The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the chasidic movement in the 18th century, wrote a lengthy treatise on prayer based on an innovative reading of one verse in this week’s parsha. When Gd instructs Noah in the beginning of Genesis 7, Gd tells Noah to “come into the ark.” The Hebrew word for ark, teiva, has another possible translation: word. The Baal Shem reads this verse as an invitation from Gd to “come into the word/ark”, meaning the words of prayer. He writes, “[The verse says]; ‘Come, you and your entire household, into the ark/word’, that is to say, ‘with your entire body and strength, come into the ark/word” (p.15)’ Just as Noah brought his entire self into the ark, so to are we invited when we engage in prayer–we should put our whole self into the words of our prayers.
What might this look like? How would this feel?
What does it mean to fully put yourself into your words? Is it being totally honest? Is it shouting them? Is it saying the words very slowly and intentionally? How does the ‘body’ fit in? Should we be gesticulating and jumping around? Dancing? What could this mean?
It also begs another question, not only how do we speak with (or to) Gd, how are we speaking to each other? How do we speak to ourselves?
I don’t think that there is one answer for everyone on this question, and it can look very different for different people, but what seems clear is that this is a strong invitation to invest deeply and take this mode of communication seriously, for it is a very powerful tool. I think that we can extend this to all forms of communication with words, not only with Gd. Can you imagine how it would look if we took our communication more seriously and invested more in how we express ourselves? If we could put more of our whole selves into our words, it could make the interaction more significant. It would certainly make us more vulnerable, but it could also make for transformative communication.
How much farther can we extend this idea? How does it feel to fully invest yourself in something?
We just finished the holiday of sukkot, which is one of the things that we do with our entire body when we sit inside the sukkah. Just by entering the sukkah, you are doing the mitzvah with your whole physical being. Being in the Land of Israel is another mitzvah that we do with our entire body by being present.
Whether we live here or if we come to visit, how might this consciousness change our experience here in Israel? I think about this as an invitation to connect the physical and spiritual dimensions. Returning to our verse in the Noah story, Gd says to bring ‘you’ and your ‘entire household’. This could mean ‘you’-spiritual and ‘your household’-physical. The Baal Shem Tov’s ‘your body’ and ‘your strength/power’ could mean also mean physical and spirutal. I want to suggest that this doubling is a call to bring both our physical and spiritual dimensions together into the ark/word. How could I be in Israel with my entire being, conjoining my physical and spiritual? Awareness and intentionality will make for a more profound experience. I am walking in the Land of our ancestors. Our Tradition teaches about the special connection between a Jewish person and this Land. Our People have yearned for this place for millenia. The Holy Temple once stood here. This is part of a unique moment in history with the renationalization of an ancient people. The eyes of the world are on this place and it is an opportunity to be a “Light unto the Nations”. It is a much more intense way of being here, but it also infuses the experience with more meaning.
When we are able to invest our whole selves into something it raises the ante, and invites a much more powerful experience. We can think of our daily lives and how simple tasks could become more significant when done with intentionality. All the more so in our communications and relationships with our loved ones, and it goes without saying for those of us who have spiritual pursuits and practices that this advice of the Baal Shem Tov could potentially deepen those moments with an added dimension of experience.
In the simplest way, the more present we can be in all of our actions, the deeper they can be. May we all be blessed to invest ourselves in ourselves! May we find the courage and the support to physically act and to communicate with more intentionality and awareness.