There is a long-standing argument in the Jewish Tradition, comparing the hero of this week’s parsha (Noah) with the hero of next week’s parsha (Abraham). Each has strengths and weaknesses, and it is an interesting debate. One pillar in the argument is in the opening verse to this week’s reading (Genesis 6:9) when it says, “Noah walked with Gd.” To which Rashi comments:

Noah walked with God: But concerning Abraham, Scripture says (below 24:40): “

[the Lord] before Whom I walked.” Noah required [God’s] support to uphold him [in righteousness], but Abraham strengthened himself and walked in his righteousness by himself.

This reading suggests that Noah’s need to be ‘supported’ by Gd indicates a flaw in Noah, where Abraham was able to stand alone. On this point, the Baal Shem Tov (18th c Ukraine and the founder of Chasidut) offers an interesting insight. It is told that one of his students approached him with the question of why does he sometimes feel very close to Gd, and other times very far away. The Baal Shem Tov, relating to our verse and Noah, told the following parabel:
When a parent begins to teach their child to walk on their own, they begin by holding the child upright and stretching out their arms to ensure that the child does not fall. The child begins to approach the parent, walking between the parent’s arms. As the child approaches, the parent slowly and little-by-little moves backwards so that the child will progess, draw close, and learn to walk.
The Baal Shem Tov continued, that thus it is with the Source of All Life. When someone has a spiritual stirring and feels close to Gd, that person could theoretically stay on that level, but Gd effectively takes “a step backwards”, encouraging the individual to progress and grow in depth, maturity and ability by striving to continually draw close. In other words, that feeling of being distant is indicative of Gd’s belief in you to continue growing and learning, and not–Gd forbid–the opposite as it might seem (that Gd has grown distant). It is a sign of greatness and no reason to despair!
I think that this teaching is very important at this time of year. We are settling into the routine after the long haul of the Holidays. After those high-points that we may have felt, it is easy to fall into ruts and routines. The change of the clocks, the dark and cold weather could ‘cool-down’ the inspiration that we may have had during the Holidays. Along comes the Baal Shem Tov, teaching us that those feelings of being distant are actually a profound expression of our own acheivements and an invitation to continue growing and striving.
May we be blessed to thrive in this dance between feeling close and far, and learn to walk, run and even soar in our relationships both with the Divine, and also with each other!

These thoughts about teaching a child to walk are also in honor of my new nephew, born last week to Meir and Tali, and we will be celebrating the brit of the baby boy this Shabbat. Mazal tov!

Blessings for a wonderful Shabbat!