Crime and Punishment and... by Rabbi Steven Prebor


The story of the flood in Parshat Noach ends with a very significant, yet perplexing event.  The powerful symbol of the rainbow is accompanied by Hashem’s promise never again to destroy the world with a flood.  Hashem’s promise is comforting, if somewhat troubling.  Of course we are all happy to be rid of this looming threat.  But why does Hashem promise not to repeat it?  Is it because He thinks it is wrong?  But then why would He have brought the flood originally?  And if it was the right thing to do the first time, then it should be appropriate a second or third time.  One might argue that the flood was simply brought to give a message of divine justice, and that there are severe consequences for those who commit crimes.  But how much impact will that message carry if Hashem promises never again to carry out the consequence that were used to teach the lesson?  What would be Hashem’s point in teaching us about divine punishment, only to then remove a major dimension of divine punishment from His repertoire?

Solving this problem might be easier if we change our perspective on the flood.

Parshat Noach is replete with references to Creation.  The receding of the water from the dry land after the flood sounds like the second and third days of Creation.  Noach and his family received a blessing from Hashem that is very similar to the one given to Adam and Chava.  In 9:12, Hashem calls the rainbow אות הברית.  This is reminiscent of the fact that creation culminated with Shabbat, which in Perek 31 of Shemot is referred to as אות and .ברית  These references as well as others point to an underlying creation theme.  Hashem did not bring the flood simply to destroy evil.  The destruction of evil was a means to help achieve the goal of “re-creating” the world.  Then why, you may ask, did Hashem decide to “re-create” the world only once?  Perhaps the re-creation was not necessary in and of itself, but it was done just once in order to provide us with a crucial message concerning sin.  When dealing with our own personal sins, the Teshuva process should be viewed as a re-creation of the self.  As we say on the Yamim Noraim at the end of Unetane Tokef, Hashem does not wish to punish, with death or anything else.  He wants us, instead, to do Teshuva and “re-create” ourselves (see also Yechezkel 18:23, 32).

It is interesting to note that when the world was originally created, Hashem acted alone.  In this episode, however, he allows Noach, through the building and loading of the Teva, to be actively involved in creating the world anew.  This sounds like the Luchot, which were prepared entirely by Hashem the first time, but were carved by Moshe the second time, perhaps then indicating a stronger involvement of the people in Talmud Torah once the second set of Luchot were produced (see Bait Halevi Darash 18).  Perhaps Noach’s involvement in “re-creating” the world was supposed to set an example for all people of the “new world.”  We should personally be involved in “re-creating” ourselves during the Teshuva process.  And in each instance, we must first make sure to “destroy” the evil within us.

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