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Torah Sparks

October 20, 2001/5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Genesis 6:9 - 11:32 (Hertz, p. 26; Etz Hayim, p. 41)
Triennial - Year I: Genesis 6:9 - 8:14 (Hertz, p. 26; Etz Hayim, p. 41)
Haftarah - Isaiah 54:1 - 55:5 (Hertz, p. 41; Etz Hayim, p. 64)

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(6:9-22) The earth's corruption moves God to tell Noah that He will destroy humankind. God commands Noah to build an ark in which he and his family and the animals and birds will survive the flood.

(7:1-9) God orders Noah and his family to enter the ark, with all the animals.

(7:10-24) The rains begin, and continue for forty days. All life on earth is blotted out by the waters.

(8:1-14) The Flood ends. Noah sends out a raven and then a dove to discover if the earth has dried. The dove returns with an olive leaf in its bill.

(8:15-22) Noah leaves the ark and offers sacrifices of thanksgiving to God.

(9:1-7) God blesses Noah and his family, permits the eating of meat, and prohibits the shedding of human blood.

(9:8-17) God places the rainbow in the sky as the sign of the covenant, the promise that He won't bring another flood upon the world.

(9:18-29) Noah's drunkenness and death.

(10:1-32) The descendants of Noah's sons: Shem, Ham, and Yaphet.

(11:1-9) The story of the Tower of Babel and the dispersion of humankind.

(11:10-32) The ten generations from Noah to Abraham.

This Shabbat's Theme: A Corrupt Society - Considerations: Then and Now

When God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all the flesh had corrupted its way on the earth, God said to Noah, "I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth...” (Gen. 6:13)

So What Was So Bad About The People of The Flood?

  1. And this is what the people of the age of the Flood used to do: When a man brought out a basket full of peas (for sale), a crowd would gather and each would snatch less than the worth of a perutah (so little of an amount that it was not considered a punishable crime) until the basket was empty. (Genesis Rabbah 31:50)
  2. They removed the landmarks of their neighbors in order to extend their borders. And if someone saw an ox or a donkey in the hands of an orphan or widow, he took it over. (Midrash Tanhuma, Noah 26)
  3. A man would take unto himself two wives - one would be for having children and the other for sexual pleasure. (Midrash Hagadol 10:5) They swapped wives. (Genesis Rabbah 23:3)
  4. For all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth... Rabbi Johanan said, "This teaches that they caused beasts and animals (separate species) to copulate and all these were brought in connection with man. (Talm. Sanhedrin 108a) Wherever one finds sexual immorality and idolatry, disaster soon comes upon the world and overtakes the good together with the wicked. (Rashi on 6:13)
  5. Our Rabbis taught: The generation of the Flood waxed haughty only because of the good which God lavished upon them. They said, "Do we need Him for aught?" (Sanhedrin ibid)
  6. The behavior of people deteriorated. At first, they were corrupt - being guilty of immorality and idolatry - and they sinned covertly, before God. Later, the earth had become filled with robbery - which was obvious to all. Then, all of creation was corrupted, because man is the essence of the world, and his corruption infected all of creation. (Zohar)
  7. Such is the progression of sin. It begins in private, when people have a sense of right and wrong. But once people develop the habit of sinning, they gradually lose their shame, and immoral behavior becomes the accepted - even the required norm. (The Chumash, ArtScroll Series, p.31)
  8. To destroy them... The Hebrew employs for "destroy" the same stem, as for the word "corrupt". The idea is that humankind cannot undermine the moral basis of society without endangering the very existence of its civilization. In fact, through its corruption, society sets in motion the process of inevitable self-destruction. (N. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary p. 51)

“Sparks” for Discussion:

Why did God have to be so "radical", so to speak, wiping the slate clean and starting all over again with human society? Do you see any theological problems here with this happening and the belief in God's omniscience?

So What's So Bad About Our Society?

  1. Rarely, in the whole saga of human history, has a generation more aptly been called a "Crisis Generation"... In the language of an old play: "Everything nailed down is coming loose." Let us take a glimpse at the picture. Six continents and the three billion people who inhabit them, two-thirds of them colored, are seething with hate and heaving with turmoil. Human blood is running thick in many places... Ten thousand people die of hunger and malnutrition every day. Most of the world's population, it was recently reported, go to bed hungry every night. And simultaneously, fifty million Americans are overweight to the point of obesity.

    The world is afflicted with lawlessness, mindless terrorism. And we all stand by as "mobocracy" takes over.

    There are twenty thousand murders in our country each year. Hallock Hoffman, of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions informs us that since 1900, Americans have killed more fellow Americans with guns, here at home than have been killed in all the wars America has fought in this period. Infidelity and divorce have reached shocking proportions. Drug addiction, especially among the young, is mounting daily. The alcoholism rate was never higher. The ancient Prophet unconsciously described our day saying: "Swearing and lying, and killing, and stealing and adultery have broken all bounds. Blood touches blood!" (Hosea 4:4) (Joseph H. Lookstein, Faith and Destiny of Man, pp. 63-64; also, Yesterday's Faith for Tomorrow, p. 102)

“Sparks” for Discussion:

The above passages were written by Rabbi Lookstein in the "Seventies". Does his alarming description of the world at that time apply to today? Based on what we learn from the background of Noah's generation and what we see today, what do you think can be feasibly done by us to improve the world's condition?

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