Each year, when my Tuesday lunchtime class starts up again, it finally feels like the long holiday season has come to a close and “regular” time is officially back in full swing. I’ve been teaching this class for more than 15 years, and some of the participants have been there since the beginning. For the last several years, we’ve been studying Hasidic teachings on the weekly parashah (Torah portion). This year we are studying one of my most beloved Hasidic rebbes, Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky (1911–2000) of Slonim, and his work Netivot Shalom (Paths of Peace).
The class has grown from the group that used to sit around the small tables in the conference room at the BJ office in the Ansonia Building, to the expanding space in the middle room on 89th Street, and now in virtual space with each participant in their own square/home on Zoom. I cherish the long-term relationships, the welcoming of new learners, and the gift of a tradition that continues to nourish my soul, inspire, and challenge me, as well as allowing me to be both a teacher and a student at the same time.
It never ceases to amaze me how the text we are studying at any given moment feels so relevant. In his commentary on Parashat Noah, the Slonimer Rebbe teaches that, when we as individuals or as a society sink to the lowest depths and live in the midst of corruption and lawlessness, the Torah has a response: “Make for yourself an ark!” He writes:
“In every Jew there is a small bit that is still not bad, a small portion of vitality through which one is able to turn back and build one’s spiritual world once again. How loving of God to have planted in us even one spark from above from which we gain incomparable powers. No matter how coarse we may have become, it is in our power to rise up due to that spark in us.”
Just as Noah’s building of the ark in the corrupt generation of the flood created the possibility of a protected and unadulterated place in the universe to begin the world again, so too do we individually have that pure, incorruptible place.
With the looming election, the ongoing persistence of the pandemic, and the corruption and lawlessness that eat away at the very fabric of our society, I needed this teaching this week. No matter what we are going through personally, or as a society, there is always a place to build from again, that gift from God of that small, untainted place in us. How do we remind ourselves it exists? How do we cultivate our connection with it? How do we awaken that place in ourselves?
Spiritual practice—study, prayer, keeping Shabbat—all contribute to my trying to stay connected to that small portion of vitality, albeit not always successfully. I pray on this Shabbat Noah that, though we live in a time of unprecedented immorality and exploitation of the truth, we become ark builders! There is never a point of no return. If Noah sustained the world through the ark-building project, so too might we.
Feel free to join my Tuesday class, or Roly’s classes, or Wednesdays with Hadar. There are so many opportunities to learn right from your own home! Click here to learn more!