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G-d said: 'My Spirit shall no longer vacillate over Man. His days shall be but one hundred and twenty years' (6:3)
The context of: 'His days shall be but one hundred and twenty years' is debated by the commentators. Ibn Ezra's interpretation is that the human life span will gradually decrease to a maximum of 120 years. Rashi and the Ramban, on the other hand, say that the Flood will come in another 120 years if the people do not repent.
Both interpretations fall into the context of: 'G-d saw… the wickedness of Man… and that every product of his thought was evil' (6:5).
Taking the first explanation - that the human life span would gradually decrease to a maximum of 120 years - what would be gained by shortening Man's life on this planet to so brief a spell? What is the connection between ultra-long life and evil? And between a shorter life and good?
Man differs from animals in that he has been endowed with intelligence and free choice. That enables him to interact deliberately with the world in both a positive way - advancing the welfare of Mankind, and a negative way - short term selfish pleasure and convenience at the cost of long term damage of vital resources. In the absence of the Torah Revelation, the world - G-d's Creation - is his teacher. Man's collective, long term experience sees that good advances the Creation, and evil debases the Creation. Good things might include conservation of the environment (e.g. replacing trees cut down), and a basic, enforceable legal system safeguarding the rights of members of society. Bad things include the forced subjugation of the powerful (6:2 according to the Radak), toleration of theft (6:11 according to Rashi), and more broadly the current complicity of many (especially developing) nations in the gross over-exploitation of fossil fuels and rain forests, promoting environmental destruction on a global scale.
When Man has 'all the time in the world', he is in no hurry to learn. He wants a 'good time' - putting the world to right and taking responsibility is something that can always be put off. He will value time less. But if he knows that his time on Earth is limited - then 'time is money' - he will listen to the world being his teacher and strive to interact with it. (And even with 'jump start' of the Torah Revelation, assimilating, accommodating, and living according to its principles is the work of a lifetime.)
Thus G-d wants Man to interact with the Creation in a positive way. Limited lifespan (Ibn Ezra) and a powerful lesson from the Creator (Rashi, Ramban) are the means by which G-d intensified and directed Man to obtain meaning from the Creation, directing him more firmly towards the challenge of making the most of his existence 'in the image of G-d' (1:27).
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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