Rabbi Reuven Mann
The story of Noach and the Great Flood is very baffling. The notion of G-d destroying the world that He had created with such care and solicitation for the needs of man is extremely challenging. Parshat Bereishit lays out in great detail all the salient aspects of Creation and contains the refrain; “And G-d saw that it was good…and behold it was very good…”
We get the sense that the existence of the world and the success of its primary inhabitant, mankind, is very important to Hashem. He wants man to assume responsibility for the development and progress of civilization to “rule over the beasts of the field and fish of the sea…..” Hashem “desires” the success of the human endeavor and He is there to lend His assistance when needed.
The notion of the Creator destroying His very own creation is, at first glance, very problematic. How are we to understand this? At the outset we must recognize that this was no small matter for Hashem. The verse in uncharacteristically anthropomorphic language describes Hashem’s “attitude” to the obliteration of mankind. “Hashem saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and that every product of the thoughts of his heart was but evil always. And Hashem reconsidered having made Man on earth and He had heartfelt sadness. And Hashem said, ‘I will blot out Man whom I created from the face of the earth- from man to animal, to creepy things, and to birds of the sky; for I have reconsidered My having made them.”
We learn from this that the existence of the world is constantly contingent on G-d’s Will. It’s not as if Hashem’s role is complete with the emergence of the universe. He doesn’t stand at a distance and leave things to their own devices, as if to say, “There I’ve given you a world to live in now go and do what you like, I will not interfere with you”. G-d does not abandon His Creation for it’s ongoing existence requires His supervision and approval.
It is thus clear that the world has a moral dimension which is inextricably connected to its physical functioning. This point is further elaborated by Maimonides in Laws of Teshuva where he asserts that the continued existence of the world is subject to Hashem’s judgement and His weighing of the good deeds against the bad deeds of mankind. “And so too the entire world, if their sins exceed (their merits)- they are instantly destroyed as it says, ‘G-d saw that the evil of man had greatly increased”.
This message is very relevant at this time. In recent years there has emerged a political movement which is based on the idea of “saving the planet”. The proponents of the doctrine of global warming attest that our universe is in danger and if we don’t act to correct the problem could actually face its extinction.
These politicians maintain that we must think beyond our own limited interests and consider the future well-being of our world. They assert that we have a responsibility to do whatever we can to avert a domesday scenario even if will not occur in our lifetime. This idea was fully elucidated by the Rambam who said that each person should view it as though he is neither righteous nor wicked but exactly in the middle. Thus every good deed that he does can tilt the moral balance and gain salvation for himself and for the world. According to this great sage every individual has the capacity to actually prevent the destruction of mankind. This realization should provide an additional incentive for eschewing evil and choosing the good.
It emerges that Judaism believes that everyone bears some responsibility for the continued existence of the planet and must therefore do whatever possible to eliminate threats that can produce a global meltdown such as nuclear conflagration and the like. Additionally we must seek to obtain a clear scientific understanding of the dangers of global warming and what humans can do to alleviate them. The goal of saving the planet is not a frivolous one.
But it cannot focus on the issues of global warming alone. An equally grave threat is posed by the breakdown of human morality. In describing the factors which led Hashem to decide that the world must be destroyed the Torah declares, “Hashem saw the earth that it was corrupt for all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth.”
The world was steeped in both moral degradation as well as oppression of the weak by the mighty. According to Nachmanides the level of instinctual behavior was such that people could not maintain the rational social ordinances that are vital to civilized society. The continued existence of the world is dependent on mankind’s maintaining the fundamental moral and ethical principles that define life as human.
The contemporary morality which denies that there are objective boundaries and which endorses all sexual behaviors that people choose, without any value judgements, is contrary to the Will of Hashem who has laid down unequivocal prohibitions regarding the instinctual conduct of mankind. The preponderance of reckless sexual indulgences and the culture of drugs and drunkenness in which they take place constitutes a serious problem and a universal threat as compelling as that of global warming.
The proponents of new green policies assert that man’s behavior can play a significant role in either dooming or delivering the universe. We are in agreement that this must be taken seriously but urge them to recognize the moral dimension which is equally consequential to the well-being of mankind.