Adapted from an address heard from Rabbi Avigdor Miller, OB”M

Parshas Noach begins with G-d telling Noah that He will bring a mabul, flood, because of the evil ways of the people of his generation and that Noah should build an ark in which to live for the year of the Deluge. In his commentary on verse 6:14, Rashi asks why Hashem chose to save Noah by making him build an ark when He could have saved him in an easier way. (Nothing is too hard for G-d. He could have had an invisible bubble surround Noah and his family, protecting them from the water. Or He could have provided a Heaven-made ark, saving Noah from the effort of building his own.) Rashi explains that the ark took Noah 120 years to build. During that time, the people of Noah’s generation asked him what he was building and he explained that Hashem was bringing a flood to punish them for their sins. Hashem hoped that this would give Noah’s generation a chance to repent so that He wouldn’t have to bring the flood at all. But the people did not do teshuva and the Deluge wiped out everyone but Noah and his immediate family.

Later in the parsha, 11:1-9, the Torah recounts the story of the Dor Haflaga, the generation of the dispersion. Everyone spoke one language and they wanted to build a tower that would reach the sky. Hashem saw this, decided it was a bad thing and changed the language of many of them into seventy languages, thereby halting the construction of the tower for lack of communication. On the face of it, it’s not clear what exactly the sin of this generation was. Rashi 11:1 explains that the people, knowing about the Deluge that decimated the previous generation, calculated that they sky weakens every 1,656 years, causing tremendous flooding and wreaking havoc on the world. They were building this tower as a support for the sky so that another Deluge would not occur.

So what was their great sin? If anything, it would seem commendable to be proactive in preventing tragedy. To strengthen the question, Rashi 11:9 cites a Medrash that the Dor Haflaga has no portion in the World to Come and that their sin is really worse than that of the generation of the flood and only because there was peace among them, Hashem did not wipe them out. In what way was their sin worse?

“He Who chastises nations, will He not rebuke? It is He Who teaches man knowledge.” (Psalms 94:10) Hashem brings suffering upon people to rebuke them for their wrongdoings and teach them to have conscious knowledge of Him, to be aware and always mindful of Him and what He expects of us.

“If you behave casually with Me and refuse to heed to Me, then I shall lay a further blow upon you, seven times for your sins.” (Leviticus 26:21) Maimonides explains this verse to mean that if we consider Hashem’s punishments as happenstance, then He will continue to punish us seven times more severely than our sins. Why is this so? Why is it fair for Hashem’s punishment to be greater than what our sin warrants?

Because our dismissing the punishment as happenstance is itself a sin seven times worse than the original transgression. To illustrate, if there is a tsunami in Japan and thousands of people die, one of the reasons it happened is so that we should notice that Hashem is upset and do teshuva. Of course, every one of the casualties was meant to die, but it should also serve as a wake-up call for us to do teshuva. And if we don’t take notice, then that aspect of their deaths was for no purpose and we are responsible for their deaths being partially meaningless.

This was the sin of the Dor Haflaga. The Dor Hamabul, the Generation of the Flood, was wiped out because of its sins but also so that future generations would see that it is unacceptable to act in such a manner. The Dor Haflaga refused to accept the lesson of the Deluge and instead said, “The sky is falling and we have to strengthen it.” By refusing to recognize Hashem’s role and motive in bringing the mabul about, they were held partially responsible for it.

Now let us bring this lesson into our lives. When Hashem brings Hurricane Sandy and people are killed and billions of dollars worth of property is destroyed, do you really think the lesson is that you should go buy a more energy-efficient car? Hashem is talking to us!

When someone gets into a car crash or breaks a leg, Hashem is talking to him. And it doesn’t have to be such a strong delivery. The example the gemara gives of yissurim, afflictions, is reaching into your pocket for a quarter and pulling out a nickel. What kind of affliction is that? The answer is that yissurim are Hashem talking to us and He wants us to change. If we are finely attuned to him, we will realize that even a small thing going wrong is a message from Him and we will do teshuva. But the less we pay attention to the small messages, Hashem has to keep sending us stronger messages until we finally hear Him and do teshuva.

Shmuel Dovid Kirwan

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  • jimmie c boswell

    so lets face some facts of G-D, here and now in TheTorah. every time the jews try to get out of being in TheTorah from YHVH. a lot end up either dead, sent into slavery, or sent into dispersion.

    and their mess of trying to not be here in TheTorah, creates mess of idolatry to happen to the whole rest of the world. so will you all please quit! your trying to not be here, in Only TheTorah from HaShem G-D. cause it makes a horrible mess, out of everything.

  • jimmie c boswell

    well lets follow the logical sequence. G-D returns from TheDay of rest. nearly destroys the whole world, surviving only Noach His Family and the 144,000 talking critters. because there is nobody here in TheTorah.

    end of day one, G-D confuses a bunch of people building a tower. because there is nobody here in TheTorah.

    end of day two, with Avraham, G-D destroys sodam and gomorrah cause they are not here in TheTorah.

    day three with Moshe, G-D kills a bunch of people over a calf, and because they balk crossing a river, resisting G-D with Moshe, G-D sends then on a 41year field hike, for their resisting being here in TheTorah.

    end of day four, G-D has Adam put to death because their is nobody here in TheTorah.

    end of day six, G-D returns Adam as adam and his mate. only for them to discover, there is still nobody here in TheTorah.

    beginning of day seven, G-D places adam and his mate in charge as HaMosheeach, and goes on the day of vacation.

    end of day seven, G-D returns from the day of rest. and finds nobody here in TheTorah. so begins scanning for where Noach is supposed to be. so that G-D can keep THEIR Promise, not to destroy the whole world by sparing Noach, His Family and 144,000 talking critters. because there is still nobody here in TheTorah.

    so every 6818 man years, we have to do this all over again. because their is never any body here in TheTorah G-D only gives.

    now can we figure out, what the problem really is here?

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