|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta-HaRav Gedalia Dov Ben Perel
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
נֹחַ ● Noach
● Did G-d change His mind about mankind? ●
“One Evil Inclination, Two World Views”
Undoubtedly, one of the most well-known narratives in the entire Torah is that of the “Mabul,” the Deluge or Flood, which Hashem ultimately produced to wipe out mankind for its social corruption and moral degeneration. So low had man sunk, the Torah goes as far as to say that G-d had “regretted” or “reconsidered” having created mankind altogether.1
The Mabul – Like Never Before
Now, G-d did not immediately decide to decree the end of mankind. It took a number of generations before G-d had decided that it was enough. The question is where exactly G-d had drawn that line. After, corruption is corruption. So, what was it specifically that compelled G-d to ultimately destroy the world? In the Torah’s words, the Pasuk writes at the end of Parshas Bereishis, “Vayar Hashem Ki Rabbah Ra’as HaAdam Ba’aretz V’Chal Yeitzer Mach’shvos Libo Rak Ra Kal HaYom”-“And Hashem saw that very great was the evil of mankind on earth, and the entire inclination of the imaginations [thoughts] of his heart are only evil all day.”2
In other words, there was a point at which G-d observed that man’s sole ambition was for evil. There was a point at which there were apparently no redeeming qualities to be found in mankind. Based on the Pasuk, one might even suggest that if only man’s inclination weren’t “only evil,” that if there were “some good,” there may have been room to cut mankind some slack. For example, at least when Adam ate from the forbidden fruit in Gan Eden, he had the knowledge of both good and evil3, not just evil. In such a case, there is no reason to completely obliterate man. But, as of this point, man had reduced himself to pure evil… except for Noach, of course. He and his family alone were saved and protected in the Ark during the Flood so that they could eventually repopulate the world.
In any event, that, in a nutshell, is the origin of the Flood.
The Mabul – Never Again
What is interesting to note though is that not only had this kind of destruction never existed before, but this kind of destruction would ever happen again. The question is why not. Would it be because mankind had learned its lesson and had never again debased itself to the point of moral corruption, both defying G-d and wronging fellowman? If only that were true… The Torah actually records G-d’s “thought process,” revealing His rationale for His eternal decision to never bring a worldwide Flood again.
The Pasuk in our Sidrah states explicitly, “…Vayomer Hashem El Libo Lo Osif Likaleil Od Es HaAdamah Ba’avur HaAdam Ki Yeitzer Leiv HaAdam Ra Mi’Ne’urav V’Lo Osif Od L’Hakos Es Kal Chai Ka’asheir Asisi”-“…and Hashem said in [lit., to] His heart, ‘I shall not continue to curse the ground further because of man [mankind], for the inclination of the heart of man is evil from its youth, and I will not continue further to smite all of life just as I have done.’”4
No, your ears are not deceiving you. Indeed, it sounds as if the reasoning which G-d Himself had expressed for pledging to never bring a flood again is almost identical to the reason which the Torah states that G-d had brought the Flood in the first place. Back in Bereishis, He observed that “…Chal Yeitzer Mach’shvos Libo Rak Ra Kal HaYom”-“…the entire inclination, the imaginations [thoughts] of his heart are only evil all day.”2 Now, with the parallel words, G-d resolves not to do such a thing again.
Did G-d change His mind?
How are we supposed to understand G-d’s reasoning for pledging to never bring a flood again? Indeed, G-d did not conclude, “I will not continue further to bring a flood, for if I’d bring a flood for every time man deserved it, we wouldn’t get anywhere.” In fact, this might have been a reasonable resolution. Instead, G-d expressed a reasoning which focuses on the evil of man’s inclination. The question is what exactly G-d’s reasoning means. Considering that the Torah had already revealed that man’s inclination was evil before, and apparently, it was still evil at that point, one has wonder: What had changed after the Flood? How are we supposed to understand G-d’s “feelings” before versus His “feelings” now if they almost parallel each other word for word? Did G-d change His mind?
The theological implications of such a possibility are troubling. How fickle and unstable could the All-Knowing G-d be that at one point, He would reason that man’s inclination is evil and worthy of destruction, and then later, conclude that since man’s inclination is evil anyway, He’ll spare him? Why in fact did G-d “reconsider” His creation of man, bring the Flood, and then decide to never do it again?
