For the week ending 13 October 2007 / 1 Heshvan 5768

Parshat Noach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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It is ten generations since the creation of the first human. Adams descendants have corrupted the world with immorality, idolatry and robbery, and G-d resolves to bring a flood which will destroy all the earths inhabitants except for the righteous Noach, his family and sufficient animals to repopulate the earth. G-d instructs Noach to build an ark. After forty days and nights, the flood covers even the tops of the highest mountains. After 150 days the water starts to recede. On the 17th day of the 7th month, the ark comes to rest on Mount Ararat. Noach sends out a raven and then a dove to ascertain if the waters have abated. The dove returns. A week later Noach again sends the dove, which returns the same evening with an olive leaf in its beak. After another seven days Noach sends the dove once more; the dove does not return. G-d tells Noach and his family to leave the ark. Noach brings offerings to G-d from the animals which were carried in the ark for this purpose. G-d vows never again to flood the entire world and designates the rainbow as a sign of this covenant. Noach and his descendants are now permitted to slaughter and eat meat, unlike Adam. G-d commands the Seven Universal Laws: The prohibitions against idolatry, adultery, theft, blasphemy, murder, eating meat torn from a live animal, and the obligation to set up a legal system. The worlds climate is established as we know it today. Noach plants a vineyard and becomes intoxicated from its produce. Ham, one of Noachs sons, delights in seeing his father drunk and uncovered. Shem and Yafet, however, manage to cover their father without looking at his nakedness, by walking backwards. For this incident, Canaan is cursed to be a slave. The Torah lists the offspring of Noachs three sons from whom the seventy nations of the world are descended. The Torah records the incident of the Tower of Bavel, which results in G-d fragmenting communication into many languages and the dispersal of the nations throughout the world. The Parsha concludes with the genealogy of Noach to Avram.


The Hands of the Artist

“May G-d extend Yafet, but he will dwell in the tents of Shem…” (9:27)

Any recorded medium, be it video or sound, has a tremendous advantage and serious drawback — and ironically they are both the same.

You can change things forever.

In a concert hall, the singer has only one chance to hit that top C — if he or she blows it, that’s it. In the recording studio, the possibility exists to go for that top C ad infinitum — and often ad nauseam.

As in so many things, possibility commands necessity. “Let’s just give it one more take…” The road to insanity is paved with the millstone of perfectionism.

Worse however, perfectionism very often leads to mediocrity.

A well-known record producer used to quip in the studio, “Let’s improve it till it’s dreadful.”

He told me that whenever he finished a record there were parts with which he was less than satisfied; maybe a certain instrument could have been louder or softer, or a piece of the vocal wasn’t quite smooth enough.

Ironically, if the record became a hit, often the parts with which he was the least enamored were the parts that made the record original and unique.


One of the prerequisites of being a good artist is knowing how to get out of your own way.

All creation begins with imitation. But if art never escapes imitation then it is doomed to blandness; it will never be more than a recapitulation of what preceded it. Great art has the ability to lead you down the path of the familiar and then reveal something you never dreamed of.

How does it do this?

The greatest artist whoever lived was called Betzalel. It was Betzalel who built the Mishkan in the desert after the Jewish People left Egypt. The greatness of Betzalel’s creation was that succeeded in doing what every artist dreams of — to make heaven dwell on earth. To make the spiritual dwell within the physical. The Mishkan was the way in which the Shechina, the Divine Presence became apparent in this world.

Betzalel knew how to take the building blocks of creation, the aleph bet, and with mystical kavanot (thoughts) combine the letters to create G-d,’s dwelling place on earth, similar to the way G-d Himself created the whole universe with those same letters.

Betzalel’s name means “In the shadow of G-d” — B’tzeil Keil. The greatest artist is he who can get out of his own way and allow G-d to paint the picture.

Noach’s son, Yafet, was the father of Yavan, who was the founder of Ancient Greece. Greece, and all its gifts to the world: aesthetics, poetics, drama — the depiction of the world as it looks from the outside in, finds its true purpose when Yafet dwells in the tents of Shem, the tents of Torah — for it is the Torah that gives us a view of the world from the inside out.

The greatest art comes when the artist recognizes that he is merely a tool in the Hands of The Artist.

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