October 31st-November 1st, 2003
6 Cheshvan, 5764
"…and one [angel] would call to another and say, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is
Hashem, Master of Legions [or, the Lord of Hosts]; the whole world
is filled with His glory." (Isaiah: 6, 3; my emphasis)
The above verse from the Book of Isaiah is no doubt familiar to many
Jewish people. We recite it each morning in the Kedusha section of the
Shacharis service, as we sanctify G-d’s Name here on earth in the manner
of the Serafim (a class of angelic beings) on high.
We declare that G-d is unfathomable in His "holiness," in His
transcendence of all Creation (with its characteristics and
limitations)…and yet we simultaneously affirm that His presence and
Providence are palpably felt throughout every inch of that Creation! He is
Holy (separate), but the work of His Creation is filled end to end
with the evidence—with the resounding proclamation—of His kindness and
wisdom. And by uttering these words each day--"…the whole world is
filled with His glory--, we Jews acknowledge and bear witness to that
kindness and wisdom as it is manifest throughout Creation. (This, in fact,
is our very purpose as a nation.)
This verse summarizes the way Creation really IS (as seen through the
unblemished angelic vision), and points to the G-d-consciousness that
mankind (all mankind) is ideally supposed to attain. Perhaps we could say
that it describes the "ideal state" of existence.
But it most certainly does not describe the situation in the world at the
time of the Flood, which is recounted in this week’s parsha.
As the S’fas Emes points out, mankind’s spiritual state in this era was
the exact opposite of the ideal. When G-d considers His Creation in the
opening lines of the Torah portion, He does not see human beings
living their lives with the awareness of the signs of kindness and wisdom
that surround them. He does not see a world filled with the
recognition of His glory and honor! What does He see instead? What is the
world filled with?
"Now the earth had become corrupt before G-d; and the earth had become
filled with robbery (chamas)…G-d said to Noach, ‘The end of all
flesh has come before Me, for the earth is
filled with robbery…"
Holy, Holy, Holy is (and was, in the days of Noach) the Lord of Hosts…yet
His world was filled with robbery.
Although the generation of the Flood was guilty of committing many serious
transgressions (including idolatry and rampant sexual immorality), the
Torah lays particular emphasis on the pervasive robbery, or theft, that
characterized human society at the time.
Let’s think for a moment. What was—or is—so especially "corrupt"
about this particular behavior (or, more accurately, the attitude and
state of consciousness at the root of this behavior) that would lead G-d
to respond by wiping out His Creation…and starting human history anew with
the righteous Noach and his family? It must be that robbery is, in some
sense, the very antithesis of what a human being was created to engage in,
and a world filled with robbery was the antithesis of G-d’s desire for
Creation. A world filled with robbery must have been (in G-d’s eyes)
corrupt to the very core, a negation of the underlying plan of Creation.
The simple answer is that G-d created human beings to be givers,
not takers. The spirit of robbery is, indeed, the antithesis of what G-d
intended in creating the human being.
This is beautifully articulated by one of the most profound Torah thinkers
of the 20th century, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, in his seminal two-part essay
on the trait of lovingkindness (chesed):
"If there is one attribute which sums up all the aspects revealed to us of
G-d’s conduct of the world, it is that He is the bestower of bounty par
excelence. He gives existence and life to all His creatures and showers
goodness of all kinds. The highest fulfillment of a human being is
make himself resemble his Creator in this; that is, to shower
good upon others. Love of other people is the desire to make others happy;
doing acts of chesed in all its aspects and particulars means to bring
happiness in practice to other people. This is the ‘imitation of G-d’ which the
‘attaching oneself to G-d,’ meaning, as the Rabbis say,
attaching oneself to His middos [i.e., the traits with which we perceive Him
to interact with the world]:
He is merciful, so you are to be merciful,’ and so on. (Strive for Truth,
edited By Rabbi A. Carmell, Volume 2, p. 145)
Our chief goal in life is to transform ourselves by our own free-willed
efforts into bestowers of good on others—and to, thereby, emulate our
Creator. The generation of the Flood corrupted the essential "ideal image"
of a human being—the tzelem Elokim (divine image) with which Hashem
created them. They chose to destroy—and to make a lifelong career of
destroying—their capacity to make themselves into givers. The world was
filled with robbery, with taking…not with giving.
This is why (Rabbi Dessler also explains) the year Noach and his family
spent in the Ark was completely devoted to caring for the unimaginable
needs of all the animals, to GIVING. The old world had been destroyed by
the spirit of robbery, and the new world to spring from Noach had to be
founded on the spirit, and practice, of chesed. What’s more, the trait of
chesed was the chief spiritual perfection of Avraham, our first patriarch,
in his service unto G-d. Our nation had to be founded on the spirit, and
practice, of chesed as well.
It is always easier to be a taker than to be a giver. Even the small
giving of thanks for a favor received, the acknowledgment that one is
indebted to the giver (or Giver) for the slightest pleasure bestowed, can
seem onerous to a human being. After all, this is how we were made. We
were created with the powerful inclination to take (the yetzer ha’ra, or,
"evil inclination"), as well as with the deep contrary yearning to perfect
our divine image and become givers. G-d wants us to choose to follow the
latter inclination, to choose to shape our lives in accord with His Will,
and not just blindly run to satisfy our own often petty (and destructive)
desires and yearnings.
We who live after the Flood, and after Sinai, are fortunate. The mitzvos
(commandments) of the Torah are a clear and comprehensive program given to
(in G-d’s great lovingkindness) specifically to help us actualize our
potential for becoming givers. The words, and commandments, of the Torah
can be our "Noah’s Ark," in which we "take refuge" from the raging waters
of the yetzer ha’ra that always threaten to submerge this world, and
through which we learn to emulate our Creator.
The Torah opens our eyes to the fundamental truth that everything comes
from G-d, and therefore, that everything must be utilized by us in accord
with His will. The Torah shows us just how to do that.
"Holy, Holy, Holy is Hashem, Master of Legions; the whole earth is filled
with His glory." The more we try to live with that awareness, every hour
of every day, the less likely we will be to fill the world with robbery
and repeat the sin of the generation of the Flood. May we all strive to
become givers, partners in helping Hashem build the world of chesed He
desired…rather than its destroyers.
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