Noah And The Generation Of The Flood

Rabbi Israel Chait - Transcribed by students

In order to appreciate the milieu of the generation of the flood and the events that led to the destruction of civilization, we must analyze the verses in the Torah. Genesis 6:11 states “And the Earth was corrupted before G-d and the Earth was filled with violence.” Rashi defines corruption as sexual immorality and idolatry. He defines violence as robbery. This verse is the prelude to G-d’s determination that civilization must be destroyed because of the perpetuation of “chamas” (violence) throughout mankind. Thus chamas, robbery, sealed man’s fate.

However, this final adjudication by G-d of man’s fate was actually preceded by two earlier observations and warnings. Chapter six verse two states, “That the sons of G-d saw the daughters of man that they were fair, and they took for themselves wives, whomsoever they chose.” Man was promiscuous and sought all types of sexual gratification without any moral restrictions. G-d thereby gave man his first warning. Man was given 120 years to repent from his sexual corruption or G-d would destroy mankind.

In chapter six verse five, G-d makes his second observation, “And G-d saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” This observation of the quantitative increase in man’s nefarious conduct led G-d to the conclusion that he will obliterate mankind from upon the face of the earth.

An analysis of these observations and warnings from G-d indicates a logical progression and sequence from man’s initial corruption, until his ultimate degradation, to total depravity unworthy of salvation.

The first breakdown of the morality of man was his sexual promiscuity. Man’s detachment from sexual illicit relationships is the source of man’s sanctity.

Kedusha - sanctity - emanates from sexual abstention. Maimonides in his Mishna Torah in the laws of Kedusha has two categories: the laws of forbidden sexual relationships and the laws of forbidden foods. Thus we see that the sanctity of man stems from his ability to subordinate his instinctual desires. Kedusha is the supremacy of the “Tzelem Elokim”, (man’s intellect) over the “nefesh ha-behami”, (man’s instinctual desires), the appetitive and the sexual. Thus the first corruption of man was in allowing his emotions to rule his intellect.

The second step was the ‘quantitative’ increase in man’s degradation. As man’s libido and energies became attached to the instinctual pleasures, they obviously became a greater source of satisfaction for man. Thus, man’s corruption became prevalent throughout society. The emotions of man totally dominated all aspects of his conduct. Hence, G-d saw that the wickedness of man was great.

However, the final corruption, which sealed man’s fate, was when his depravity progressed to robbery. Nachmanides states that man’s fate was sealed with the sin of robbery because it is a violation of a “mitzvah sichli” - a command arrived at through reason (without the need for G-d’s command, i.e., something obvious). The prohibition against stealing logically makes sense. As Nachmanides says, it’s a commandment, which does not require a prophet to warn us against it evils. However, Nachmanides’ message must be understood. Simply because a commandment does not necessitate a prophet to warn us against its violation, does not reflect upon the severity of the prohibition. It would seem that there are greater evils, which result from violating a mitzva, which is not sichli (reasonably obvious) and requires a prophet’s warning. On the contrary, if our conduct warrants the rebuke of a prophet it must certainly be extremely grievous behavior. However, an analysis of Nachmanides interpretation leads us to a better understanding of the corruption of thievery and the reason it sealed man’s destruction.

Man is different than an animal. An animal’s existence is purely instinctual. His reality is subservient to his instinctual desires. An animal’s existence is totally contained within the realm of the physical. An animal does not contemplate how long it is going to live.

Man however, is a complex creature. Man’s nature is perennially the source of conflict. The instinctual desires of man are constantly in conflict with the intellectual.

Instinctually, man desires to live forever, but reality tells him that he is limited by the constraints of time. As a result there are essentially only two creations that are not in a constant state of conflict; the animal, because it is totally dominated and guided by the instinctual, and harmonious man, whose entire energies are directed towards wisdom. However an ordinary individual’s instinctual desires are in conflict with, and tempered by his intellectual faculties.

The original pratfall for man was sexual turpitude. The sexual instinct was overpowering, yet, man had not abandoned the intellectual. In fact, man utilized his wisdom in the pursuit of his desires.

However, man was doomed to extinction when violence prevailed. Robbery is reflective of a society that totally abandons the rules of common sense. Man was no longer functioning in the world of reality. He was no longer using his mind in the pursuit of his physical pleasures. He was involved in violent, self-destructive behavior. This is what Nachmanides meant when he said that violence sealed man’s fate because it was a violation of an obviously, reasonable law. Man was entirely in the grasp of his instinctual desires - to the extent - that his intellectual faculties were no longer functioning. Therefore, the warning of a prophet would not be heeded since man is functioning solely in the realm of the physical world. His self-destructive behavior manifests the abandonment of the intellectual, even as a means for the pursuit of physical pleasures. Violence epitomizes the state of the domination of the instincts. Thus, G-d determined that man’s existence was equal to his non-existence and civilization was destined to be obliterated.

It is significant to note that violence flourished and was fostered by man’s initial domination by his sexual desires. It is when man abandons the intellectual repression of sexual promiscuity, that his instinctual appetites be cultivated and ultimately dominates him. Merely because the violations of the sexual mores are victimless infractions, does not diminish the severity of the offense. It is the breeding ground whereby a corrupt individual’s instinctual desires gain strength and overpower the intellectual, and thus, subjugate the tzelem Elokim - the intellect - to the whims of the physical. Chamas - violence - is a natural outgrowth of such a behavioral progression and condemns mankind to a worthless existence.

Noach however, did not fall prey to the corruption of the society. Although he was considered righteous, the Rabbis castigate him for not attempting to influence other people. Noach never tried to influence his fellow man to behave in a just fashion. This is bothersome, considering the fact that the Torah refers to Noach as a tzadik, a righteous and pure individual. Certainly, justice would dictate that he help the plight of his fellow man. Thus, we must appreciate the appellation tzadik as utilized in respect to Noach.

There are two types of righteous individuals: Abraham typifies the higher level. This is the just individual who lives in a corrupt society and functions therein. In terms of his personal ideals (of monotheism) they were foreign to the values of that society. He was a foreigner in this respect. However, he was a citizen of the world. He functioned externally as a productive member of society. In fact, he attempted to influence other members of society to adopt his values and ideals.

The other type of righteous individual cannot tolerate the influences of a corrupt society. He retreats and lives the life of seclusion always insulating himself from external pressures. Noach was this type of personality. The Rabbis teach us that Noach was a ma-amin, he was a believer, but yet he did not believe. He possessed the intellectual conviction to reject society’s values. However, he was cognizant of the temptations of the world around him and thus lived a sheltered life. Noach appreciated that he was in conflict and could not risk the dangerous exposure of facing the outside world. He lived an existence whereby he realized he was in conflict, but resolved the conflict in favor of the intellect. Therefore God did not blame him for not attempting to influence others. His state of perfection prevented him from helping others. Thus, Noach was righteous and pure, but yet, the Torah adds “b-dorosav”, “in his generation” (was he perfect). His actions were not inherently corrupt and thus he was not deserving of extinction. However, his righteousness was commensurate to the times he lived in. He was indirectly culpable because his state of perfection prevented him from venturing into the outside world and aiding others. However, he still was righteous, for one cannot be held responsible for not helping others live the proper life if it would risk his own perfection. Thus Noach was a tzadik in his generation.