Noach 2006

This weeks Parsha tells us the famous story of Noah. The Torah tells us that the generation of Noah sunk to a terrible level. "Vatishaches Haaretz lifnai Haelokim" – “and the land was corrupt before Hashem.” The sages describe to us various sins that caused this generation to be called "corrupt". In particular they point to illicit relations and to stealing as the two sins that brought about the terrible decree of the flood. The Ksav Sofer explains what in particular made this generation deserving of such a terrible punishment, and to be called "perverted".

The Sages tell us that a person should not say, "I don't enjoy meat and milk together, or I can't stand the taste of non-kosher food!". Rather, one should say, “I wish I could taste a cheeseburger, but what can I do - Hashem has decreed not to eat it!” The Sages are clearly telling us that a person should stay away from sin just because Hashem has forbidden it, not because he or she doesn't enjoy it. What does this mean? What are we supposed to think? Should we walk into a store feeling that we would love to steal, but Hashem just won't allow us to? Should we feel no desire to help a poor person, but just do so because Hashem has decreed to do so?

Maimonides explains that there is a basic difference between two types of commandments. When it comes to a chok, a decree for which there is no apparent reason, then a person should not try to observe it because of their own feelings. Rather, one should say “I am observing this because this is the will of the Almighty.” The reason we keep kosher, or don’t wear garments that have wool and linen mixed together (shatnez), is purely because this is the decree of Hashem. However, when it comes to a mitzvah with a logical reason, then we are supposed to learn from the mitzvah to live with these feelings or emotions. We should feel pity for a poor person, we should understand that it is wrong to steal, and we should want to practice loving kindness.

The generation of the flood, the Ksav Sofer explains, not only were the people doing acts of stealing. They lost in their hearts the basic sensitivity that taking someone else’s money is wrong. This was the meaning of the verse when it says – “and the land was corrupt” – more than just doing something wrong, the generation lost its sensitivity for right and wrong. This compounded the sin and was part of the cause of the flood.

In addition to doing mitzvohs, we are taught that we should learn from the commandments to refine our character and to perfect it. In this way we are truly doing the mitzvah to its fullest.