OVERVIEW OF PORTION: (from A Torah Commentary for Our Times — Rabbi Harvey Fields)
Parashat Noach tells the story of God’s decision to destroy the earth with a flood because of the corruption and wickedness found in the world. Only a righteous man by the name of Noah, his family, and pairs of every kind of creature were to survive. Noah was told to build a large boat, an ark, and to make a place on it for every creature he was to save. After the flood, those aboard the ark started life on earth all over again, and God promised never to send another flood. Later, human beings decided to build a city and a huge tower that would reach from earth to heaven. Seeing what they were doing, God scattered them all over the earth and gave them different languages to speak.
Sometimes the manner in which the weekly parshiot are divided do a disservice to our study.
At the end of last week’s parashah, we read: The Eternal saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time. And the Eternal regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened. The Eternal said, “I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created–men together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them” (Genesis 6:5-7, NJPS).
Then, this week, in Parashat Noach, we pick up from there: The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness (Genesis 6:11).
A question arises–Is it the earth that has become corrupt before God, or the people? Where are we to place the blame? R’ David Kimchi (RaDaK, 1160-1235) puts the concern to rest: Building off the work of R’ Abraham ibn Ezra, and commenting on the words “the earth,” he writes, “the meaning of these words is ‘the people of the earth,'” citing Exodus 1:7, “… so the land was filled with them.”
The land is not corrupt before God; people have filled the land with corrupt acts.
RaDaK continues, “The meaning of the words ‘before God’ means to understand that God notices lowly things done in general, and at times, specific corrupt acts… this is what it means for the land to be filled with corruption. God sees these corrupt people, and speaks about their destruction.”
The rabbis through our tradition connect the tradition with sexual impropriety. Though, in the simple reading of this week’s portion, I do not see a specific corruption that serves as the reason for the flood. It is a general malfeasance that exists.
What are we to do with a general inclination to do wrong? We are constantly in a process of choosing, as we go through the day, saying yes to doing some things and saying no to others. Toward good acts we can say yes, and toward the wrong, say no. In our fundamental choosing between yes and no, we incline ourselves either toward our Yetzer HaTov, our good inclination, or toward our Yetzer HaRa, our evil inclination. Martin Buber writes in his work Good and Evil, “Created man is ordained into the struggle for salvation as one who is himself called upon to choose between good and evil… Like the God of heaven, man makes in himself the choice between good and evil, both of which, like Him, he bears within himself” (101-102).
When we engage in corrupt acts, when we do the wrong thing, we often look outside ourselves for blame. It seems that the corruption is upon the land, not within the individuals upon that land. Each individual, who bears the Divine spark within, is always presented with a choice to do what is right or to do what is wrong. Though after we have done wrong, and after we have gotten caught, how easy is it to point to someone else for blame.
In this week’s parashah, the land does not bear the guilt for human misconduct. In our own daily actions, as we strive to be ever more righteous individuals, when we do happen to fall into the traps of indiscretion, we can own that as well. In doing so, perhaps we have done something that–even if only a little bit–then serves to repair our broken world, and to gladden God’s heart.