Shabbat Parashat Bereshit | 5765
The Root of the Evil
Parashat Noach describes how Hashem flooded the world because of widespread decadence. The main sin was chamas (roughly, thievery).Our parasha, however, tells a different, troublesome account of Hashem’s decree to destroy the world. “Bnei Haelohim (according to most, sons of the leaders) saw the daughters of adam (according to most, lower social strata) that they were good, and they took for themselves women as they chose” (Bereishit 6:2). Immediately following this, Hashem says that He gives 120 years for the continuation of mankind. What is the logic of this decree? After all, the sons of the leaders are a minority of society. How could their sins, as despicable as they might have been, justify destroying the whole world, including the victims? Also, was it chamas or this sin that caused the deluge?
One can base a solution to these problems on the Netziv’s approach to the 120 years. The Netziv says that there was not an immediate decree with a time-delay and a chance for amends. Rather, Hashem identified the beginning of a process, which would bring deterioration throughout society, which would, within 120 years, justify mankind’s destruction. The compromising of the family unit, where a powerful man can decide unilaterally who his wife or wives would be, whether or not they were married, and how he would treat them, leaves society without the ability to bring up the next generation reasonably. That’s how the next generation went from being “men of name” to “the brave” (pasuk 4). Power, they maintained; moral standing, they lost.
But it still doesn’t seem fair. If the moral shortcomings of the leaders were so directly responsible for everyone’s deterioration, to the extent that the Torah declares so clearly what will happen, then why should everyone be so severely punished?
In contemporary society, we are experts at uncovering the corruption of our leaders. Our newspapers tell how this one received from that one and gave to yet another one in exchange for what. Very often, they may be right. But the average citizen sits at home and says, “How terrible? How can they do that?” However, one can ask the average citizen: “What would you do if you had the power? Not some of the same things? How do you act within your own limited sphere of influence? Do you never do similar things, which are just too localized to interest the media or spur an investigation?”
That was apparently the situation in the pre-flood world. The atmosphere in society as a whole was one of grabbing for oneself as much as possible. In the case of the powerful, the situation allowed major offenses already in the earlier generations. For the rest of society, matters deteriorated over time until moral anarchy ruled. For this, they were all responsible.
Everyone can look at the corruption of the powerful and have it serve as a mirror to search out his own little abuses. The more people do this, the healthier our present and future society will be.
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