“Only evil all day” vs. “Evil from its youth”
The first step to understanding G-d’s “thought process” is that there is an important subtle difference between what G-d “sees” in man at the end of Parshas Bereishis, and what He “says” of man after the Flood, in Parshas Noach. Before the Flood, G-d sees that man’s inclination is “Rak Ra Kal HaYom”-“only evil all day,” whereas, after the Flood, G-d admits that man’s inclination is “Ra MiNe’urav”-“evil from its youth,” to which Chazal explain that from the moment that man exits the womb, he is born with an Evil Inclination.5 This slight change of words might mean the world here, almost literally in our case. But what is the meaning behind this difference?
Although both of G-d’s “reflections” of man focus on the evil of man’s leanings, the first view seems to come from a simple, observational standpoint. From man’s actions alone, one can observe that his inclination is “only evil all day.” However, the second assessment of man’s inclination, “evil from its youth,” points not to anything observable to the human eye, but only to that which is “ascertainable”—that which only G-d could know for sure. G-d’s second assessment points to the circumstances of the inclination itself and its relationship with man. It is not a progress report of the present state of man’s inclination as is manifest by his choices and actions, but it is a generous investigation into the history of man’s inclination, that it is inborn and not something he had chosen for himself.
This second assessment necessarily comes from sympathy, compassionate and understanding of man’s challenge. Although nothing has practically changed in man’s leanings, and although nothing may change in man’s behavior, G-d reasoned that perhaps utter destruction is not the answer to man’s sins. Because, after all, G-d reasoned, man was born with an inclination that is “evil from youth,” so it is understandable that overcoming the “Evil Inclination” is difficult. Perhaps, because man’s heart is “evil from its youth,” it makes sense to be more patient and allow man the chance to grow and eventually overpower his temptations in the future.
The Theological Challenge
With this explanation of the difference between G-d’s first assessment and His later one, one can understand at least where G-d was coming from when He decided, both, to blot out man and to never do so again.
But, there is still a major problem. Yes, we can understand the two arguments respectively, the logic to destroy man and the logic to cut him slack. However, nothing about man had actually changed. It seems as though G-d had merely shifted perspectives. At first, He judged based on the evil and irredeemable qualities of man, and then, after it was seemingly too late, He advocated for man, because, after all, man is at an unfair disadvantage because of his inclination having been given a head-start. Where was this compassion earlier? Why did G-d only play defense attorney now, after having already carried out the verdict and executed practically all of mankind? If G-d could articulate after the fact that He ought to be more patient with man because the challenge is tough, then why did He, the All-Knowing G-d, destroy the world in the first place? How could G-d Himself work with world views which are so bipolar and inconsistent?
G-d’s seemingly fickle gestures and expressions sound so disturbingly human. But, why would G-d function in such a way, and at the expense of humanity? However, it might be that in a certain sense, G-d’s two world views, in fact, were not purely G-d’s world views, but indeed, they were human. In other words, what if G-d’s actions were actually, in a sense, left to the discretion of some human influence? If that is true, we have to wonder why G-d would allow His executive decisions to be governed a human influence. Moreover, who could possibly be the source of this human influence?
The Human Influence
Of all the existing human influences, whose opinion out there might still matter? There was only Noach. Indeed, G-d’s decisions to Flood the world and then forever spare the world may hinge on the famous quandary which Chazal seem to struggle with amidst their assessment of our man of the hour, Noach.
While from the outset, the Torah attests to Noach’s righteousness, there is yet a substantial school of sages who find fault in him and even, somewhat, accredit the Flood to him, based on the line in the Navi, “Ki Mei Noach Zos Li…”-“For the waters of Noach shall this be for Me…”6—which names the Flood after Noach, as if to suggest that the Flood was somehow to his discredit. Those holding this view argue that had Noach acted somehow differently, the Flood might not have happened. The implication is that in some way, Noach was a cause for the Flood.
In this line of thinking, one might suggest that Noach should have rebuked or at least done some outreach for the people of generation. Various M’forshim fault Noach for not beseeching G-d on their behalf.7 In plain terms, Noach too comfortably accepted the verdict that his fellowmen would all be wiped out.
