By rabbi Moshe Mayerfeld
During the dark days of the Second Word War, American president Franklin D Roosevelt said: “In these days of difficulty, everyone must and shall choose the path of social justice… the path of faith, the path of hope and the path of love toward our fellow man.”
In other words, he saw the road towards a better world rooted in the connection and respect of human beings for one another. In Parshat Noach, we learn of two dark societies whose corruption led to their demise. However, their punishments require some reflection.
The first event recounted is the generation of the flood. Noach and his family become the heroes to restart society after God’s absolute intolerance for the actions of that generation.
The second is the story of the Tower of Babel. A group of rebels against God who build a tower with the aim to destroy Him are merely relocated and allowed to re-establish themselves. Most religious activists would probably guess it should be in the reverse. Shouldn’t the rebellion against God be punished more severely?
However, the Torah sees it differently.
Rashi teaches that the generation of the flood were quarrelling thieves who were ultimately destroyed, while the people of Babel, even though they stretched out their hand to wage war against God, were ‘only’ dispersed amongst the land because they conducted themselves with love and friendship.
Dissension is despised and peace is meritorious. The generation of the flood had no acceptable social ethics or respect for people, and therefore all was lost. With no foundation, the whole building collapses.
The only way forward was to have Noach start again. A society with no relationship with God is perhaps in a more perilous situation, as the grand purpose of living is not being respected; yet, there is still hope. So long as society has some basic moral grounding, so long as there is respect and appreciation of the people around us, there is hope that the next stage of connecting to the Creator can be achieved.
Therefore, the generation of Babel was not destroyed; it was merely dispersed, in the hope it could develop a different world view, a move towards ethical monotheism and a healthy spiritual relationship with God. Perhaps the generation of the flood needed to hear FDR’s words.
Perhaps they came too late. We know that the word of God is eternal, asking us to honour our neighbour, respect our friend and remain united as one people. That is the starting point.
From there, all other good things can begin to flow.
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