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The events described in this week's parsha only serve to confirm the diagnosis of human behavior already recorded for us in last week’s parsha – that the nature of human beings, if left alone, will invariably turn to evil behavior. Not only that but the recounting of the behavior of the family of Noach, even after experiencing the flood and the destruction of much of humankind, instructs us as to how difficult it is to really change human nature.

The long history of the Jewish people particularly, and of civilization generally, indicates clearly that miracles, disasters, proven failures and generational events have little effect on individual or even communal human behavior. Since everyone believes that he or she is the exception to human mortality and to the effects of one's own behavior and actions, it is very difficult to convince one's own self that changes in lifestyle and attitudes are necessary.
The evil nature within us is the part of our persona and mental makeup that is most resistant to allowing lessons of life to be learned and effective change to be generated. Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant stated that “the loudest noise made in the physical world is that of the breaking of a habit.” Most evil that is perpetrated in this world is simply a product of habitually bad behavior.
I think that habit alone is sufficient to help us understand how the world could believe in paganism for millennia on end, no matter what the consequences and results of such a pernicious belief were. Even the great flood would not prevent most of the descendants of Noach from sinking back into the quagmire of paganism. It was not so much a matter of belief as it was a matter of habit.
From this introduction to the nature of humanity, as related in the first two portions of the Torah, the rest of the Torah becomes more understandable and we gain greater perspective into it. The main purpose of the Torah, in its simplest and most sublime sense, is to break us of our bad habits, ultimately to replace them with better ways of doing and behaving.
That is why the commandments of the Torah are so insistently repetitive in our daily lives because only by repetition is habitual behavior established. All athletes are aware that only by constant and daily training will their muscular and physical abilities become enhanced and of second nature. It is this regimen of training that allows for excellence in competition. Leaving one's spiritual side to apathy and inaction will automatically guarantee that the habits of evil behavior will dominate.
Thus, most of the Torah is simply counter intuitive. It speaks against the perpetuation of bad habits and demands of us the necessary changes in outlook and behavior that will make us better people. Naturally, the definition of good and evil is based upon God's judgment. But over the many millennia of human existence that definition of good and evil has stayed the test of time and remains the fulcrum of civilization. The righteousness of Noach lay with his ability to change for the better and rise above his society. That challenge remains for all of us as well.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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