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Shabbat Commentary

20/21 Oct: Shabbat Noach comes in 5:57 pm, goes out 6:57 pm

Is the flood a “just” punishment for the living creatures on earth?

Rashi (11th Century France) notes that “whenever you find immorality and idolatry, indiscriminate punishment comes upon the world and it kills good and bad alike.” Such is the way of violence, that it invariably assumes a life of its own. Whatever may have been the intentions behind its initial use, violence strikes without attention to particular agendas or allegiance.

In the words of the Mekhilta: “However mighty the man, once the arrows leave his hand, he cannot make them come back . . . However mighty the man, once frenzy and power take hold, even his father, even his mother, and even his nearest kin he strikes as he moves in his wrath.”

So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.

Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.

Written by

Rabbi Paul Arberman.

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October 19, 2017