WATERS AND FIERY LOVE
Translated and abridged from a classic Chassidic discourse,
Mayim Rabim, of Rabbi Shneur Zalman in Torah Ohr (Noach). As it is
a difficult text, you may need to read it more than once. The translator‘s
clarifications are in a smaller type face.
“MAYIM RABIM [great waters] will not be able to extinguish the love,
and rivers will not wash her away. If a person would give all of his
wealth to lure you away from this love, he would most certainly be
ridiculed” [Song of Songs 8:7].
Great waters symbolize all the worries, trials and tribulations about
one‘s livelihood, and thoughts concerned with the other troubling
aspects of the physical world. Yet, the verse states that none of
these should be able to extinguish the love a person has for G-d.
In relating to G-d, every person has the capacity for
two types of love. There is the love that comes from an investment
of time and attention as we each intellectually and emotionally delve
into our own personal relationship with the Almighty. There is also
the ‘hidden love’ that is an innate part of every Jewish person by
virtue of the G-dly soul that is within each of us. The nature of
the G-dly soul is to continually rise in order to be merged into the
Supernal, like a flame that without any assistance constantly strives
to rise. It is to this second type of love that the above verse refers
(note also the verse that precedes it [ibid. 8:6], “its glowing coals
are the flame of G-d”).
What we call the G-dly soul is, in essence, a spiritual
flame that originates from above. Before its journey to become enclosed
in the physical body, it was united completely with the Infinite One,
blessed be He, and its whole reality was enjoying the radiance of
the Shechina [‘Divine Presence‘–G-d‘s feminine aspect]. Even
after becoming enclothed in a physical body, which allows it to be
involved in the physical aspects of the world that are called ‘great
waters,‘ these trials and tribulations cannot extinguish the continuous
love and wondrous longing of our souls to rise and to be included
in the Supernal, as before. Indeed, through the immersion in ‘great
waters,‘ a person can attain an even higher level than was previously
possible before it came down into this physical world, as will be
explained, and this, therefore,
is the purpose of the soul‘s (temporary) descent.
* * * *
This concept implied by the sciptural words ‘Great Waters’
is also called Mei Noach–‘Noach‘s Waters.’ Referring to the
great flood, G-d said: “I have sworn not to release the waters of
Noach again on the earth” [Is. 54:9].
In Hebrew the word Noach, both as a name and as
an adjective, refers conceptually to naicha d‘rucha [a Zoharic
Aramaic expression meaning ‘rest of the spirit”], the essence of relaxation,
as experienced emotionally when a person withdraws totally from his
work. In the verse, “And He ‘ceased’ [lit: ‘shabbated’] on
the seventh day” [Gen. 2:2 and Kiddush], Onkeles translates
‘shabbated’ as ‘nach,” meaning ‘And G-d rested”. Because
the word nach, spelled the same as Noach, is used for
G-d‘s resting, it demonstrates that the name Noach also is
connected to the essence of resting and relaxation, and not just the
cessation of effort and work.
The word Noach is doubled in the opening of the
Weekly Reading [Gen. 6:9], indicating that there are two types of
rest and relaxation: a lower level of rest and a higher. These two
are connected to the lower level experience of Shabbat that each of
us can experience now, and a higher level of Shabbat that will only
be fully experienced in the future. Of the latter, it is written,
“A day that is completely Shabbat.” This is not the case with the
lower level experience of Shabbat, which is not complete, as will
This connection between Noach and the essence of
rest can be further understood through a contemplation of the true
nature of the flood. For if the entire purpose of the flood was to
eradicate the sinners, why was it necessary for there to have been
such a great tumult? Certainly G-d could have removed them in an instant,
even without the flood.
Rather, the true purpose of the flood was to purify the
earth–the spiritual as well as the physical environment–which had
become “filled with iniquity.” Water has the ability to purify impurities.
Therefore, the flood was called “waters of Noach” because it
brought about naicha d‘rucha, the total rest that followed
the difficult period of tribulation and upheaval.
Note: The flood happened for specifically forty days and nights
to invoke the imagery of a mikveh, which purifies those who have become
impure only when it contains a minimum of 40 se‘ah of water
(approximately 200 gallons).
* * * *
The reason why the emotional and physical enslavement
we all experience making a living in this world, the ‘great waters,”
is also called ‘Noach‘s waters’ can also be explained in a manner
that relates to our own lives.
