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October 24, 2014 2:16 pm

Noah: An Ode to the Amateur

avatar by Simon Jacobson

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Noah's Ark in Iğdır, Turkey. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Whom do you trust more: A new mom or an expert psychiatrist? The exuberance of a young child or the sobriety of a war-torn adult? The passion of youth or the apathy of indifference? A young man or woman in love or a cynical veteran? An amateur or a professional?

With all the virtues of experience, there is much to be said about simplicity. Professionalism is a tremendous asset. Expertise, maturity, skills and lack of naiveté — all vital. But innocence is becoming a far more rare and precious commodity.

These thoughts came to me as I was pondering about all that is happening today in the world and in our personal lives: The dizzying pace of events can leave you feeling utterly overwhelmed. Just in the last few months global upheavals have rushed up on us like a great tsunami, leaving many of us reeling and wondering: what next?

Borrowing the words of this week’s Torah portion: Floodwaters seem to be raging all around us, threatening to swamp us in their wake. Whether they come in the form of ISIS and Ebola on the world stage, or the anxiety of our personal struggles at home or at work, the many of us feel deeply inundated in a modern-day deluge.

Lest you think that modern technology is our savior, consider this: how many of us feel totally inundated by a relentless flow of data, drowning in information overload and submerged by sensory over-stimulation? And in case you aren’t sure, try refraining from texting and shutting down your gadgets and you’ll experience for yourself your withdrawal symptoms and addictions.

But just like today’s floods remind of us the Great Flood of old, it also reminds us about the good news: How to build an ark

And the I remember that great line: Professionals built the Titanic. Amateurs built the ark.

I just love that thought. So counterintuitive. So true.

So if you are suffering from any of our modern day deluges, here is a profound piece of counsel from this week’s Torah portion.

A great flood was about to arrive on Earth. Noah is told by G-d: “Build yourself an ark… come into the ark together with your family,” and this ark will protect you from the flood.

“Teivah” is the Hebrew word used in the Torah for ark. “Teivah” also means “word.” Says the Baal Shem Tov: “Build yourself an ark” – enter into protective words of Torah and prayer – which protect you from the raging floodwaters of anxieties that each of us have.

This advice may seem counterintuitive. When you are suffering, say, financially it sounds more practical to intensify your efforts to find supplemental income: A new job, new types of investments. When money is lost it seems that the most logical thing to do is to become more aggressive in your pursuit of money, not to escape behind spiritual walls.

But think again. From where do we derive ultimate security? Can a structure rest comfortably on a shifting foundation? Would you feel safe being embraced by transient love? Can a child build confidence with absentee parents? Can we be secure with something that is fundamentally insecure?

True security can only come from something that is not temporary; safety and trust is built on that which is solid and permanent.

Everything in this material universe is intrinsically impermanent. We are mortals living in an ever-changing and ever-aging world. Everything physical erodes, ages and dies. Everything that has a beginning has an end. Our looks, our youth, our food, our belongings, and yes – our money – all get depleted.

I always found it ironic to call those financial vehicles – which are inherently temporal and fraught with risk (as every prospectus legally reminds us) – with the name… “securities.” And that insurance company that totes its symbol of “The Rock.”

With everything material, including money, being so transitory, how can we expect to find security there? Yet we return there again and again. Is it because we have become addicted, or because we don’t know of any other alternatives?

The mere fact that in times of anxiety most of us would gravitate back to more aggressive material pursuits is the clearest demonstration how addicted we have become to materialism, and how we feel that it is the only panacea to relieve our anxiety. However, the rule is that anything that brings you anxiety can never relieve your anxiety. But this is a rule of logic, not of emotions. As much as it may make sense that a “drug” will not solve your problems, the addict returns to the drug again and again. Because life is not about sense; most of our decisions are emotional ones in the first place.

As one shtetl drunk once said: You drink to drown your tzoros (problems). Then you find out that tzoros float…

And thus comes the brilliant but simple advice of this week’s Torah portion: “Build yourself an ark… come into the ark together with your family.”

When the floodwaters of pressures and anxieties are raging and threaten to drown you, build a protective “ark” and enter into it with your family. Surround yourself with sacred words, insulate yourself with spiritual values and ideas.

Take time each day, each week, on weekends – designate any time that works – gather your family together and study some Torah, read a spiritual thought together, pray together.

This is not escapism. This is being pragmatic, and empowering. It is acknowledging that when the unpredictable floods are going wild, you have the power to create an oasis – a protective womb – that lifts you and your loved ones to an eternal place, which shelters you from the storm.

Not just shelter that avoids danger, but a space that brings permanent comfort being that it connects you to the immortal – the holy words that surround your life. So that even when you “leave the ark” and return to the material world you have become somewhat immunized, no longer so vulnerable to the inherent insecurities of everything corporeal.

Build yourself an ark. Enter into it. Feel nurtured.

A simple piece of advice. But one that can change your life forever.

It may be a simple ark. Built by an amateur. But remember: Professionals build the Titanic. Amateurs built the ark.

Whom would you trust more: A new mother or a seasoned attorney?

I don’t know about you, but in this fast paced world, I sometimes just want to kick off my shoes and cuddle up in a warm corner and read a simple book.

In a world inundated by “professionals,” “experts” and “sophisticated” gadgets we can sure use a little dose of amateurism…

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