While Sefer Bereshit, in telling the stories of the beginning of the world, contains a lot of drama, Parshat Noach stands out as being particularly spectacular, with G-d destroying most of the world and starting from scratch, all for things that seemed to already exist in the world. When G-d decides, so to speak, to destroy the world, we see that he does so because “ותִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ חָמָס – The world was full of immorality.” To those who are just joining us now, this seems to be an oddly vague reason to restart humanity- however, at the end of Parshat Bereshit, we see a more detailed account of the חמס that was filling the land:
וַיְהִי כִּי הֵחֵל הָאָדָם לָרֹב עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה וּבָנוֹת יֻלְּדוּ לָהֶם: וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם כִּי טֹבֹת הֵנָּה וַיִּקְחוּ לָהֶם נָשִׁים מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר בָּחָרוּ… וַיַּרְא ה’, כִּי רַבָּה רָעַת הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ, וְכָל-יֵצֶר מַחְשְׁבֹת לִבּוֹ, רַק רַע כָּל-הַיּוֹם. וַיִּנָּחֶם ה’, כִּי-עָשָׂה אֶת-הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ; וַיִּתְעַצֵּב, אֶל-לִבּוֹ.
And it was when man began to fill the land, they had daughters. And the Bnei Elohim saw the Bnot Adam that they were good, and they took whichever women they pleased… And G-d saw that mankind was wicked, and all of their thoughts were always evil. G-d regretted creating man in the land, and it grieved Him in His heart. (בראשית ו:א-ו)
The only actual חמס described in this section is the depiction of the so-called “בני אלקים” choosing their wives, somewhat forcibly, from the “בנות אדם,” something which, while unpleasant, is not particularly cruel or immoral. However, there is something missing from this picture, which could be taking away from our perception of these חמס activities- the תורה seems to throw out the terms בני אלקים and בנות אדם without any explanation. The key to getting a deeper understanding of the sins of the דור המבול, and figuring out what we can learn from it, lies in figuring out exactly who the בני אלקים were, and what their crime was.
There are two main schools of thought on specifying who these vague groups of early humans are. The majority of מפורשים, supporting the position of the רד”ק, say that בני אלקים are actually בני אלהים, or sons of rulers. Radak bases this on a פסוק at the end of פרשת שמות where G-d gives משה permission to have his brother אהרון talk to Pharoah, with the caveat “ואת תהיה לאלהים- you will be the leader” (שמות ד:טז)- we see from here that very often Elokim can sometimes be elohim (with a lowercase א, if you would) meaning a ruler instead of the ultimate ruler. As time had gone on, and the generations had seen the world’s population growing way beyond the original creations, there became enough people for the human race to begin to separate itself into classes, with the upper, “בני אלהים,” class using their power and influence to take advantage of those less fortunate and force their women into meaningless relationships. G-d, seeing that these divisions had led to “רבה רעת האדם בארץ,” decided that it was time to try again, in the hope that Mankind 2.0, started with Noach and family, would resist these urges and keep an orderly and fair society. Later on, however, in making the treaty with Noach and his future generations, G-d admits that humans often have bad desires that they act on (“כי יצר לב האדם רע מנעוריו”), and promises never to destroy the world again for this reason. And, as we see later on, class divisions based on wealth and power plague humankind, and especially the eventual Jewish people, and while the world has not been destroyed since then, it is clear that G-d does not particularly love these rifts in His creations. Before expounding on this further, let us briefly examine the other, minority, approach to בני אלקים and בנות אדם.
There is another, more novel approach, to explaining these pre-flood labels. As we initially thought, בני אלקים could literally mean “the children of G-d,” or the children of שת בן אדם, the only legitimate living heir to the bloodline of G-d Himself (“בצלם אלקים”). If we continue to think along these lines, it is only natural that בנות אדם would be the children of אדם, or קין בן אדם’s children whose forebear represented the אדם side of Adam, and not the בצלם אלקים one. In other words, in the time immediately preceding the flood, בני שת would use their influence, assumingly religious, to subjugate the בנות חם and force them into marriages against their will. G-d, not liking that even his chosen branch of humanity would stoop to these less than moral levels once they had it in their head that they are more religiously superior than their cousins, decided that humanity was a failed experiment, and destroyed all of them except for his best hope, נח the תמים היה בדורותיו, in the hope that the next round of human beings would not make even the most pure and holy things into a means of manipulating people. Unfortunately, G-d was correct in saying that יצר לב האדם רע מנעוריו, and that humans would never change, as we see that in times as early as אברהם’s youth in אור כשדים, the “holy” class had become the upper class, taking advantage of those considered to be beneath them. And while the Torah’s system of שבט לוי, the “holy” class of Judaism, being dependent on the rest of the people, seems to be designed to avoid any problems like this, unfortunately in our times, this class divide occasionally peeks its head, with those who consider themselves to represent the Torah world using their influence and self-gained power to try to make things unpleasant for those are considered to be “against the Torah” and its representatives.
With this in mind, let’s return to what we were saying before about G-d’s dislike of rifts in His creations. As the chosen people, we possess some of אדם הראשון’s “בצלם אלקים,” and with this comes the responsibility of living our lives as G-d has asked us. While many would consider this goal to involve fighting a holy war on those who have a different definition of G-d’s service, I would like to suggest that, in light of this revelation of the sin that caused the מבול, we try for a more pacifistic approach. The world was destroyed the first time because of rifts in our communities, and self-empowered people taking advantage of this gap to use their influence for dishonest means. While G-d has promised that He will never destroy the world again, there are some yissurim that have happened recently, such as two innocents soldiers being killed by Palestinian terrorists last week, and Rav Ovadya Yosef becoming seriously ill, and when bad things happen to our people, it behooves us to do some introspection, and try extra hard to treat all Jews fairly and equally. With Hashem’s help, we will see an end to some of our brothers using their position to take advantage of others, and through this, an end to our צרות and a גאולה שלמה, very speedily in our days. Shabbat Shalom.