Rabbi Wein.com The Voice of Jewish History

Rabbi Wein’s Weekly Blog
 Printer Friendly


 It is understandably easy to become disgusted with human beings, with society and with the behavior of individuals. Over the many millennia, from the days of Noach until today, human history is a litany of violence, war, massacres of innocents, corruption, false idols, bankrupt ideals and constant strife. Europe has not known a war-free time for many centuries.

The very agencies created by human efforts to right wrongs, adjudicate disputes and promote harmony among peoples have themselves proven to be as corrupt and biased as to have become practically irrelevant in the practical world where we all reside. Apparently such was the state of the world at the time of Noach as well. And then and there, somehow God despaired of the human race almost completely.
The Torah speaks to us in a metaphoric fashion of God’s “regrets,” so to speak, in having created humankind and investing it with free will, because of the evil it perpetrated. And yet, in the narrative regarding the covenant of the rainbow, God somehow “regrets” having destroyed the world and commits Himself, so to speak, to never doing so again. The lesson here is that disgust and despair, no matter how seemingly justified, are not godly traits.
Giving in to the weaknesses of human nature that surround us and that we are constantly made aware of by the media and other story mongers, is a sign of human foolishness and not wisdom. King Solomon, in Kohelet which we have just recently heard read in our synagogues, points out all of the negativities of human life. He also is tempted to despair of human life. But at the last instant he catches himself and ends on a note of quiet faith.
Noach rebuilds the world after its destruction. The world is not rebuilt in a perfect fashion. Almost all of the evils of human society that existed before the great flood reappear once again in human society. But the Torah now concentrates its narrative on certain individuals who will influence all later human life for good and benefit.
Abraham could not apparently save or even influence Sodom but the story of humanity will now focus on the good people, even if they be few in number and apparently weak in power. This shift of emphasis in the biblical narrative is itself the key to understanding the message of Judaism and Jewish history throughout the ages. We should never despair because of the presence of so much negative evil in the world.
If the great and righteous Noach gave in to despair about the human condition, which is the source of all of the negative commentary about him that appears in rabbinic literature, we are not to emulate him in this regard. The world is rebuilt through goodness and beneficence not through carping and cynicism. In a dangerous world such as the one we live in, realism and practicality are essential for survival. However, despair and disappointment are not.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

Subscribe to our blog via email or RSS to get more posts like this one.