Noah’s Flood: Outer Landscape and Inner World

An ancient sage and a modern poet, each named Yehuda, give different life to the images of the biblical flood story.

The terrain of the flooded world reminded the 4th century sage, Rabbi Yehuda ben Simon, of Psalm 36:7:  Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; your justice like the great deep.

In his imagination, the great deep became the same great deep from which arose the waters of the flood (Genesis 7:11) and the Psalm’s mighty mountains became the peaks of Arrarat where the Ark finally came to rest.  For Rabbi Yehuda, the story of the flood gave the Psalm verse a clear meaning:  Divine righteousness is like the mountains, strict justice, like the flood waters.  The heights save and the deep destroys.

A 20th century Yehuda, the Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai, disagrees with his ancient namesake.  Life is not so straightforward.  In the imagination of this modern Yehuda, the mountains, the deep and the flood are not only outer landscape, but the inner life of memory.  For this modern Yehuda, the heights do not always rescue nor do the depths always destroy:

…Sometimes memory
Is the dry land that is firm and founded
And sometimes memory is the sea that covers everything
Like in the flood.  And it is forgetting that is the dry land like Arrarat.

Click here for the full teaching of each Yehuda.

This entry was posted in Memory, Parshat HaShavuah, Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

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