The Changing World

The Great Flood is re-visited annually in the Torah reading, and it is often helpful to return to basics and ask a simple question: why did all of mankind (except Noah and family) have to die? G-d promises the “end of all flesh” because of their wickedness, corruption and violence, but why? If a parent has five children, and four misbehave persistently and grievously, we don’t take the four out back and shoot them, and rebuild through the fifth!  So why didn’t G-d talk to that generation, negotiate with them, dialogue with them – in our parlance, and try to solve the world’s problems without violence – instead of drowning away all His disappointments, so to speak?  The answer reveals as much about our world as it does about theirs.

The story’s hero, of course, is the righteous Noah, but who are the villains? Everybody else? Eventually, yes, but the Torah focuses on two groups that led everyone down the primrose path to destruction. One was called the “Bane Healthy” – literally, the sons of G-d or the sons of the powerful, and they were influenced by the “Nefilim” – literally, the fallen ones, and together the devastated the world. But who were these two groups, and from where did the fallen ones fall?

Finally, G-d ultimately concluded that He must destroy them, because “I have reconsidered having made them.” But how does G-d reconsider anything? What happened that G-d, so to speak, did not anticipate?

There were two major changes that occurred after the flood that explain the “reconsideration” – and both for the identical reason. G-d created man as a being with free will, and with the scales of free choice evenly balanced. Adam stumbled, to be sure, but then man was placed in an environment where he could indulge his soul and pursue spiritual delights for centuries on end. He could sow once and have enough food to last forty years; he was living for 700-800-900 years in perfect health (without fear that politicians – income re-distributionists – would take away his Medicare advantage or otherwise bankrupt Social Security). Every need was taken care of – man had every possible opportunity to nurture the divine image within him – the tzelem elokim.

But it was too much – man had too much luxury and leisure, temptation was too great, and G-d’s moral strictures were perceived as both elective and ephemeral. It did not have to be like that – Noah was proof of that. But after the flood, the power of the instinctual forces were greatly diminished: the land was never again as fertile, and man would have to work, and work, hard, to earn a living; the change of seasons – cold and heat, summer and winter – were all challenges that man had to overcome in order to survive – and survive he would but for dramatically reduced life spans – from the high hundreds to the low hundreds, and then, for most, to less than 100 years. Longevity and leisure were inducements to sin. Nature itself changed – but man could not have survived the turbulence that accompanied the dramatic change of nature – effectively, a “new” creation – so it was a divine act of kindness that G-d took mankind at once in the flood. The global environment posed too difficult an obstacle for man to overcome – except for Noah, and a system that is adhered too by only one person cannot long endure.

And there was another great stumbling block – the Nefilim. Who were these fallen ones? Perhaps the following is plausible: there are, of course, credible accounts of what is called pre-historic man (man pre-Adam), which should not pose any problem to Torah Jews. The Ramban indicates that the unique creation of Adam was that he was a nefesh chaya, infused with a soul, with the divine image, that rendered him an ish acher, a different type of “man, in implied contrast to other beings that possessed a similar form to his – but were not created in G-d’s image. (Thus Chava could eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and give her husband to eat as well, Rashi says, for “fear that she would die and leave Adam to marry someone else.” But who else – the shidduch pool was very small ? And the answer would be one of these human-like creatures that looked the same, but was not endowed with a soul, with a tzelem elokim, and lacked any moral sensibility at all.

These were the Nefilim, “fallen ones” because they had never risen to Adam’s level – but they successfully corrupted the “Bnei Elohim,” the children of G-d, i.e., the descendants of Adam, and for the most obvious reason: a society cannot endure if it has different rules for different people, if the law doesn’t apply equally, if one group (Adam’s descendants) lives with moral restraint and another (the Nefilim) with immoral abandon.

G-d “reconsidered” the ground rules of creation, in the sense that the global environment and  man’s social environment were hopelessly corrupted. Man’s “free choice” was mostly incapable of living in luxury and making virtuous choices, and it was untenable, in a sense, to ask beings with free choice and consequences for those choices to live in harmony with beings without free choice and no consequences for those choices. No one likes double standards – and a society that is founded on it cannot long sustain itself.

That is what Roman Polanski has just learned, to his utter surprise, and to the chagrin of the other inhabitants of his amoral Hollywood universe – civilized society does have rules – but that is what Jews live with constantly. And it makes life unpleasant.

What is the Goldstone Report? Rather than admit that Jews have a right to defend themselves, the world would rather completely transform the rules of war – essentially arguing that an attacked party cannot respond if civilians might be harmed (a most novel, unprecedented and bizarre interpretation – and one that no nation has any intention of ever applying elsewhere but to Israel. How obscene is it that Russia, that killed thousand of civilians in Chechnya, and Sudan, that has killed millions of civilians in Darfur, sit in judgment of Israel, and with a straight face, and without a hint of irony or shame. Mind-boggling.

It is hard to live in such a world – hard to maintain any aspirations for moral goodness in such a world. If Israel is to be criticized anyway even though it tried to avoid any civilian casualties, why bother making the effort? Do what all other nations do. It is hard to justify the continued existence of such a world. But Noah was spared, and in a sense, so are we, in generation after generation, century after century, in society after society across the globe, so we can continue to point out – often to the remnants of the amoral Nefilim who surround us – what is right and what is wrong, what is moral and what is immoral, what is the word of G-d and what is the falsification of the word of G-d.

That remains our mission, in this irrevocably hostile world, as Isaiah prophesied, to be “a witness to the nations and a commander to their regimes,” so that eventually they will join us to bring glory to our Creator.

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