The ‘great waters” refer to the trials and tribulations
of the world that, like a flood of water, threatens to engulf us.
The ‘waters of Noach” refer to the water that cleansed and purified
the world. This cleansing is a result of naicha d‘rucha, spiritual
rest, which makes possible the ‘Ark/Word of Noach” (the word taivah in these verses means ark,
but can also be translated as word, i.e. the Word of Noah).
The ‘Word of Noach” refers to words of prayer, so when
G-d said to Noach, “Come, you and all of your family, to the ark/word”
[7:1], it was also instruction to him (and to all subsequent generations) to use prayer to float above the flood.
Subsequently, “The water was exceedingly overwhelming” [7:19].
This refers to the effort of the animal soul to overwhelm the G-dly
soul with the struggle for livelihood and (the desire for) the physical aspects of this world.
The benefit of resisting these flood waters is like the
superiority of light that comes from darkness. Thus, “And the Ark
rode upon the face of the water” [7:18] highlights that specifically
due to the challenge of the flood, the words of prayer reach higher
A common misconception of people who work for a living
is that they think they are not capable of praying as well as those
who study Torah all the day. The very opposite is true! People who
work can pray even more effectively, a function of this principle
of “the superiority of light that comes from darkness.” Theirs is
the love of G-d described as “with all your might” (the renewed faith and clarity in G-d that is revealed in us
when we pray with all of our strength).
* * * *
For us personally, the waters of Noach is the rest–naicha
d‘rucha–experienced on Shabbat, as it says “because on it [Shabbat]
we withdraw/return from all of our work.”
Note: The letters of –Shabbat
can be rearanged to spell –‘will
The days of the week are days of work, action. “Said
the Al-mighty: ‘Let there be light’...‘Let there be firmament’...
‘Let the grass grow on earth,’” etc. During the six days of the
work week, the Kingship of G-d is drawn downward. Shabbat on the other
hand is turning away from our work of the weekdays and turning
to our G-dly soul. Therefore, Shabbat is called naicha d‘rucha,
the returning from the physical and also the emotional and psychological
aspects of work.
All of the physical elements of the world that a person
utilised during the work week are elevated through that person on
Shabbat back to their source.
(Note: This is analogous to a craftsman, who while working on
his creation is unified with it both physically and emotionally. Once
he completes his work, all of the energy he has invested in his creation
is elevated and returned to him in the form of pleasure, or satisfaction,
in equal measure to the energy he invested. So it is with G-d, the
ultimate craftsman. Each Shabbat all of Creation is elevated to unification
in G-d. Because Man is made in G-d‘s image, a similar process happens
in each of our individual environments.)
The difficulties, the ‘great waters,” we experience in
making a livelihood and struggling with the material world, also can
be transformed and elevated back to their source in G-dliness through
our daily prayers, for prayer can elevate the more spiritual aspects
of the physical world just as Shabbat does. In fact, prayer is also
connected to the energy of Shabbat and also is called (on a certain
level) naicha d‘rucha–rest of spirit.
* * * *
Nevertheless, this aspect of Shabbat termed ‘rest of spirit”
is considered the lower level of Shabbat. There is another, higher,
level of Shabbat that we will experience in the Messianic Era, when
the whole world will exist on a level described by the phrase, “a
day that is wholly Shabbat.”
(Note: The word ‘day” in this context also refers to the final
millennium of reality, which will come following the first 6 millennium,
modeled after the 6 + 1 relationship of the week and Shabbat, hinted
at in the verse, “A thousand years in Your eyes are like a day...
Also at that time, another great love will ultimately
be drawn down into the world, from an even higher level than the level
of love that can be reached by ‘great waters.” However, this love
will eventually be revealed only as a result of our efforts now in
overcoming the ‘great waters.” It is discussed by the prophet: “I
have sworn that the waters of Noach should no more go over the earth;
so have I sworn that I will not be furious with thee, nor rebuke thee.
For the mountains shall depart and the hills shall be removed,
but my faithful love shall not depart from thee, neither shall the
covenant of my peace be removed, says the Lord that has mercy on thee”
[Is. 54:9-10]. This supernal kindness and great love that comes from
above–“His right hand hugs me” [Song 2:6]–parallels the concepts of
the higher Shabbat mentioned above.
May it be soon.