The Torah writes in this week’s Parsha, “Vatishachet Haaretz Lifnay Haelokim Vatimalay Haaretz Chamas.” Later, Hashem says, “Vayomer Elokim Lenoach... Ki Malah Haaretz Chamas.” Why is there repetition? If the Torah tells us that the land self destructed before Hashem “Vatishachet Haaretz Lifnay Haelokim,” why does it add that the world was filled with Chamas (crime)?
The Rav zt”l points out that Chazal say that Hashchata, destruction, refers to the sins of idolatry (Avodah Zarah) and illicit relationships (Giluy Arayot), while Chamas refers to robbery (Gezel). The Ramban explains that when Hashem spoke to Noach, He based the decision to destroy the world on the sin of Chamas. Why did Hashem not mention Giluy Arayot and Avodah Zarah as a reason for the Hashchata? The Ramban explains that avoidance of Chamas is considered a Mitzva Muskelet, an obligation that is readily grasped from an intellectual perspective. Man can readily understand and appreciate the necessity to maintain law and order. Chazal refer to such Mitzvot Sichliot as Mitzvot that would be followed even had they not been written in the Torah. Giluy Arayot and Avodah Zarah, are considered Mitzvot Shliliot, Mitzvot that we must obey and restrictions we must follow simply because Hashem has commanded us to refrain from them. They are prohibitions that man would not place on himself if left to his own rational devices. (That is why the Ramban only refers to Giluy Arayot and Avodah Zarah and omits murder, Shfichat Damim, from the category of Hashchata, since murder is also a Mitzva Sichlit.)
Hashem tells Noach that He will destroy the world because it is filled with Chamas. Hashem says that even if He would be willing to overlook their transgressions of the Mitzvot Shliliot, namely Avodah Zarah and Giluy Arayot, He cannot overlook their violation of basic norms and ethical behavior. Their transgression of the Mitzvot Sichliot of Chamas and Gezel, which are restrictions that they should have understood on their own and never violated. Chazal said that the fate of the generation of the Mabul was sealed because of their violation of Gezel, which left a permanent mark on the generation and led to their destruction.
The Rav asked, why does the Torah use the words “Lifnay Elokim,” “Before God” when telling us that the generation self-destructed (“Vatishachet Haaretz Lifnay Elokim”). We can easily understand using these words when describing the Mitzva of “Usemachtem Lifnay Hashem Elokaychem,” “And you should rejoice before Hashem your God.” But how do these words fit here?
The Rav gave an explanation based on Shvuat Hapikadon, an oath that must be taken by a person entrusted to watch an item. The Torah describes the concept of Shvuat Hapikadon as “Nefesh Ki Techta Umaala Maal Behashem Vkichesh Beamito,” “A person who sins by committing a misappropriation offense against Hashem by lying to his neighbor.” The Tosefta explains that such an offense against his fellow man can only be committed by one who has previously been Moel Behashem, acted inappropriately towards Hashem. A Jew who fears Hashem (Bayn Adam Lemakom) will refrain from acting sinfully towards his fellow man (Bayn Adam Lechaveiro). In other words man is called a sinner not only because he violates the Mitzvot Sichliot, but because he has violated the Mitzvot Shliliot as well, and sinned towards Hashem. The Ramban says the same thing happened by the Dor Hamabul. They started out with Hashchasa, by rebelling against Hashem and the Mitzvot Shliliot of Avodah Zarah and Giluy Arayot and eventually ended up violating the Mitzvot Sichliot of Gezel and Chamas.
The Rav said that in Tefilat Neila we recite “Ata Noten Yad Leposhim,” that Hashem helps man “Lemaan Nechdal Meoshek Yadaynu,” “so that he can desist from the robbery of our hands.” Why do we not say “Lemaan Nechdal Mayaverot Yadeinu,” “so that he might desist from the sins of our hands”? Why use a term like Oshek instead of Avonot or Aveyrot that is more commonly used to refer to sin?
The Rav explained that Oshek is an all-inclusive term for all kinds of sin, similar to Chamas. (When the Torah says Ki Malah Haaretz Chamas it means that man committed all kinds of Aveyrot.) On Yom Kippur we say that Hashem assists man to repent for all sins, Oshek, that he committed. When man sins he loses his privileges, Zechutim, over himself. In Tefila Zaka we say that Hashem created man and all the parts of his body to serve Hashem and act morally, yet instead we have acted immorally and we are Gazlanim, theives. In Malachi, the prophet asks how it is possible to steal from Hashem? The answer is when man does not give Trumot and Maasrot, he steals from Hashem. If Hashem gives us wealth and we do not give Tzedaka, we are stealing from Hashem. If man uses his hands or his legs for sinful purposes, he is stealing them from Hashem, who created them so that we might perform Mitzvot with them. We forfeit our rights, Zechutim, over our own bodies. When we pray that we may desist from Oshek Yadaynu, we ask that we be granted the strength to resist the sin of Gezel through the misuse of either physical or material gifts given to us by Hashem. We pray that we might not repeat our sinful past when we were guilty of Oshek Yadaynu, misuse of our hands, indeed our very existence.
The Rav explained that the Dor Hamabul was filled with Chamas because they had perverted their entire physical and spiritual existence. They were guilty of Oshek, violating all of Hashem’s laws between man and God as well as man and man to the highest degree, and were punished accordingly.