June 16, 2024
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June 16, 2024
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“V’chol yetzer machsh’vot libo-rak ra kol hayom,” (Bereishit 6:5).

As last week’s parasha of Bereishit closes, Hashem explains why He decided to destroy all of humanity. And He tells us the reason for man’s corruption, by stating that every inclination of man was only evil all the time.It was for this reason that God brought the flood.

This reason is echoed in the middle of this week’s parsha, when Noach brings offerings to God after the flood. It was then, that Hashem pledges never to repeat the destruction of the earth in such a fashion, and He explains: “Ki yetzer lev ha’adam ra min’urav — Man’s inclination is evil from his youth,” (ibid. 9:21).

It would seem a very strange statement! God uses the reason that man’s inclination is only evil as the rationale for destroying humanity; he then uses the very same reason — that man’s inclination is evil from his youth — to explain why He would never again destroy all life?! How is it possible to understand this seeming contradiction?

HaRav Soloveitchik asks this very question and finds its resolution in this week’s haftarah. Yishayahu makes mention of Noach and the flood in this 54th perek of his sefer, in order to convince the nation that, just as mankind had sinned in Noach’s time and were punished with the inundation of the earth, and yet … soon after, He forgave humankind and promised never again to do so again. So too, Hashem would quickly forgive Israel of her sins, despite the painful punishments they would suffer.

In doing so, God refers to the flood waters as “mei Noach — the waters of Noach,” which, the rav explains, was a subtle way of blaming Noach for his failure to plead with Hashem to rescind the decree. However, the oath that He gives to Noach following the inundation marks a dramatic change in God’s treatment of man.

The rav points out that, before the flood, the human being’s inclination was “rak ra — it was only evil,” — that is, he could be completely evil with no hope for redemption. He must, therefore, be punished to avoid complete corruption of society. After the flood, however, when there was no significant change; man remained evil and society remained corrupt, it became clear that severe punishment would not change humankind’s ways — “yetzer lev ha’adam ra’ min’urav.” And that is why He took the oath no longer to punish humans for their “natural” inclination.

Instead, Hashem granted them the capacity for repentance. No longer would sin and corruption automatically bring severe results. Man could repent … because God would forgive!

Our haftarah reflects that exact lesson! Yishayahu taught his sinful generation that God responded to the “waters of Noach” with an oath granting humankind the possibility to repent. As a result, we must realize that Hashem’s anger is, comparatively, only short-lived — but His forgiveness, His “desire” to return to man so that man could return to Him — is eternal.

What a powerful message to receive right after the month of teshuva closed! The Navi teaches us a lesson that grants us hope in the worst of times and joy in the best of times. A lesson we should always remember.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

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