Office of the Chief Rabbi

Dvar Torah: Noach

What was the primary sin of the generation of the flood?

In Parshat Noach we are told ‘Vatishachet HaAretz lifnei HaElokim’ – ‘the earth became corrupted before Hashem’. The Kotsker Rebbe brilliantly divides these words into two statements: ‘Vatishachet’ – the earth became ‘corrupted’, and why was that the case? ‘HaAretz lifnei Haelokim’ – the slogan of the people at that time was: ‘Earth before God’. That generation prioritised the physical and invested all their efforts into materialism, which for them was far more important than any form of spirituality or any acknowledgment of the role of God in their lives.

The antidote for this can be found in the gemara in Masechet Brachot. There, our sages bring to our attention two verses, both of which are very familiar to us and which seem to contradict each other. In Psalm 24 we read ‘Lahashem ha’aretz u’meloa – the earth and everything in it, is the Lord’s.’ But then in Psalm 115 which we chant in Hallel, we say Hashamayim, shamayim laHashem vha’aretz natan lifnei adam‘ – ‘the heavens are the heavens of the Lord and the earth he has given to people’. So this earth – is it God’s or is it ours?

The gemara says both statements are correct. Hashem has given this earth to us so that through our actions, we will appreciate the presence of Hashem in it. The primary way we do this is through the brachot that we recite. When I take something which has grown out of the ground, before I eat it, I say a blessing over it and in that way, I transform a mere physical activity into an action that brings spiritual gratification. We find, for example, at the Shabbat table, we take an ordinary bottle of wine but by reciting Kiddush we sanctify it and all who hear the blessing. We place so much emphasis on what we eat over Shabbat and Yom Tov, not because there is something extra special in the food itself but rather through our eating our table becomes an altar. We elevate the physical and the material in order to appreciate the presence of Hashem in our lives on those special days.

Therefore, unlike that generation of the flood, our way of life is ‘Elokim lifnei ha’aretz’ – God comes before everything that is physical and material in this world and as a result, our lives are filled with so much happiness and meaning.

Shabbat Shalom

 


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