We live in a world of massive neuro-stimulation. We are all super busy, always multi-tasking and usually scatter-brained. We live in a world where being “too busy” is a badge of honor, where life is an exhausting marathon just to get to the end of the day. There is no such thing as sacred time or sacred space. Even the toilet has become an online shopping mall via our smartphones.
What does all this do for us? Has it made us happier people? Not a chance. In fact has created all sorts of complications in our brains such as stress, anxiety, exhaustion, poor decision-making, and worst of all, a lack of real enjoyment of the beautiful world and beautiful people around us that take time to appreciate.
The Torah in Parshat Noach tells of a world gone corrupt. A flood, which the Torah calls the Mabul, comes to destroy humanity and only Noach survived by building a boat called the Teivah, the Ark. But deeper than this fascinating story, the Torah is hinting to us a very deep and powerful lesson that is timeless and priceless.
To understand this lesson, let’s focus our attention to some excerpts of an account written by a student a student of the great “Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto”, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira of Piacetzna (1889-1943) about how to “quiet one’s mind” from the constant flow of stimulation that the world presents through a form of meditation, using holy words a as a form of a mantra.
The student writes:
In the year [1932-1933]… I was privileged to be called to a private meeting with the holy master… who instructed us about this matter of “quieting the mind.”
Our Holy Master shared with us his thesis that the ego constitutes a barrier to the heavenly flow. Thus, if one's thoughts and intellect are active, it is difficult for the heavenly flow to penetrate… Thus our goal is to come to a sleep-consciousness while we are awake. That is to say, we wish to stem the flow of thoughts and impulses that is endemic to the working of the mind.
He said first that one simply watches for a set period of time, observing his thoughts. He eventually will notice that the mind is emptying, his thoughts are slowing a bit from their habitual flow. He then must repeat a single verse or phrase, such as “God is truly God,” in order to insert a thought of holiness into his now open mind. After these steps, he can articulate a need for help in any one of the areas of character development which he needs to work on, be it faith or love or awe…
This idea of setting aside time to quiet the mind by focusing on holy words, is perhaps a hidden message in the story of Noach and the Flood. If we take a close look at the most literal translation of the key words, we see this message playing out.
The word Mabul shares the root of the world Bilbul which means ‘chaos’. The name Noach shares the root of the word Menucha which means ‘serenity’ or ‘calmness’. So “Noach being saved from the Mabul” can also allude to finding calmness amid the chaos of life. And what is the vehicle that saves Naoch the Ark, or the Teivah. That word Teivah has an alternate meaning: words. It is the holy words that create calmness and serenity among the chaos of life, exactly the message that the Rebbe told his students.
Through our words we can move mountains. Our kind words can make people smile. Our words of Prayer can shake the heavens. And our inner words can help us find calmness and allow the heavenly flow to break through the storms of chaos that try to drown us out.