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B'rayshit (Genesis) 1:1- 6:8
Haftorah Isaiah 54:1-55:5
In last week's Parsha, we read of the creation and the downfall of man. When Adam and Chava ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they brought the Yetzer Hara (the Evil Inclination) within themselves. From then on the Yetzer Hara was not an external power, but was internalized and became part of the human being. This ultimately led to wickedness and murder, and 10 generations later, the generation of Noach had lost the ability to do goodness. They were not just living outside of Hashem's influence, they had become totally corrupt.
The corruption began with immorality and idolatry and degenerated into robbery. Nothing was sacred any longer. The Zohar explains that since mankind is the essence of the world, and in fact, the very essence of creation (for only man was created in the image of Hashem), our corruption therefore also affected the animal world.
Our Parsha begins with mankind's second chance at living properly, by using G-dly principals. Six divine commandments were handed down from Hashem to Adam and only Noach and his family lived by any semblance of them. Mankind, at that stage of development could have reentered the Garden of Eden if only it had disregarded the temptations of the Yetzer Hara and lived completely within Hashem's guidelines.
Instead, mankind's corruption was so pervasive that it extended even into the animal kingdom, thereby rendering this world unfit for life. In order for Hashem to give mankind a new "beginning" a second chance, Hashem destroyed His creation and caused the Flood.
Noach and his family (his wife, three sons: Shem, Cham and Yafet and their wives), were the only human survivors, and their task was to replenish the Earth. Until this point in time, mankind was forbidden to eat animals, as part of the compromised treaty with Hashem they were now allowed to kill animals for the sake of eating. The family of Noach and all mankind to this very day were given a seventh commandment, and must live by this credo, or else be part of a corruptive process.
The Sheva Mitzvot B'nai Noach (the Seven Commandments of the Descendants of Noach) are:
1. Belief in G-d.
Ten generations followed Noach until the birth of Avraham Avinu (Abraham our ancestor). The end of our Parsha deals with the second catastrophic failure of man. Again, mankind becomes steeped in evil, no longer capable of withstanding temptation. Mankind then tried to destroy Hashem Himself. The Dor Haflagah (the Generation of the Dispersion) built a great tower to reach and overpower Hashem and take full control. Let us look closer and see what happened during this vague period in human history.
B'rayshit Chapter 11 begins:
"The whole earth was one language and of a common purpose. And it came to pass when they migrated from the East they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there."
Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cordosa (of Jerusalem) gives us a wonderful insight into this period. The people lived in the fertile crescent where food was plentiful and life was easy. That society had also learned the lesson of the flood. They recognized the mistakes of previous generations and lived with Devarim Achadim (a common purpose).
However, Devarim also means "things". Rabbi Cordosa points to commentators who explain that Devarim Achadim can also mean "common things," and that post-Flood mankind lived in an almost socialist society. All property belonging to the collective. Since the pre-Flood generations committed theft, this sharing of possessions meant that this particular manifestation of corruption would not again pollute their world.
But there was a major change in the world. Nimrod, who was the leader of the people, took mankind out of the Fertile Crescent and brought them to a place that the Torah called a "Bikka" (a valley), in the Land of Shinar.
Hebrew is a very exact language. There are two Hebrew words for valley, Emek and Bikka. The word Emek refers to a lush and fertile valley such as Emek Yizrael (the Jezriel Valley) in the Galilee. The word Bikka, however, refers to a barren valley, such as Bikkat HaYarden (the Jordan Valley) which is virtually a desert.
Why would Nimrod bring civilization from the lush Fertile Crescent to a lifeless valley in the land of Shinar? The answer can be found in the next few words. "And they said to each other, come let us form bricks and bake them in fire" (B'rayshit 11:3). Technology was the answer. Nimrod didn't want the people dependent on Hashem but rather on himself, and so he brought them to a god forsaken land that could only be made fertile through technology.
Nimrod was a great inventor and came up with designs for aqueducts and irrigation systems, soil enrichment products and even the brick. For all intents and purposes, it was as strong and as durable as stone and it could be made next to the work site. He became god-like to his people. He was all-powerful, and inventive; he provided his people with nourishment and those who didn't agree with him were thrown into a fiery furnace.
That society tried to kill G-d. People were making huge technological discoveries in a very short time and the scientists and the rationalists tried to wean the people off of their G-d dependencies. Think about how similar this scenario is to other technologically advanced eras in human history.
Rabbi Cordosa adds one more proposition. He points out that the Torah states that the people spoke only the Hebrew language. Hebrew is a spiritual language, it raises both the speaker and the listener to a higher level. Many profound concepts are contained within its letters and words. Yet the people began using the language improperly. Their obsession with making bricks (symbolic of materialism) alienated them from their language and hence - the Dor Haflagah (the Generation of the Dispersion).
Avraham Avinu was the only individual in those ten generations who lived by the seven Noachide commandments. Avraham developed his potential for righteousness. Mankind as a whole failed its second and final opportunity to bring about Hashem's Glory. A new era was about to begin. A nation would be formed that could bring about Hashem's will on earth. This nation was selected because Avraham emphasized the characteristic of Chesed (Loving-kindness).
The Torah reviewed two thousand years of human history in just two Parshiot. Prior to the Covenant with Avraham Avinu (in next week's Parsha), mankind as a whole could have brought the redemption; now, only Am Yisrael can activate the redemptive process. The remainder of this first book in the Torah will set the tone for all generations to come.
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
Shema Yisrael Torah Network