The World's Fallen State
By Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld
"There were ten generations from Adam until Noah. This shows us how
to anger G-d is, for all those generations increasingly angered Him until
He brought upon them the waters of the Flood."
As I mentioned two weeks ago, much of Chapter 5 of Pirkei Avos contains
lists. Mishna 1 discussed the Ten Utterances with which G-d created the
universe. This mishna continues with the earliest generations of man.
We know very little of the people of the antediluvian era. The great
Deluge has left little meaningful trace of this prehistoric age. The
lives, cultures and societies of the ancients of that time have been all
but forgotten. Were they advanced or primitive, cultured or savage? Did
they reap the wisdom and lessons of Adam and Eve and live with the
knowledge of G-d, or did they degenerate into a primitive, animalistic
existence in search of food, shelter and conquest? Scriptures does little
more than list the names and superhuman lifespans of the patriarchal
leaders, leaving us with little knowledge of their true lives and natures.
Scriptures (Genesis 6) does provide us a brief summary of the wickedness
of the generations leading up to the Flood -- and the Sages draw for us a
clearer picture. Genesis 6:2 tells us that the "sons of the lords" --
either the noblemen or actual heavenly angels -- saw the beautiful
daughters of the common folk (or the humans), and took wives of whomever
they chose. In verses 5-8 G-d observed that the wickedness of man was
great and that his inclination was "only evil all the day." G-d resolved
to destroy man -- all except for Noah who "found favor" in G-d's eyes.
Finally, verse 11 refers to the earth as having become "corrupt" before G-
d, and filled with violent robbery.
So, the world suffered from lawlessness, lust, and intermarriage --
possibly of the extraterrestrial kind. (The Talmud writes further that the
people of the time mated animals of different species both with each other
and with humans (Sanhedrin 108a).) How did people who lived so close to
Genesis -- who could hardly *not* know of G-d and His wondrous creation --
degenerate into such corruption and debauchery?
Our Sages elucidate further. The Talmud writes: "The generation of the
Flood was arrogant on account of the great good G-d had bequeathed unto
it" (Sanhedrin 108a). The Talmud there, in a few brief comments, depicts a
people blessed with natural bounty and physical beauty. The earth was
richer and more bountiful than it is today. Humans lived longer and led
more fruitful lives. They were not shackled by physical weaknesses of any
kind -- old age, arthritis, hemorrhoids, bad backs, nearsightedness, etc.
The flesh was strong: they were invincible. How did they respond? How did
they use the far superior gifts G-d had blessed them with?
They lived totally and wholly for themselves. Each man looked out for his
own, enjoying and indulging in every pleasure his dark heart fancied.
Rather than using comfort and physical well-being as goads towards
spiritual growth, they used their endless potential towards their own
selfish ends. They felt their invincibility; they had nothing to fear.
There was nothing they could not solve with their own great strength and
ingenuity -- and nothing to humble them before G-d. They did not
experience the challenge and frustration which would be the lot of latter-
day man -- battling the elements for food, clothing and shelter, and
consequently they saw no reason to turn in prayer to G-d. They lived lives
of eternal youth -- in endless pursuit of physical pleasure, without the
maturing effects of aging and of sensing one's mortality. They were
eternally virile and youthful -- and they never had to grow up. And such
a world left little room for a G-d of morality and accountability.
G-d realized that man had become irredeemably evil. But G-d did not
content Himself with punishing man alone. G-d "reconsidered" His creation
of man, states the Torah (v. 6). G-d was to refashion Creation in a far
more fundamental manner. He was to break the divine levees, wash away all
that existed, and begin anew. Why was this necessary? Why destroy the
entire earth on account of puny, obstinate man?
In the days before the Flood, the physical world was far superior to the
postdiluvian world. The earth was richer, people were stronger, and
generally speaking the world was a closer reflection of the G-d who
created it. And this was no mere coincidence. There was a reason for this:
the physical world was more closely tied to the spiritual worlds above. We
discussed last week the close correlation between the physical world and
spiritual, metaphysical worlds above, and how the physical world
is "energized" by the spiritual forces which emanate from above and which
work their way down through the worlds. (One of the more kabbalistic
lectures I've written... ;-) In the time before the Flood, these forces
were much more closely aligned. The physical world -- and the human race --
had so much more vitality and potential because they drew from the
infinite wellsprings of the spiritual worlds. People lived infinitely
longer and the earth was infinitely richer because the physical reality of
the world below was a much stronger reflection of the spiritual one above.
This arrangement made for a more bountiful and vibrant world, but it also
wreaked havoc on the fabric of the universe. A more strongly
interconnected world meant that the sins of man would corrupt the earth
itself -- far more severely than they do today. And this is exactly what
happened. Adam, for eating of the Tree of Knowledge, was punished that he
would plant grain and weeds would flourish (Genesis 3:18). When man became
steeped in immorality the animals followed suit. There were few animals
still loyal to their own species which Noah could allow on board the Ark.
The others had all followed the evil ways of man. Man's sins corrupted and
damaged the physical world about. The result was that the earth itself had
become evil -- so much so that it became doomed to the same destruction
man had brought upon himself.
To correct this situation, G-d did more than destroy man. He destroyed the
very bonds which coupled heaven and earth so tightly. And this could only
be achieved by destroying the entire earth -- that spiritually-charged
place which so closely reflected man's spiritual state. And so, G-d washed
away all. The Midrash tells us that the Flood washed away the top three
handbreadths of the world's topsoil (Bereishis Rabbah 31:7). The very rich
and verdant earth which -- as reflection of the spiritual worlds -- had
become corrupted by man, had to be removed forever. The one that would
remain would be far coarser and earthier, but it would not be so
vulnerable to the rises and falls of fickle man.
And with this came a Divine pledge: G-d would never again destroy the
earth on account of man. "All the days of the earth -- planting and
harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night -- they shall not
cease" (8:22). Why? "For the inclination of man is evil from his youth"
(v. 21). Precisely because man's propensity is so thoroughly towards evil,
G-d saw fit to sever the world from man's influence -- so that the world
would no longer be utterly dependent on man's rises and falls. G-d
recognized that man would not always reach the lofty pinnacle G-d had
intended for him, and He would not allow His world to suffer irreparably
on account of this. The world would no longer be the spiritually-attuned
place it had once been. It would be more earthy, stubborn -- and physical -
- and yet it would have the stability and permanence it needed to survive.
So the world after the Flood had a new beginning. The world lost much of
its lushness and vitality -- as reflected in the many inches of topsoil
the Sages state were lost. It would no longer have the same physical
potential -- and would never be quite the same reflection of G-d it had
once been. But man was not able to handle this awesome task -- of serving
as caretaker for the entire physical reality of the universe. The physical
world was here to stay -- a message attested to by the dazzling yet
delicate beauty of the rainbow, and man would -- till the time of the
Messiah -- walk in smaller, more humbled mission before G-d.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org.