Parshat Noach, Genesis 6:9–11:32
In Parshat Noach, we encounter a most unexpected event — God’s destruction of the world He had created “according to His will.” Why would a “perfect” Creator have reason to “reject” His handiwork and consign it to oblivion?
We can infer from this how vital the moral life of mankind is to the sustainment of the world. Hashem fashioned man in His “Image” and thereby differentiated him from the animals that function, exclusively, according to instinct. Man must transcend carnal lust and live a life based on wisdom and self control.
A hypothetical question was once posed to a great rabbi. Suppose science could develop a pill that would transform people into righteous beings who instinctively practiced kindness and eschewed evil, would it be ethical to place it in the water supply? He responded that to do so would violate God’s Will, which is that man should be good as a result of his own choice. To compromise man’s free will, however noble the objective, is contrary to Hashem’s plan in Creation.
The story of the Flood teaches that certain human behaviors can alter man’s nature to the point where he descends to the level of an animal. There were two dimensions to the sinfulness of the generation of the Flood. It began with the breakdown of instinctual control and indulgence in all forms of sexual depravity. “And God saw the Earth and behold it was corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the Earth.”
However, the sinfulness was not restricted to rampant immorality. There emerged, in addition, a proliferation of violence marked by theft and disregard for the property rights of others. Hashem said: “the end of all flesh has come before me for the Earth is filled with robbery…” Despite the extreme sexual depredations, the rabbis say, “Their fate was sealed because of the violence.” Nachmanides explains that this is because the laws protecting property rights are vital to maintaining societal order. As long as man was rational and disciplined enough to preserve human civilization there was still hope that the divine spark God had implanted in him might prevail. However, when the instincts became so overwhelming that they compelled him to act in an irrational, self-destructive manner, his continued existence had no moral purpose.
There is much we can learn from this story. We are duplicating the mistake of the sinful generation in asserting that sexual behaviors are unrelated to ethics and morality. The Torah maintains that the loss of instinctual control in the sexual domain inevitably crosses over to that of man’s impulsive desire for the property of others.
The sexual revolution of the 1960s proclaimed that sexual morality is purely subjective and that you should “do you own thing” as long as “you don’t hurt others.” Like the people of the Flood they maintained you could be sexually amoral and ethically righteous.
Sexual liberation has, however, proven to be a disaster. Millions have died from STDs, unwanted pregnancies and the substance addictions intrinsic to an uninhibited, instinctual lifestyle. Not to mention the devastation wrought by our societies’ tolerance and encouragement of the sexual promiscuity of teenagers and young adults.
The corruption has infected the area of interpersonal relations. The worst economic crimes, such as insider trading, tax evasion and Ponzi schemes have been the unintended consequence of the sexual revolution. How many outstanding political, professional and business careers have been ruined by sexual and economic scandals or some combination thereof?
Parshat Noach reminds us that man must preserve his divine image by controlling his instincts and conducting his affairs with wisdom and justice. Jews especially must be a “light unto the nations,” demonstrating the great beauty of a personal, professional and family life rooted in the foundation of Holiness. JN
Rabbi Reuven Mann is the leader of Congregation Torat Emet. His new book ‘Eternally Yours: God’s Greatest Gift to Mankind — Genesis,’ is now available at Amazon.com.