The story of Noah and the flood is a staple of Western civilisation. Everyone knows it, but what does it mean? It is a tale jam-packed with moral lessons, of course, but are there any spiritual lessons, too? For Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasov (1745-1807) – one of the lesser-known disciples of Dov Baer, the Maggid (Preacher) of Mezritch, second leader of the Chasidic movement – the story of Noah's ark is a parable about meditation.
The notion that Judaism encourages meditation may seem strange to many but it does, particularly in certain groups. Meditation covers a lot of ground, from conventional davening from the siddur to sitting quietly with eyes closed and mind focused on a word, idea or thought, or simply on your breath.
For Rabbi Moshe Leib, Noah represents the righteous person and entering the ark symbolises entering into meditation. Just as Noah was cut off from interacting with the world while in the ark and had to rely on God, so the meditator should be detached from the world and attached to God in thought.
But we cannot stay in a meditative or prayerful state for ever. Sooner or later, we must "go forth from the ark" and deal once again with the "real" world. Yet, Moshe Leib says, that moment is one of danger. We may destroy the connection with the divine that we have worked so hard to create in our inner life. We should instead try to maintain that connection even after we have emerged from our meditation/prayer. If we can, we may find that we may act in ever more prayerful and sensitive ways in the "real" world. And that world may benefit, too.