Celebrating the Spiritual Levels of Torah

Torah is a teaching that continues to unfold, guiding us to appreciate the text more fully
as our awareness evolves.

Torah Portion for the week of October 7 - 13, 2018:

(Genesis 6:9 - 11:32)

What we do makes a difference

Almost every culture has a flood story, probably reflecting an ancient cataclysmic occurrence, tales of which passed from community to community across vast distances of space and time. In Jewish tradition, the flood was understood as punishment for a population turned totally evil — a moral reboot for the entire population of the planet.

As we explore this well-known story, we seek to honor the three basic levels from which Torah speaks and we hear. On the surface level, the level of p'shat, we are told that Noah and his family alone are worthy of survival. A moral dimension is added to an ancient flood myth.

The basic story expands when understood at the remez level, hinting at a more general relevance. In this case, we honor the biblical insistence that this is a moral universe: it makes a difference what we do and how we act with one another. There is a way that can bring destruction, and there is a way that can bring healing.

And then there is the level of d'rash, the exposition that invites us to appreciate the inner dimensions of the story. On this level, Torah becomes universal, reflecting the essential dramas that arise within all humankind. With d'rash, we meet ourselves.

Many of us feel flooded

The flood is no longer simply an outer event remembered, it is rising within and around us right now. The storms that are buffeting our world are reminders that there are profound consequences to our actions.

And in our increasingly polarized present, many of us feel flooded with growing anxieties and fears for the future of people and planet. We are flooded with feelings of overwhelm, of powerlessness, and even of despair. We are flooded with fears that are often cloaked in anger. This flooding, too, is a moral event: It reflects a decreasing clarity of purpose and meaning, an increasing loss of hope, and a growing inability to work cooperatively for the common good.

The instructions Noah receives — to build an ark in which to preserve all species when the flood destroys everything else — are instructions for us all. It is time to build an ark able to float above the raging waters. The image parallels that with which Torah began. In that earlier case, it was the initial Universal Consciousness that rose from the waters of chaos. Here, it is our own, in our own time and in our own place.

The pursuit is one of peace, that more inclusive consciousness with which we can weather the polarizations of our time without becoming immersed beneath them. We strive for the rebirth of a forgotten wholeness; we seek to reclaim the peaceful heart of our own being. There is no denial of the flood, but there is an appreciation of how we can learn to float.

From an inclusive and peaceful consciousness, our actions in the world can more clearly support healing without contributing to greater division. We still must act according to what we believe to be right, but we can also seek out the wisdom, often hidden, within those with whom we are in sharp disagreement.

Peaceful consciousness honors the essential sacred dignity of all beings, and is the place from which all true healing unfolds.

Our Meditative Focus: Peaceful Consciousness

Our meditative focus this week begins with allowing ourselves to float above the inner and the outer drama that has captured our attention. But simply floating is not enough. From that more peaceful place, we can begin to reach out to bring that peaceful Presence to moments yearning to be honored, and to persons waiting to be met.

When the mythic ark finally came to rest as the waters receded, Noah sent out a raven who went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth (8:7). The raven was able to find sustenance, indicating that the water was, indeed, receding.

But the raven had not found the peace that Noah sought, so he sent forth a dove, to seek something more. The dove returned. After seven days, Noah sent it out for a second time. This time, the dove returned with an olive leaf in its mouth, letting Noah know that the waters had abated even more. While the sign told him that peace was possible, Noah waited another seven days before sending the dove out again. This time, the dove did not return. But Noah waited yet another seven days before opening the ark for his family and all the animals to begin repopulating the earth.

Peaceful consciousness does not arise immediately. Even after the flood had begun to calm, the dove could not find the symbol indicating a more profound peace was possible. Notice that 21 days passed between the first flight of the dove and the opening of the ark. Many traditions teach that it takes 21 days to establish new habits of thought and of action.

The Meditation: The Presence of Peace

So this meditation may be one to be practiced for a three-week period. You can also experiment with compressing it into a single week by engaging this meditation three times a day for an entire week. Here is a guide for this practice:
  • Remember yourself into a deeply relaxed and calm place. Take some time to notice how it is to be in the body. As your relaxation increases, you can witness the activity of the mind more clearly. Simply listen to the voice of your mind. Become aware of the energies of flooding that are currently drawing your attention.
  • As you witness with greater calmness, allow your consciousness to withdraw into the place of witness. You are aware of the drama, aware of the issues, but you are no longer controlled by them. As you witness, you can gently accept all that your mind and your body experiences. Your breathing is calming, and you are floating behind the struggles.
  • When you taste the peaceful heart of your being, you can imagine venturing back into the dramas of the moment. Be aware of how compellingly they grab your consciousness, and return to the place of witness. Through the witness, taste again the peaceful Presence within your consciousness, and bring this peace into places of discord.
  • Continue experimenting, dipping into the drama, returning to the reality of peace within yourself, and moving into the challenges you meet. This is the essence of this process. The body and the mind will always draw our attention into the world of contrast and polarization, and our challenge is to learn to reconnect more quickly with our inner peace, and imagine walking that peace into our world.
  • Conclude this meditation by celebrating the Presence of Peace. This more profound Peace is the very nature of your greater Self.

Photo: Mark Reden