Torah Thoughts: Parashat Noach 5782
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
Parashat Noach receives its name on behalf of the biblical character who God chose to continue human life on earth. Through Noah, humankind was saved from perishing from the universal flood brought by God as a punishment for human sins.
According to Pirkei Avot (5:2), “[There were] ten generations from Adam to Noah, in order to make known what long-suffering is His; for all those generations kept on provoking Him, until He brought upon them the waters of the flood.” Only after ten generations of sinful behavior, God brought the flood to the earth.
The Torah is not explicitly clear about the kinds of sins that humanity committed. The sages try to fill this gap and speculate that those ten generations sinned both sins between man and God and between man and his fellow man. However, the sages establish that the straw that broke the camel’s back was the sin of robbery.
Rabbi Yochanan says in the Talmud (Sanedrin 108a), “Come and see how great is the power of robbery, as the generation of the flood violated every precept, but their sentence to be destroyed was not sealed until they extended their hands and engaged in robbery, as it is stated: “For the earth is filled with robbery through them, and behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Genesis 6:13).
From this teaching we can derive that God is not as severe with man in regard to sins between man and God. However, God seems to be much stricter with regards to sins between man and his fellow man. This idea is expressed in the following, well-known teaching, “He [Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa] used to say: one with whom men are pleased, God is pleased. But anyone from whom men are displeased, God is displeased” (Pirkei Avot 3:10).
Judaism establishes mitzvot (commandments) between man and God (for example, avoiding idolatry, or eating Kosher) and between man and his fellow man (for example, giving Tzedakah, or respecting your parents). Accordingly, there are sins or transgressions between man and God and others between man and his fellow man. Both categories are equally important. In fact, according to the interpretation I exposed above, perhaps the sins committed against other people should be punished more severely than the sins committed against God! Being a Jewish “religious” person doesn’t mean only to be strict with the observances of rituals and prayers, but also to be strict with the observance of the obligations between us and those around us. It is a delicate balance that we should try to keep.