Parshas Noach Lessons from the Mabul: Don’t Water Down My Torah!
Consider the following experiment which was conducted by Dutch psychologists in 2005. In the experiment, researchers had participants sit in a cubicle and fill out a survey. Hidden somewhere in the room was a bucket of water with a citrus-scented cleaning agent. After completing the survey, the participants were given some crumbly cookies for filling out the survey. The researchers covertly filmed the reactions and found that the participants in a room filled with a cleaning agent scent were three times more likely to clear the desk of the crumbly mess they made as opposed to the comparison group that were not subconsciously exposed to the cleaning agent. Researchers concluded that our brains are primed by their environment to act a certain way. Either you will do the right thing and clean up your mess or, if you are in a place you perceive as messy to begin with, you will leave it a mess. From a neurophysiological perspective, the ventral pallidum becomes activated when primed by an environmental stimulus. This is a part of the brain located right below the reptilian brain which is far below the conscious areas of the brain.
I bring this priming experiment up to help explain a more global ‘priming’ phenomenon that we learn from this week’s Parsha where Hashem is about to destroy the world he just created.
Last week, we began reading the first portion of the Torah, ParshasBerieshis. In the Parsha, Hashem creates man. In this week’s Parsha, Hashem wants to destroy all mankind and go into a rebuild phase.
קץ כל-בשר בא לפני כי-מלאה הארץ חמס מפניהם והנני משחיתם את-הארץ
Hashem says to Noach…”The end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth is filled with robbery through them, and behold, I am about to destroy them from the earth.” (1)
This seems like a pretty radical shift from one Parsha to another although we know if happened over many decades. The question still remains—what was so terrible that caused the destruction?
We are told that the people engaged in immorality and thievery. Is this something that was new and has not repeated itself? Every generation Jews have sinned in these ways. Why does Hashem not destroy the people in every generation that these two sins become rampant?
What I believe was happening is the Jews engaged in subconscious sinning especially in the area of theft. They rationalized. The Midrash tells us that thieves would band together and steal small amounts from people that the courts would not make them stand trial. Petty theft. However, they would engage in this behavior on a regular basis. So it became common that people would just take a few items and continue on their way. With regards to immorality, they rationalized that all of their behaviors were consensual. When a nation begins to rationalize their way through illicit behavior to the point that it becomes a subconscious event, it is time for bold action. This is why Hashem needed to press the reset button. This set a precedent for future generations to heed Hashem’s word or face the consequences. Theft and immorality became a conscious act, so the punishments could be given to the individuals committing these sins and not the masses.
To illustrate another psychological concept, let us consider the raven. The raven is sent out by Noach to scout out the land which the Meforshim ask about the necessity of sending if the dove was sent out as well. The OrHaChaim suggests that the dove was sent out on a mission whereas the raven was actually banished from the Teiva because of it poor behavior on the Teiva as we will discuss soon. This is why Noach keeps sending out the raven and the raven keeps circling around the Teiva and not really getting too far. When sent out, the raven puts up a fight. He questions Noach’s motivation and says “you only want to send me away so you can be with my mate.” This sounds ridiculous at first glance. But when there is so much immorality going on around you, it is easy to assume that everyone else is just as immoral as you. The raven was one of three to not heed the word of Hashem to avoid mating while on the Teiva. The others were the dog and Cham ben Noach (2). Since the raven engaged in a relationship not sanctioned by Hashem, he assumed that everyone else, including the righteous Noach was just as immoral as himself.Perhaps this is also why Noach did not extend his hand to welcome the raven back onto the Teiva as he did for the dove.We see this is the Passuk…
וישלח ידו ויקחה-“And he reached out his hand and he took it” (3)
Noach lovingly welcomes the dove back onto the Teiva but does not do the same for the raven.
There are two glaring lessons we can glean from this Parsha in how human behavior is reflective of the social environment in which people surround themselves. One lesson here is obvious. Be careful with whom you surround yourself. Don’t live among people who cannot see the good in others because they themselves are surrounded by immoral and unethical people. When you surround yourself with immoral people, you will likely engage in unconscious sinning. Secondly, don’t rationalize your behavior as being the new normal. Society today is replete with individuals who have decided that disgraceful behavior is normal. Unfortunately, society has glorified such behaviors as the new normal. As Hashem destroys the world with a calamity involving water such as the great Mabul, we should never accept a ‘watered down’ version of the Torah which is the basis of how we should lead our lives.
(1) Bereishis 6:13
(2) Sanhedrin 108b
(3) Bereishis 8:9