Over the winter break, I had the good fortune of traveling on a cruise to Mexico with my family. As a Rabbi, opportunities to inspire—even on vacation—are a blessing, and I was asked to run the Shabbat service Friday night on the ship.
I began by telling the 50 or so Jews assembled from around the world (some from as far as Australia) that from now on they could all associate their Synagogue experience with a luxury cruise, instead of fasting on Yom Kippur or an anxiety-filled Bar Mitzvah reading. But what lesson could we take from being on a ship? Where do we find the first cruise in the Torah?
You guessed it: Noah’s ark. Before the raging floodwaters enveloped them (much like San Diego was enveloped by the waters of El Niño this past month), Noah and his family entered the ark, which provided them with warmth and shelter against the waves.
We know that every story in the Torah has a practical lesson for us today. Our Sages teach that the floodwaters that threatened to drown Noah signify the material stresses and burdens of everyday life that attempt to flood our minds, leaving us with little energy to pursue meaningful endeavors or achieve harmony and peace of mind.
How do we confront this challenge? G-d says: Enter the ark. The word for ark, “Teivah,” is the same term used in Hebrew for “word.” Tot rise above the floodwaters of physical and financial stresses, we can enter the words of Jewish wisdom and prayer, guiding us forward as we navigate the challenging terrain of life’s tests.
Prayer was instituted every day for this very reason, to take a moment and remember that there is a higher purpose in our dealings with the world, and that we aren’t the only ones in control. But daily prayer wasn’t enough. To succeed in living a higher, purposeful life, we needed a longer period of time to refocus and connect to our mission and what’s really valuable in life; and this is Shabbat. Whether we observe one hour or the full 25, Shabbat is like a short cruise. On the cruise we had zero connection to Wi-Fi, just time to reflect and connect with our family, ourselves, and with G-d through nature.
Imagine you are gazing at a beautiful painting, admiring its vast intricacies and amazing colors. You come to feel great respect for the artist’s painting skill. But what do you know and feel about the artist himself? On Shabbat, we are given a special opportunity to connect with who G-d is beyond His artwork. The same opportunity is given to us to get to know our family and ourselves on a deeper level.
May we all enter whatever ark we find to help propel us over the floodwaters of life with great success. Like Noah who finally left his ark to build a better world, we leave our prayer, Torah study and Shabbat experience invigorated, ready to build a more pleasant, happy and meaningful world.