Attempting to decipher the eschatological nuances in Jesus' revelation that the End Times would mirror the Days of Noah remains an enduring fascination within parts of our faith community. While the study of the End Times is undoubtedly significant, what drives much of our obsession with this area of Biblical study appears to be, as far as I can see at least, an earnest desire to escape our fallen world. It is an understandable inclination; one can empathize with the reluctance of a devout Christian to inhabit a world where men can give birth and terrorist organisations are celebrated. Yet, in our longing to remove ourselves from this ungodly world, we risk overlooking a profound lesson embedded within the flood narrative, a lesson I would contend that serves as an instructive template for the believer living through difficult times.
As we have studied previously at HRM (see Jason’s article here), the flood text reveals that Noah was engaged in more than just the pragmatic need to build a boat to survive the coming flood. As scholars have noted, various lexical hints within the flood narrative connect the construction of the ark to Israel’s construction of the Tabernacle and to Adam’s tending of the Garden of Eden. The Hebraic connection between the words “ark” and “word” reveals this connection. As God commanded Noah to “come into the ark”, he likewise commanded Noah to “Come into the word”. Noting this connection, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov put it this way, “’Come into the word’, says God; enter within the words of prayer and Torah study. Here you will find a sanctuary of wisdom, meaning and holiness amidst the raging floodwaters of life”.
As the Baal Shem Tov astutely observed, Noah's focus during those perilous times when the world stood at the edge of destruction was not on his adversaries. Though undoubtedly aware of the tumult surrounding him, Noah steadfastly set about doing what God had commanded him, mirroring the divine mandate God had commanded Adam and Israel, to construct a sanctuary where mankind and God could coexist. It is for this reason that God then commanded Noah to come out of the ark – to come out of the word. The Torah was not given to serve some insular purpose nor was it given as an end unto itself, rather, the Torah was imparted as a roadmap for mankind to sanctify the Earth.
This truth is further underscored in the narrative; “the ark moved upon the waters for forty days”. The word “moved” in Hebrew can also mean to walk, which presents a fascinating symbolically rich depiction – the word walked upon the waters. In the ancient near east and within the symbolic tapestry of the Bible, water is often a symbol of chaos. Thus, our image of the word walking on the water reveals a profound metaphysical truth - while we are to seek solace in God, we are -nevertheless commanded to step out into the world and sanctify the chaos that is existence.
Beyond these lexical hints themselves, this truth also resonates within the literary construct of Noah. What is particularly noteworthy throughout the flood narrative is that Noah does not speak until after the flood when he sins. Noah’s silence within the text foregrounds God and underscores the futility of human agency in the face of divine providence. Rather, as Noah’s silence reveals, human agency finds its true purpose and meaning in service to God’s divine commandments.
It is perhaps one of the most beautiful parts of our faith that no matter what their remains a sacred yearning for the return of our Messiah and the eternal rest promised by Him. Yet, as sincere as such a longing is, we cannot run nor hide from the mandate God has set before us. It is no easy task, and is a task made more unbearable as the world descends further into madness. Yet, it remains our task no matter the hardship, and it remains the case that God’s plan is realized amidst the trials and tribulations of our fallen world. The Lubavitcher Rebbe alluded to this when he spoke regarding Jacob’s travel from Be’er Sheva to Charan. Mystically speaking, the Rebbe explained that this journey represented Jacob’s descent into the physical world. Be’er Sheva, meaning the Well of Seven was symbolically representative of the attributes of God, while Charan, meaning Wrath, was symbolically representative of all the trials and tribulations of the material world. Yet, as the Rebbe said, it was in Charan, under the employ of Laban, where Jacob was married and eleven of the twelve sons of Israel where borne. Had Jacob not descended to Charan, his existence would have been of no meaning.
And so, as the economy teeters, as wars erupt, and as our civilization moves further away from God, it is nice to know that we do not need to be informed of all the things the End Times industry tells us we need to know, but instead, we are to remain focused on the beautiful, holy task God has set before us.