Noach was an easygoing and even-tempered person. Any person who becomes angry loses his senses and his soul which is replaced with an idolatrous evil spirit. On the other hand, Hashem dwells in the heart of the tranquil and therefore “Noach found favor in G-d’s eyes. As a result of Hashem’s pleasure in man, a further stage of human development transpired. Out of the individuals, nations now developed.
- Advances Through Crises
The topic of this section is the splitting of mankind into different nations and tongues. This is a very significant stage of human development. A nation is a new reality in the world. A certain philosopher classified the whole of creation into inanimate objects, vegetation, animals, human beings and nations. Ostensibly, this advancement was not planned but occurred by mistake, as a result of the sin of the “Generation of the Dispersion” (resulting from the Tower of Bavel). However, matters which from our view point occur by default are the ideal and fore-planned from Hashem’s perspective. We have been taught that progress is achieved via 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.” 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 section. 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 classification of the spiritual nature of the different nations; and the result of the sin of the “Generation of the Deluge” was the Divine covenant that the entire world’s 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 a law of nature. It is neither cancelled nor changes 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 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, “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 (A certain thinker, in a book titled Theodicee, built a philosophy in which he claimed that there is no evil in the world. In contrast, another philosopher wrote a story in which the main character saw everything as perfect. This story highlighted the absurdity of such an approach. The outlook that there is no bad in the world is in truth very profound, if taken superficially however it becomes simplistically ludicrous. Similarly, but poles apart, 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 bring 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.”
- Morality and the Existence of the World
Sin is not only a moral deviation but ravages nature itself. There are sins against ones bodily well–being to which the body responds with a sickness. For such deviations “natural physical repentance” is needed. There are sins against the human spirit to which it responds with a sense of anguish which we call pangs of conscience. Sometimes this type of sin even has a psychosomatic response in which there are negative bodily reactions. This phenomenon clearly shows the connection between mind and matter. The same relationship that exists, within man, between sin and sickness, pervades the whole world. There is a natural relationship between the material world or nature and between the moral state of the world. The natural world has an automatic, inner and Divine response to crimes against morality. This occurs because all the elements of the world are one united whole. There are states of spiritual depravity which the earth cannot tolerate. They cause, so to speak, a “stomach-ache” which results in convulsions that cause catastrophic devastation.
(There are all sorts of scientific discussions about the Deluge based on Torah verses and our Sages. One theory holds that the Flood was caused by the tilting of the earth off its original perpendicular state to an angel of 23 degrees. This deflection was supposed to have occurred as a result of a comet flying by close to the earth. This is reminiscent of our Sages’ statement that Hashem brought the Flood by moving terrestrial bodies off course. The seasons were caused as a result of the deflection which fits in perfectly with the Divine promise after the flood “that summer and winter will never cease.” It is hard to know if there is any truth in these theories).
Many people have a dualistic view of the world. They think that there is the spiritual world and, alongside it, the physical world. These two worlds are separate and are controlled by different Divine forces. There is the material world over which one G-d rules and there is the world of spirit over which a “second” G-d rules. They view the four-lettered ineffable Name of Hashem (pronounced “Adonai” when reciting blessings and prayers and implies He was, He is and He will be) as an abstract theological name of a Being involved in the spiritual and moral aspects of life but with no connection to the practical and material side of existence. On the other hand, the name “Elohim” refers to the Almighty that acts within nature, as is intimated by the fact that its Gematria is the same as the Hebrew word for “nature.” According to these dualists, there is no connection between these two ruling powers – each acts in its own sphere. Naturally man has obligations to both realms. Despite the fact that man is naturally obligated to act morally, however, they do not see any relationship between one’s moral actions and material success in the physical world. This dualistic approach in which the two worlds are viewed as entirely separate is held by most people. It is true they do not give it a pagan garb in which they think of two different gods controlling the different realms in the world. However, they see the moral-spiritual world and the material-physical world as unconnected. According to this view, moral behavior does not advance or improve the practical world; nor is the reverse true, that improper behavior destroys the physical fabric of existence. G-d is thus “promoted” to being an inactive “honorary president of history.” In contrast, we hold that: “Jewish morality is not simply moral behavior of the individual or of the family, or of the nation or even of the whole of mankind, although these are naturally included, but it is principally Divine morality. It is the Torah of the Creator of the Universe which is the very continuation of the Creation. The Torah of Israel explains how the very existence of the world and human morality are interlinked and interdependent. It is thus evident that the very progress of the world