Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Cheshvan 5761 - November 2, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
The Generation of the Flood

by L. Jungerman

"And Hashem said: My spirit shall not always strive on account of man, for that he also is flesh, and his days shall be a hundred and twenty years."

In the portions of sefer Bereishis which deal with the genesis of the world, what is concealed far surpasses what is revealed and understood. Chazal, before whom these esoteric mysteries were revealed, who fathomed the workings of the world and the secrets of Creation, cloaked their teachings with thick veils that obscured the primeval hidden light of Creation from those who are unfit to feast their eyes upon it. Whoever peruses the Midroshim of these portions senses that they shroud and shield the enigmas of "white fire upon black fire," matters which are beyond our puny comprehension.

Here and there, Chazal allow the light to shine through; they opened apertures to the heavens so that we could glimpse a minuscule fraction of the depths of Hashem's mind. A blink, a mere dazzling flash.

Similarly inscrutable is the topic of the generation of the great flood. We are all familiar with the simple text to which we are exposed from early childhood on, that all living beings corrupted their ways and became thoroughly perverted. People were very evil, were punished and were effaced from the earth.

Chazal open up a crack the size of a needle's eye into a hidden world when they say, in Chulin 139: "What is the origin of Moshe in the Torah? `Beshagom hu bosor -- for that he is also flesh.'

Rashi comments: Beshagom is equivalent to the numerical value of `Moshe.' Here it is written, `And his [man's] days shall number one hundred and twenty years' and this was the precise life span of Moshe."

Wonder of wonders! Whatever is the connection between Moshe and the generation of the flood? The Zohar repeats this same idea in other words, and widens the crack to give us a slightly more expanded view.

"Moshe was destined to receive the Torah in the generation of the flood, but because it was so evil, he did not receive it then. This is why it is written: `For that he is also flesh.' Beshagom is Moshe."

R' Tzodok Hakohen expands on this in his two works, Tzidkas Hatzaddik and Resisei Laylo: "Water always alludes to Torah, and Torah is the ultimate purpose and means for the continued existence of the world, which was created only for the sake of the Torah. `Were it not for My covenant day and night, I would not have established the natural laws of heaven and earth.' That time in history was propitious and designated [for the giving of the Torah] -- and mankind could have utilized it and benefited. The waters of the Torah could/would have descended to revive and uphold the world. But mankind corrupted its ways and transformed the beneficial waters to treacherous ones."

This is the reason why we find in Zevochim 116 that at the time of mattan Torah, all the nations converged upon Bilaam and asked: Could it be that Hashem is about to bring another flood upon the world? They sensed that a cataclysmic event was in the offing. Either it would bring devastation upon the world, or salvation to it. They thought that the plenitude of waters that existed then represented another upcoming flood.

R' Tzodok also exposes the reason for this. We find that the Torah refers to two particular epochs as an era of youth, ne'urim. The first is: "For the proclivity of man is evil from his youth." The time of fruition and growth is a person's youth.

We find this word again in Yirmiyohu, "Thus says Hashem: I remember [to your credit] the kindness of your youth, your following Me in the desert, in a barren land." Here, the Jewish people were in their genesis, at the beginning of their development into a nation. Their exodus from Egypt and sojourn in the desert before the giving of the Torah was a time of emergence, adolescence, coming of age. It was their youth, a prime time accompanied by enthusiasm, vigor and zest that characterize every beginning. At this time, whatever is done, is done with all of one's heart and soul, for better or best.

The giving of the Torah had to take place when the nation was still vital and fired with the vigor of youth, in a generation filled with energy and love channeled to Torah and the Giver of the Torah. But the generation of the flood corrupted its ways and instead of exploiting their vim for spiritual goals, they diverted the energy to evil channels. They used the resource of youth counterproductively. "For the proclivity of man is evil from his youth."

And thus, accordingly, the waters that were unleashed at this crucial time were devastating instead of beneficial. So powerful that they destroyed the world -- and postponed the giving of the Torah to another propitious time. To another generation of genesis and youth, to the generation of "the grace of your youth," the generation where ardor for Hashem rang strong, a nuptial ardor of those who were following their Creator even into the desert, in a barren land.

R' Tzodok later concludes with an insight that illuminates the complexity and confusing times of the present, the generation of Moshiach. Here, too, we find mention of youth. "Your youth will be rejuvenated like the eagle [phoenix]."

Youth will have its comeback, with a second chance to utilize a renewed vigor. For the good. The opportunity presented by this burst of energy will again be ambivalent, incorporating both the "sin of youth" and the "favor of youth," until, in the end, the good will prevail over the evil and convert it for its purposes.

Incisive words. A combination of the situation of the generation of the flood together with the conditions of the generation of the giving of the Torah! As the Chofetz Chaim said: [In that generation,] whoever is guilty, will be altogether so, and whoever is righteous, will be altogether righteous. And in the very same area. With the same proclivities, the fervor of youth, the ardor of total immersion and dedication. The righteous will invest their energies for the sake of eternal values, while the others will rush headlong into the abyss with youthful abandon and vigor to satisfy their evil inclinations.

The author of Tzidkas Hatzaddik also derives a potent personal lesson from this portion: when a person fails in any area, he should realize that at that very time, by the very means of that downfall, he is being presented with a double- edged opportunity. He can seize that occasion and turn it to his advantage, and thereby rise to greater heights by very virtue of this chance. For as great as the downfall is, so is its chance to catapult the sinner to a leap to the good. The very energy that caused him to fall can be exploited to make him rise all the higher with its momentum, velocity and impact.

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