The holiday season has ended this past week, and there is a return to normalcy and regular routines. The Jewish calendar calls for restarting the weekly Torah readings. We begin again from the Book of Genesis, telling the story of creation, followed by Noah and the Flood. There appears to be a striking similarity between the generation that preceded the Flood, and the modern world today.
If we examine the text of the Bible, we learn that there were no real enforceable rules that existed at that time. People acted according to whatever made them “feel good” at a particular moment. If this meant taking another man’s wife, or stealing what didn’t belong to him, it became the norm of the society. The drive to feel good, led to a complete breakdown of any moral values. The corruption became so great, that it even affected the animal world. The Midrash tells us that animals attempted to mate with other species.
One of the lessons emphasized by the Rabbis, is that there is no way to avoid being influenced negatively, when surrounded by an atmosphere lacking in spiritual pursuits. There is a pervading spirit of lusting after self gratification, with each individual acting according to “what is right in his own eyes.” Those who attempt to live a more disciplined and moral life, find it very difficult to rise against the prevailing attitudes. They need to be strong enough not to be pulled in to acting like everyone else, and they need to be able to overcome the ridicule and pressure they will receive, for daring to be different.
G-d, Himself, observes this behavior, and comes to an important conclusion. Man, when left alone to act as he sees fit, will not be able to make the right choices. Man’s evil inclination is too great to overcome. There is a strong chance that he will choose evil over good. The level of evil that existed at that time, forced G-d to destroy the evildoers, and start again with Noah. Only this time, man had to live by a system of basic rules, known as “The seven Noachide Laws.” There would now be accountability for misbehaving. People needed to respect the possessions of others. There was to be a basic code of sexual morality. Idol worship and blasphemy would not be tolerated. Likewise, murder and barbaric mistreatment of animals, was also unacceptable. The conclusion was that without these statutes in place, communities would self destruct.
These seven laws needed some heavy backup in order to be able to be implemented. Abraham, and his descendants, were charged by the Al-mighty, with raising the bar a little higher. They were to help make the world a better place, by showing man the enormous potential he has. Abraham taught how far acts of kindness can go. Giving for the sake of giving, raises the spirits of those in need, and brings great contentment to the giver. While the Bible instructed the Gentile to be righteous, it instructed the Jew to be holy. The Jew was able to achieve holiness by strictly adhering to the 613 commandments, as enumerated in the Bible, and defined by Jewish sages.
It became abundantly clear that any society that did not have a belief in G-d as its foundation, and did not have a set of rules indicating a moral compass of behavior, would not be able to survive. As the prophet once lamented, “Whoa to a generation that calls darkness light, and light darkness.” It is so common in today’s world to mock those who believe in G-d and the Torah. They are accused of not being able to think for themselves. And they are made to feel foolish for clinging to ancient, outdated ideas. Such fundamental beliefs of getting married and having children, are no longer cherished.
I wonder if all of these “enlightened” thinkers, have taken time to project what the world would like in the future, if what they believed was right, was to be implemented. What would become of families? What values might exist when “feeling good” might reach lower and lower levels of depravity? What mechanism will exist to punish evildoers, when the belief is that there is no such thing as evil? Is it realistic to believe that crime will decrease as long as the criminals receive enough love and economic opportunities?
It is always a good idea to marvel at the wisdom of our sages, and to acknowledge what works. Beginning the reading of the Torah every fall, is a good idea. Each time we see new relevance to the holiest book ever written. And we can marvel at the Jewish people and how we managed to survive in the worst situations under the worst influences imaginable. Now that we’ve come home, and Israel has close to seven million Jews, we are better equipped to fulfill that which our Father Abraham began. We can teach the world right and wrong and elevate man to the level where he can reach his potential in helping make the world a better place. Without G-d and the Bible, there can be no sanctity, and there can be no morality.