One morning this past week on my way to work I got to pondering about what it meant to me to be a ‘ben Noach’.
For those who may be new to my blogs, ‘ben Noach’ is Hebrew for ‘son of Noah’.
What is so special about that designation? What does it mean? Why would I want to assign myself a designation? And the questions go on.
Learning To Question
One of the beauties of Torah Judaism is that it teaches you to question, not to question out of doubt but to question to inquire knowledge and gain wisdom.
My wife and I, for over a year attended a Sabbath morning class at a synagogue in Atlanta, GA. We would drive two hours to get there. The young rabbi that taught the class taught us how to ask questions. For a year we studied one chapter of Tehillim/Psalms. Every week would begin in verse one of chapter 145. We would start over again and read verse one, we would let the passage form our questions. What amazed me the most, there comes a point when you ask enough questions, the questions themselves will become the answers. I know, wrap your head around that one.
At the time of our attending the synagogue we were at the beginning of our quest to convert to Orthodox Judaism. It is a very difficult and lengthy process, as Jews do not seek converts and they do their best to persuade you not to convert. The reason is, because one need not be a Jew to have a relationship with the Creator and G-d of Israel.
When someone has their first set down meeting with a rabbi, the first question he asks is, “Why do you want to be Jewish?” At first that may seem like a basic plain question, but in reality it is a question to cause one to do some very deep soul searching. I pondered that question off and on for 7 years, as time and my knowledge from learning and continued soul search went on, my answer to that question would change.
After 7 years of pondering the question, “Why do you want to be Jewish?” Led me to ask a question that caused me to ask the exact same question but from a different emphasis.
I was meditating and the passage from Tehillim 62 came to my mind, “In G-d alone my soul waits…” I looked at that passage and was driven to ask more questions birthed from the original question of why I wanted to be Jewish.
The words, “In G-d alone…” caused me to analyze where I was at and who I was. I said to my self , “Right here in this place and time my soul waits in G-d alone, He is my only source of life, He alone is my G-d and there is no other and I already come to Him for every need and He alone gets my praise and In Him alone I will return after this life is over – then “Why do I want to be Jewish? What will being Jewish add to what I already have?”
As a ben Noach I already have a vibrant and growing relationship with the Creator, to become Jewish I would have to totally change my life; take on new commandments, a new name, become part of a different nation and so on – it would be a complete changing and reforming of who I am. I would not be who I am anymore.
An old Chassidic tale:
“Once, the Hassidic rabbi Zusya came to his followers with tears in his eyes. They asked him:
“Zusya, what’s the matter?
And he told them about his vision; “I learned the question that the angels will one day ask me about my life.”
The followers were puzzled. “Zusya, you are pious. You are scholarly and humble. You have helped so many of us. What question about your life could be so terrifying that you would be frightened to answer it?”
Zusya replied; “I have learned that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Moses, leading your people out of slavery?’ and that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Joshua, leading your people into the promised land?”‘
Zusya sighed; “They will say to me, ‘Zusya, why weren’t you Zusya?'”
The students were silent, for they understood Zusya’s final lesson. To do your best is to be yourself, to hear and follow the still, small voice of your own neshamah/soul.
To do your best is to be yourself
The subject of finding oneself is not exclusive to the 20 something collage crowd. Everyone goes through that time period when they are in the search of themselves.
It so happens to be that I fall into the crowd that seems to make it a life long journey. I have picked up pieces of the puzzle along the way and now finally in my early fifties I am seeing the picture.
Everyone on the planet is a child of Noah i.e. Bnei Noach/children of Noah.
So back to the question, what does being a ben Noach mean to me?
Physically, I am a son of Noah most likely a descendent of Japheth through his son Gomer and so on.
Spiritually, I am a ben Noah who has taken on observing the 7 Laws that G-d has given us to keep – we do them because He asked us to.
I am also, as I just learned in my studies a ‘yashar’ – a yasher is a man whose intellect directs his steps and human qualities into the straight and virtuous paths laid down by G-d. He requires the advice of the Torah so as not to err in his understanding.
And I am a teacher, I discovered this many years ago. I love to teach what I learn, it is one of the most soul satisfying activities that I do besides reading and learning.
When I decided to remain who G-d created as, a ben Noach, I sat out to find out what all He required of me. I can say studying and observing the 7 Laws is a life changing event. Seeking out everyday how can I obey Him for the day is an awesome feeling. For the most part that involves finding ways to live right with your fellow humans
An ending thought I want you to ponder:
When we observe the prohibitions that the Creator laid out for us, we are sowing good into the world around us and being the best of who we are.
Terry W. Hayes