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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Noach

Parashat Noach

Fraternal Checks and Balances

Rabbi Yossef Carmel3 Cheshvan 5766
2926
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This week’s parasha reminds us about the United Nations. Its symbol of a dove clutching an olive branch in its mouth is a sign of hope of global peace in the aftermath of previous tragedies. But the world seems to move more in the direction of factionalism than partnership. Can mankind exist without factionalism?

After the flood, Hashem made a covenant with the survivors that there would never again be a flood to destroy all of civilization. Commentaries wonder what the logic of such a promise is. If mankind’s behavior never warrants its destruction, then how could have Hashem brought on the mabul (flood) in the first place? And if mankind can deserve destruction, then why would Hashem promise not to give the proper punishment?

The Akeidat Yitzchak explains what changed after the mabul with an interesting thesis. The world before the flood deteriorated to a degree that demonstrated that it knew no limits or fears. Hashem could not allow it to continue that way. When ridding the world of the people and other vestiges of its decadence, He also introduced a concept that burrowed deep into the psyche of all future generations. The world was vulnerable to destruction if Hashem ruled that they deserved it. Paradoxically, even after Hashem promised not to bring on such massive destruction again, mankind internalized that it had to limit its corruption.

A further point that the Akeidat Yitzchak raises on behalf of the post-flood world is the fact that it was broken up into three groupings, according to the three sons of Noach. This, he says, ensures that even when one faction deteriorates dangerously in a certain direction, the others will not join in the same sins. They sin differently and separately, thus ensuring that the world will not fall to one great tragedy. (He explains the story of the Tower of Bavel in a way that it does not disprove his thesis about non-cooperation.)

Our modern, world community is impressively diligent in applying the lessons of the flood. Besides highlighting the flood with the UN’s symbol, we see that factionalism can still be broken up into threes, in a modern way. There are "three worlds" of socio-political groupings. Three major, monotheistic religions have been competing and fighting for the last millennium at least, with no sight of a let up. When one faction slips morally in a certain area, the other factions are there to remind it how it should be acting. (The criticizing faction may have been guilty of the same crime a few years before, but it enjoys showing how at the moment it is clean of the violation.) The United Nations is a great failure at creating world brotherhood and displaying moral consistency. However, the national infighting that skews so much of what goes on may have a part in the world’s fraternal checks and balances. This, paradoxically, according to the Akeidat Yitzchak, may help ensure that the world deserves escaping total destruction.

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