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Rabbi Shaul Leiter



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.


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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 be explained.


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).


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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 and 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).


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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 return.


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.


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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... [Ps. 90:4].)


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.


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