Last week’s Torah portion described the degradation of mankind leading up to the flood (the Mabul) — “G-d saw that the evil of man was great in the land, and all thoughts of his heart were only evil, all the time (Genesis 6:5).” G-d decided to erase his original creation, and start the world anew with Noah and his family.
This week’s Torah portion chronicles that process, with the story of the flood. When the water subsided and Noah and his family disembarked with the animals they had brought along, Noah built an altar and burned an offering of thanks to G-d. “And G-d smelled the pleasant smell and G-d said to Himself, I will no longer curse the earth because of man, for the thoughts of man are evil from his youth (Genesis 8:21).”
This seems strange. The evil thoughts of man justified sending the flood in the first place. Why, then, did G-d explain He will be lenient and never again bring a flood for that same reason — that the thoughts of man are evil?
Here is a short but enlightening parable. A man wanted to test his car, and see if the turning signals were working properly. His young son was with him, so he asked the boy to go stand in front of the car while he turn on the signals, and tell him whether they were working. When the yellow right turn signal started blinking on and off the boy yelled to his father, “It’s working! No, it’s not! It’s working! No, it’s not!”
Obviously, the fact that the lights turned on and off meant the car was fine. If the lights had never turned on, had they stayed dark, then they would have been broken. And the case we are discussing is not very different.
Humans were designed with free choice. G-d places challenges before us to test our devotion; if we rise to those challenges, we develop and mature. If we fail, our job is to learn from our mistakes. What happened before the flood is that mankind reached a point of “all evil, all the time.” Not only did man fail to rise to the challenges, but he also failed to learn from his mistakes. The “signals” never lit at all, and that is why G-d needed to start over. After the flood, however, G-d saw mankind was primed to both rise to challenges, and also to learn from his mistakes. Man would continue to do wrong “from his youth,” but there was hope he would improve and progress upwards.
Someone was once singing the praises of a student before the famed “Chazon Ish,” Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz zt”l. He said, “this young man has no Yetzer Hara, no inclination to do wrong!” Rabbi Karelitz reacted, “I’m so sorry to hear the poor boy is disabled. I hope he gets better soon.”
Having the desire to do wrong is a natural part of the human condition. It is inevitable that all of us will make bad choices, but our goal is to strive towards perfection. We succeed and we fail – hopefully more of the former than the latter. We can never declare ourselves “failures,” for G-d designed us to fail sometimes. As long as our heart is still pumping, we have the opportunity to turn those failures into learning experiences. May we have the strength to both overcome the hurdles, and grow from our missteps! (Based on Baer HaParsha, HaRav Meilech Biderman)