observance and moreover our general attitude on a day-to-day basis.
He explained that we must view every day as unique and special and it is this very attitude that we must maintain every day. His words echo the great psalmist, King David, in Psalm 34. Dovid Hamelech asks “Who wants life, to love the days and see the good?” He goes on to explain that we should “watch our lips from speaking deceitfully…” Yet, the verse could be read another way; “Who wants life? Love the days. See the good.” The secret to a fulfilling life is to love each day. The pathway to acquiring this love is by focusing on the good.
This is also paramount in building our “Ark.” It should be saturated in a love for every day, finding the joy in life’s daily good. It’s so easy to get sidetracked into focusing on all that doesn’t go our way. King David is giving us the recipe for a fulfilling life. Merely habituating ourselves to focus on life’s good is the main ingredient to a rewarding life. “This week is the most important,” as we build our Ark with a love for each day and take note of the good that surrounds us. JN
Rabbi Shmuel Field is the head of school at Torah Day School of Phoenix.