Divine Justice vs. Divine Mercy
How could Noach have been so accepting of G-d’s verdict? How could anyone be comfortable with the decision to destroy of all humankind? Before we attack Noach, we have to admit that even G-d Himself was morally prepared to do such a thing. If blotting out all of mankind was truly the incorrect thing to do, we have to believe that G-d would never have done it, even had no man argued with Him. Apparently, to destroy mankind was intrinsically appropriate. The Torah told us what G-d Himself saw—the great evil of man, demonstrative of the fact that his heart’s inclination was “only evil all day.” This sight is clear to the plain eye. If all of humankind went against the Will of G-d and harmed fellowman, according to the natural letter of the law, they deserved to be wiped out. In all fairness, the people of the generation, like anyone who dares to commit evil in G-d’s world, were rightfully doomed to die.
Noach, perhaps like any man, didn’t feel pressed to argue against this logic. And as such—as long as no one would protest otherwise—G-d too would simply confirm His verdict with Noach, His one-man jury, and carry it out according to the “letter of the law.”
G-d saw correctly that man’s actions and inclinations were pure evil. Thus, His verdict and Noach’s silence were based on an undoubtedly correct world view of law and order. Regardless of one’s youth, regardless of one’s circumstances, a violation of G-d’s order and will demands consequence. But, was that the only prevailing world view?
On the contrary, as Rashi pointed out back in Parshas Bereishis8, although G-d created the world through His attribute of Divine Justice, Hashem realized that man could not endure without mercy, and thus Hashem incorporated Divine Mercy into His creation of mankind.9
Two World Views – The Heart of the Beholder
In other words, there are two world views that are simultaneously true. Although there is a “letter of the law” which demands consequences for the decisions of man, man intrinsically requires an examination that incorporates the compassionate perspective which views him not based on his actions alone, but based on his circumstances, the days of youth, where he came from, how he grew up, and what his potential might be in the future. Of course, in a human court, a human judge must make a decision about a litigant based on the man’s observable behavior, because that is all he has at his disposal. However, when confronted with the question of divine retribution, Noach had the liberty to ascertain the circumstances of the people in his spiritually underprivileged generation. He too could have considered the powerful inclination of the people. Thus, even if man appeared as “Rak Ra Kal HaYom”-“only evil all day” on the one hand, one can always consider the fact that man’s inclination is “Ra MiNe’urav”-“evil from its youth” and rule compassionately, with a faith in the potential for man’s moral growth. Indeed, in a normal world, man could mature and develop good will if only he is given patience, if only he is given another chance.
These two world views were always available. The fact that Noach never made this second argument at the outset is perhaps what allowed Flood to happen. Perhaps the fact that no voice was given to this second argument was the reason why G-d Himself had to give it a platform after the Flood. He was forced to present this new world view to Noach, who had apparently missed the boat (pardon the pun).
Indeed, perhaps G-d’s view never changed. Life is packed with multiple truths and everything boils down to the question of perspective and the eye, or perhaps the heart, of the beholder. G-d created the world with a natural world view of Divine Justice, but to man, He made the option of Divine Mercy available. But, for that option to materialize might have necessitated that at least one human look at his fellowman and express that compassion. Since no human had done so, after the Flood, Hashem sought to impress this worldview upon the remaining human in a new and improved world, beginning from Noach. With this new and enlightening world view, G-d communicated that man has an intrinsic need for mercy and compassion despite his manifest “evil.” With advent of Divine Mercy, Hashem instills in man the hope for a brighter future.
May we all be Zocheh to grant a generous eye towards our every fellowman, consider the difficulties of each and every person’s personal challenges in life, and yearn for the actualization of each person’s his own potential—ours included—and Hashem should employ His abundant mercy and generosity for us further in the form of the final Geulah as well as the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Bereishis 6:6
- Ibid. 6:5
- Ibid. 3:5, 22
- Ibid. 8:21
- Rashi to 8:21 following Bereishis Rabbah 34:10, Yerushalmi in Brachos 3:5
- Yishaiyah 54:9
- See R’ Chaim Shmulewitz in his Sichos Mussar, in the piece titled, “Mei Noach,” where he cites Zohar to Bereishis 7:1 and Or HaChaim to Bereishis 9:3.
- See Rashi to 1:1 where he describes how G-d’s Name of Judgment, “Elokim,” is used in the narrative of Creation.
- Thus, the Torah introduced G-d’s Name of Mercy, “Hashem” in Bereishis 2:4.