is contingent upon moral advancement. That is the basis of Jewish faith.” This concept is our main contribution to world philosophy and to the molding of humanity. Morality not only shapes the individual, the family, society, the nation and even all of human culture, but it influences and sustains the physical and technological world. We proclaim at the conclusion of Neilah: “G-d is the Almighty.” The spiritual and abstract G-d (Adonai) is the same all powerful Almighty (Elohim), who controls the natural and physical world. There are seven forces at play in the natural world, which correspond to the seven days of Creation. We thus declare seven times, “G-d is the Almighty,” correlating to all these forces. We climax it with the affirmation of faith “Hear O Israel, G-d is our Almighty, G-d is one,” all these forces are unified. The spiritual and material worlds, the moral and natural worlds, are all united and controlled by one overseeing power, Hashem. The relationship between the spiritual and material worlds is not a superficial and artificial one which exists simply because they have a common Supervisor who has decided to connect them. No! The world is not composed of two separate domains but is a unified whole created by the one Master of the Universe. He created an intrinsic bond between spirit and matter such that the material world’s response to immorality is instinctive and automatic. “Man’s sins so destroyed world morality that it was brimming with corruption…The world then convulsed and a flood descended to annihilate the whole of existence.” The deluge that resulted was a real tangible flood, not a tirade of moralizing words by a patron of morality who was detached from the physical world. The sin of robbing is what sealed the fate of the generation of the great Flood. Robbery is a corruption of the very basis of human morality. It is such an extreme perversion that it cannot be tolerated. Thus, “the most basic and effective approach to repentance…is the study of civil monetary obligations, the laws of inter-human relations contained in the Choshen Mishpat part of the code of Jewish Law. Such study must broadly span the whole spectrum of these laws, while also delving into the laws with the profoundest analysis. This rectifies lapses caused by one’s desires and establishes Divine justice as the basis of our existence. It removes the pain of doubt and confusion from the soul by clearly illuminating our practical lives.”
- Human Races
Noach’s sin of intoxication led to the disclosure of the different elements in the human race. Each of Noach’s three sons had a specific spiritual character. Shem was holy, Yefet was secular and mundane and Cham was impure and unholy. Noach blessed the G-d of the holy Shem; “Blessed be Hashem, the G-d of Shem.” Shem is the great believer that cleaves to G-d, and in whose very soul the Divine Presence resides. It is he that is connected to the Divine, spiritual source of all existence. Only we, the Nation of Israel, spearhead this ideology of Shem in the world (even though the Arabs also are called “Semites,” i.e. “from Shem”). Malki-Tzedek, the priest of G-d the Most High, was naturally the King of Yerushalayim where he met Avraham Avinu and blessed him: “Blessed be Avram of G-d, the Most High, Maker of heaven and earth.” He is none other than Shem, who is now very old. This blessing embodied Shem’s spiritual heritage. G-d is lofty, spiritual and heavenly, “Most High;” but He is also the “Maker of heaven and earth” and actively controls all the forces at work in the world. By bringing bread and wine to Avram, Malki-Tzedek transferred to him his role as High Priest, and his spiritual heritage. Finally after nine generations, he had found a person who could continue his mission in the world. “He (Malki-Tzedek) revealed to him the laws of the High Priesthood and he also revealed Torah to him.”
Yefet embodies all secular matters. Noach blessed Yefet with a play of words on his name: “Yaft Elokim Le’Yefet.” Rashi quotes the Targum Onkolos which explains the word “Yaft” as meaning to enlarge or extend. The blessing thus means: May Hashem enable you to extend and broaden man’s physical existence in the world. His task is to develop all the secular matters in the world such as mathematics, physics, meta-physics, music and the like. Even his involvement in metaphysics is only in the secular sphere of human knowledge as opposed to Shem who is preoccupied with the spiritual side of existence with faith in Hashem.
There is, however, no clash between Shem and Yefet since there is no contradiction between holy matters and secular matters. When there is a firm basis of inner faith, then there is room for expansion outwards and for the development of human culture and science. Noach’s blessing was: “May Hashem enable Yefet to expand our existence but may he dwell in the tents of Shem.”
On one occasion our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, traveled on a boat together with Saul Tschernichowski. Tschernichowski held a poetry evening on which he read some of his literary creations. The following morning, he asked Rav Tzvi Yehudah if he was interested in hearing his poems. The Rav agreed. Tschernichowski, poised theatrically, began reciting his poems with great pathos. On completion, he said to the Rav: “you surprised me. As I was reciting I peeked at you and saw that you were actually listening.” Rav Tzvi Yehudah replied: “and why not?” To this the poet said: “What do you, people concerned with religion and holy matters, have to do with secular poetry?” The Rav answered: “There is no incompatibility between holy matter and mundane, secular things. The conflict is between holiness and unholiness. Here there is an uncompromising battle.” The Rav concluded: “Thus, perhaps it’s feasible that you remedy with family situation.” Tschernichowski thought for a moment and then answered: “Perhaps.” Perhaps at that moment he had thought of repentance.
In contrast to Yefet, Cham is problematic. He is easily excited to promiscuous actions. He is the epitome of unholiness and impurity in mankind. We do not meet him half way. It is impossible for holiness to be connected in any way with unholiness. “Hashem wages a war against Amalek in all generations.”