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Parashat Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32)

“Noah was six hundred years old when the flood came, waters upon the earth.” (Genesis 7:6)

PaRDeS, the Hebrew word for orchard (referring to the Garden of Eden) is an acronym summarizing the Jewish interpretive tradition. It describes four ways to read and understand any Torah text: P stands for p’shat, the simple, literal reading; R for remez, the allegorical reading; D for d’rash, the interpretive reading; and S for sod, the mystical reading. Rabbi Rami Shapiro (1951-; author, poet, essayist, and educator) uses Parashat Noach, the story of Noah and the flood, to illustrate how PaRDeS works.

Literally (P’shat), Parashat Noach tells how the wicked of the earth are drowned and only Noah and the inhabitants of the ark are saved to start a new world. Allegorically, though, (Remez), it’s a parable about maintaining your balance in a time of crisis (Noach means calmness or equanimity). It also can be interpreted (D’rash) as follows: the Hebrew word teva, or ark, can be linked to teivot, which means letters. Now it’s a story about how the letters of the Torah are a refuge from strife. Finally, read through a mystical lens (Sod) the skylight in the ark (Gen. 6:16) teaches words alone can trap you unless you have a portal through which divine wisdom can enter.

The different readings seem hierarchical, but one doesn’t necessarily lead to another; each is legitimate and complete on its own. In fact, one may conflict with another, illustrating a central dynamic of PaRDeS: it doesn’t require you to resolve the conflict (Is the ark actually a boat or not?). Rather, it offers a discipline for developing an open mind capable of maintaining multiple propositions, simultaneously. That’s called thinking.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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