The Great Flood was the 3rd natural disaster to hit the world. The Rabbis teach us that 1/3 of the world was flooded in the days of Enosh when idolatry was introduced into the world. The Midrash mentions that there was a major famine in the world around the time of Noah’s birth. Then came the Great Flood about 600 years later.
We are not privy as to why events happen. We are not blessed to have prophets nowadays. So, we cannot say why certain events happen. We can attempt to learn a personal lesson for ourselves from unusual events. But we cannot say that a particular event happened to this or that person/community for a particular reason. However, the Torah can and does say why certain events occur. The Rabbis in the Talmud also were blessed with that ability. From the events in the Torah and the statements of the Rabbis, we see patterns in Jewish history.
When we read Parshas Noah, we think of it simply as one great man living in an evil time. The world was so evil that G-d brought a flood for 40 days and 40 nights and destroyed the earth. He saved Noah’s family and started the world all over again.
Now, that is a nice way to tell this parsha to children. But, when we look at the parsha and analyze it, we find that there is so much that the Torah is teaching us. In last week’s parsha we read, “This is the book of man.” The Torah is a book written by G-d about man and for man. So, let us look at Parshas Noah, see what we can learn from it and how it applies to our lives.
Let us understand what the problems were in the world. The human race was centered in Mesopotamia – today’s Iraq. The Torah informs us, “And the land was corrupt before G-d, and the land was full of violence.”
Rashi teaches us this means that immorality was the normal mode of behavior. Idolatry and robbery were also common place in the world. The immorality led to the violence. First the land was corrupt – immorality – and then it was filled with violence. Rashi writes that whenever we find promiscuity, catastrophe comes to the world. This idea is repeated several times in the Tanach. This week we read about the Flood. The next two weeks we will read about Sodom . . . In the Book of Bamidbar we read about the immoral behavior of the Tribe of Shimon with the Midyanite women. In the Book of Judges, we read the incident with the concubine in Giva in the Tribe of Binyamin. The prophets decried and warned the Northern Kingdom of Israel regarding their immoral lifestyle. The Rabbis teach us that immorality was rampant among the Jewish people towards the end of the period of the first Bais Hamikdash.
So, what happened to all these societies? The generation of the flood descended into a violent society and was destroyed. Sodom became a corrupt society and was destroyed. The Tribe of Shimon was decimated. The Tribe of Binyamin was almost wiped out – 400 men survived. The Northern Kingdom turned violent and was destroyed. The First Bais Hamikdash was destroyed and the Jews were exiled. All of that is written in the Tanach.
The downfall of those societies was rooted in immorality. In such a society, everything becomes permitted. The attitude becomes “I can behave in any manner that I find pleasing. I can do whatever I want.” The pursuit of pleasure, self-indulgence and self-gratification becomes the ultimate value. Eat, drink and be merry . . . have a great time . . . enjoy yourself . . . live for today.
When that is the value of an individual or of society in general, it is only a matter of time before it leads to destruction. The result of pleasure is what is sought. The means to that pleasure are of no consequence. I must enjoy myself . . . I must have pleasure . . . So, you end up with drugs, alcohol, immorality, theft and violence. It is pleasure. Therefore, individuals or society say it is justified. Value is measured by pleasure. I need the latest gadget because my goal is pleasure.
Self-gratification is all that matters. Well, once everything is permitted and I can behave as I see fit because self-gratification is all that counts, why can’t I say whatever I want? What is wrong with harming another person, his reputation or his family? What makes violence so bad? “It feels good to rob. I now have money.” “I can have peace of mind now that I disposed of my enemy.” Violence becomes a part of that equation – a part of that society. That society gets out of hand. Once a society gets out of hand, it is doomed. The Rabbis teach us in Pirkei Avos that the world exists upon three foundations: justice, truth and peace. Immorality leads to corruption and violence. There is no justice, no truth and no peace. Therefore, that society cannot continue to exist. That is one of the clear lessons of the Tanach.
The United States has been a wonderful country for all its citizens. There has been no country its equal in our long exile. However, there are some troubling trends in this country. The push in the United States is for self-gratification. Look at commercials, movies, television shows, ads, etc. Candidates for political office – no matter what side of the aisle - can say whatever they want. It makes no difference if there is any truth. I can ruin another person’s life, I can destroy his family. As long as my goals are met, and I get what I need, that is all that matters. I am in it for myself. Other people make no difference.
This idea of self-gratification clarifies another statement by our Rabbis. They say that Noah made an error after the Flood. The first thing that he planted was a vineyard. What was wrong with that? Rabbi Yissachar Frand explains that Noah failed to see the root cause of the destruction. A vineyard is mainly for self-gratification – the downfall of the generation of the Flood. He should have planted something that he really needs – wheat, vegetables, fruit, etc. That is how society develops.
The generation of Noah emphasized the pursuit of physical and personal pleasure and it lead to destruction. One builds a society and a community by emphasizing helping others - the pursuit of spirituality. That leads to construction. We must daven for the United States. We must pray that it continues to champion the principles of its foundation. That it should continue to be a country that lives by the highest ideals – as one nation, under G-d, with liberty and justice for all.