Parashas Noach

This week’s parashah recounts the episode of the flood. Hashem says to Noach (Bereishis 6:13): “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth has become filled with villainy on their account, and I hereby am going to wipe them off the earth (הנני משחיתם את הארץ).” In a previous parashah piece, we presented one of the Maggid’s comments on this verse. Here we present another.
In the phrase הנני משחיתם את הארץ, the word את can be read as meaning “with,” which is often its meaning in Biblical verses. Thus, we can render the end of the verse as follows: “I hereby am going to wipe them out, and the earth along with them.” This is, in fact, how Targum Onkelos renders the verse. Now, the simple meaning of the word “earth” is “soil,” and so the implication is that the soil itself was cursed because of man’s evildoing. Indeed, the Midrash teaches that, at the time of the flood, three handbreadths of the earth’s topsoil were washed away (Bereishis Rabbah 31:7). Why was the soil cursed?
At the time of Creation, Hashem infused the soil with the power to sprout life-sustaining produce. But He designed the world in such a way that the soil would yield its produce only if man observed the directives He specified in connection with making a living. Thus, when people act wickedly, robbing and stealing from one another, the soil follows suit and “robs” everyone of their sustenance, shutting itself tight and withholding all its produce. Imagine, by way of analogy, a man inviting a group of people to a feast, and placing before each guest a portion befitting his specific station. If the guests started grabbing food off of each others’ plates, it would be only natural for the host to take away all the food. Similarly, when Hashem saw people stealing from each other, He withheld all His bounty from the world. Thus, while initially the thieves achieved a gain, in the end everyone lost. Thus, the end of all flesh had come, man and animals alike, for the soil had turned “villainous” and robbed all creatures of their sustenance.
In this vein, the Midrash comments on our verse (Bereishis Rabbah 31:7):
It is like a prince who was cared for by a nursemaid. Whenever he misbehaved, the nursemaid was beaten. In the same way, Hashem said: “I hereby am going to wipe them out, and the earth along with them.”
The soil served, so to speak, as a nursemaid for man and for all the animals; its produce sustained them all. Thus, at the time of Creation, Hashem bestowed great blessing on the soil. But, as time went on, the soil’s bounty caused man to stray from the proper path; he waxed fat, and rebelled against Hashem. As a result, Hashem decided to diminish His flow of blessing to the soil. As in the Midrash’s analogy, man’s misconduct caused the soil that sustained him to be smitten.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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