Parashat Noach: Crises and Covenant

[Tal Chermon]

Noach was an easygoing and even-tempered person. A person who becomes angry loses his senses and his soul is replaced with an idolatrous evil spirit. A person who is at peace, however, is blessed, for Hashem dwells in the heart of the tranquil (Sefer Charedim in the name of Midrash Neelam). "Noach [therefore] found favor in G-d's eyes" (Bereshit 6:8). Hashem's pleasure in man brought about a new stage in humanity's development: from individuals, nations now began to develop.

Advances Through Crises
The topic of this Parashah is the splitting of mankind into different nations and tongues. This is a very significant stage in human development. A nation is a new reality in the world. A certain philosopher once broke down the whole of creation into five categories: inanimate objects, vegetation, animals, human beings and nations. This advancement appears to have been unplanned, having resulted from the sin of the "Generation of the Dispersion" (due to the the Tower of Bavel debacle – Bereshit 11:1-9). However, matters which from our human perspective occur by default, are from Hashem's perspective ideal and intentional. We have been taught that progress is achieved through the failures that precede it, as our Sages have even said about the study of Torah: "A man does not achieve a complete understanding of the words of Torah unless he has first made errors in interpreting them" (Gittin 43a). There are many phenomena that only evolve and are only comprehensible because of the blunders and frustrations that preceded them. So it is in this Parashah. The result of the sin of the "Generation of the Dispersion" was that mankind was divided up into nations. The result of Noach's drunkenness was the characterization of these nations' spiritual nature; and the result of the sin of the "Generation of the Deluge" was the Divine covenant that the entire world population would never be destroyed again.

Hashem's Covenant with Man
The Divine covenant is not like a human contract. It is not a conditional agreement made between two parties, based on mutual interests, and for their common good. G-d's covenant is comparable to a law of nature. It is neither cancelled nor changed according to circumstances. It is a Divine creation that is even more lasting and permanent than the laws of nature. After the downfall of the "Generation of the Deluge," Hashem made a promise that never again would all mankind perish. This promise also included man's spiritual survival. Man would never lose the Divine image that he possesses. Some people despair of mankind. On seeing man's vulgar materialism, his sins and misdeeds, they think that the whole of the human species will degenerate back into barbarism. They are mistaken. The Divine covenant is an unbreakable promise that mankind, despite all of its faults and failings, will remain human and will eventually reach its lofty objective. We are fully aware of man's defects and flaws and definitely do not claim that he has already reached perfection. Only the intoxicated see the world as utopia. Our Sages interpreted the verse (Mishlei 23:31), "When he puts his eye to the cup (= concentrates on drinking) he walks on a plain," to mean that the whole world appears to the drunkard as if it is completely flat (Yoma 74b. The philosopher Liebnitz, in a book titled "Theodicee", Liebnitz creates a scenario in which there is no evil in the world. The philosopher Voltaire, on the other hand, wrote a story in which evil clearly exists, but the main character fails to see it. The story highlights the absurdity of such an approach. The theory that there is no evil in the world is in truth very profound, but becomes ludicrous if taken too simplistically. Our Prophets and great Rabbis used a similar literary ruse in their controversy against opposing views: by simplifying the opinions of their opponents to absurdity, they were able to expose the underlying falsehood in these views). While it is true that there are shortcomings and failures in the world, in the final analysis, these very setbacks are what lead to man's elevation. "The flood came and blotted out almost all of existence, however, the root of humanity that remained was spiritually strengthened. The world became firmly based and a covenant promising its perpetual existence was sealed" (Maran Ha-Rav Kook in Orot Ha-Kodesh part 3, p. 66).