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The Antidote to Evil

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion




The Antidote to Evil

Adapted by Dov Karoll

At the beginning of this week's parasha, the Torah describes the sins that led to the destruction of the dor ha-mabbul, the generation of the flood. The Torah depicts the land as being "corrupt" and "full of violence" (6:11-13). The resulting command to Noach to build the ark is predicated upon these pervasive sins. Presumably, the flood would serve to eliminate this evil, allowing for the world to be rebuilt from Noach and his family, without all the problems that had existed before.

In light of this, some of the verses that follow Noach's disembarkment from the ark are surprising. Starting in 8:18, the Torah describes Noach leaving the ark, along with his family and the animals. Then in verse 20 the Torah describes a korban, an offering to God, offered from the pure [kosher] animals. What follows is noteworthy: in verse 21, God accepts the korban, and "God says to Himself, 'I will not again curse the land for man's sake; for the impulse of man's heart [the yetzer ha-ra] is evil from his youth…"

If this is God's analysis after the flood, what has been accomplished? Furthermore, why did this thought come up only now? The Ramban (8:21, s.v. va-yomer) states that this was not said to Noach at the time, and it became known to mankind only in the time of Moshe (with the writing of the Torah). But this still does not answer our question.

Before returning to answer the question, let us look more at the context. In the verses that follow, God permits the eating of animals (with certain limitations), and informs Noach and family that their fear will be placed upon the animals (9:1-2). Why does this come specifically now? Why is emphasis placed on man's superiority to animals precisely at this stage?

After Noach and his family spent a year in the ark together with all these animals, God reminded them that they are different from the animals. Only man has the tzelem E-lokim, that is, only man was created in the image of God. Accordingly, the Torah mentions (9:6), "for in the image of God did He make man."

Continuing in the verses, God also offers Noach encouragement, informing him that there would not be another destruction, and that he and his family should try to restore the world. God makes a covenant, the symbol of which is the "keshet be-anan," the rainbow in the clouds. The message of the keshet is that God will protect them, and they should rebuild the world, with no fear of another flood. This promise comes despite God's realization of man's weakness.

In light of God's recognition of the weakness of man, God provides Noach with the appropriate message. God promises not to destroy mankind, even while He is aware of man's tremendous weakness. Returning to the Ramban's suggestion, that this "thought" comes to man only through the Torah: man at the time needed encouragement, without the realization of weakness. The revelation of this weakness can only come to those who receive the Torah, as the Torah provides the antidote to this weakness (see Kiddushin 30b). Once man has specific directions from God on how to act, then he can move to counteract "for the impulse of man's heart is evil from his youth." The study of Torah and fulfillment of mitzvot are God's prescription for man to overcome this human weakness. We have been given the opportunity and corresponding responsibility to fulfill this task.

(Originally delivered on leil Shabbat parashat Noach, 5762 [2001].)


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