The Failure Of Humanity
Will God Ever Flood The Earth Again?
After the flood, God put a rainbow in the sky and made a covenant with Noah to never destroy the earth with water again. It sure sounds nice… but there’s actually something very strange about God's promise.
God had brought the flood because humanity had become sinful beyond repair. So what if that ever happens again? What if we, Noah’s descendants, become just as sinful as our predecessors? Will God keep His promise not to flood the earth again? And if so, why? These are the questions that David and Imu tackle in this video.
In their search for an answer, they uncover a series of stunning textual parallels between the story of the flood and another earlier account in the Torah. This video may well change the way that you understand how God relates to humankind, and how that has changed from Noah’s generation to ours.
David Block: Welcome to Parshat Noach; a parsha with so much action, it's easy to miss the plot.
Immanuel Shalev: Don't worry we're here to help you out!
David Block: Really quickly, here is what happens in our parsha.
Noah and the Story of the Flood
David Block: God tells Noah that He is going to destroy the world, and that he should take the animals and build an ark. Noah builds the ark, survives the flood, and God makes a rainbow. Noah plants a vineyard and something shady happens with one of his sons. Then they all have kids and some people decide to build a tower. God doesn't like the tower and scatters them.
Immanuel Shalev: And the question is, are these just stand-alone episodes mish-mashed together? Or is there a bigger picture here that connects all the stories in our parsha?
David Block: We think they are connected – better yet, we think that beneath the surface of the flood, the vineyard and the tower is a grand narrative that ties Parshat Bereishit to Noach and sets up the plot for the entire rest of the Torah.
David Block: I'm David Block…
Immanuel Shalev: …and I'm Imu Shalev…
David Block: …and welcome to The Parsha Experiment. Instead of picking one or two episodes out of the parsha to focus on each week, we try to uncover the grand story that all those episodes tell together.
Immanuel Shalev: If this is your first look at this series and you want to learn a bit more about what we're trying to do here at The Parsha Experiment, go ahead and listen to our introduction in the beginning of last week's video.
David Block: And the whole video while you're at it… it was pretty good.
Immanuel Shalev: One of the most puzzling things in our parsha happens right after the flood.
God's Covenant with Noah to Not Destroy the Earth with Water
When Noah comes out of the ark, God says something fascinating: V'hakimoti et briti itchem v'loh yikaret kol basar od mimei ha'mabul – I'm going to establish a covenant with you, and there will never again be a flood to destroy the earth.
David Block: And the question is, what is going on here? God obviously thought that it was perfectly appropriate to destroy the world the first time, so what changed? Is God just having second thoughts like, oh, shoot, wait, I did not think this through, I probably shouldn't have done that? I mean, if it was okay to destroy the world once, why not destroy it again if mankind becomes just as deserving?
Immanuel Shalev: Right. It was either the wrong thing to do, God realizes and promises never to do it again, or it was the right thing to do, but for some reason now it isn't. What was God's agenda here? Let's take a look at the text itself to see if it leaves any clues to this mystery.
David Block: We think that there is a clue in the verses of the flood's aftermath, in a fascinating theory proposed by Rabbi Fohrman. As we read, think about "where in the Torah have we heard these words before?" Here's a hint; this is the second parsha in the Torah, so the options are pretty slim… (pssst… last week!)
Biblical Connections to the Story of the Flood
Immanuel Shalev: Ok, so right after the flood, the verse says: Vaya'aver Elokim ruach al ha'aretz vayashoku ha'mayim – a wind of God passed over the land and the water subsided. So that's our first hint – does that remind you of anything?
David Block: Then, vayisachru ma'ayanot tehom v'arubot hashomayim vayikaleh hageshem min hashomayim – the springs of the deep (meaning, the waters below), and the floodgates of heaven (the waters from above) were sealed, and the rain ceased. So, the waters of the flood really came from two directions – the waters below and above came together. And now they would separate.
Immanuel Shalev: Then, vayashuvu ha'mayim me'al ha'aretz haloch vashov … nir'u roshei heharim – the waters receded from the earth… which revealed mountains, the land underneath.
David Block: Okay, so what does all of this remind of you? Where else have we heard about a wind of God hovering on water, waters below and waters above separating, waters receding to reveal dry land?
Immanuel Shalev: It sounds eerily reminiscent of creation itself! The second verse in the Torah describes what the world was like before creation: Veha'aretz haytah tohu vavohu v'choshech al pnei tehom v'ruach Elokim merachephet al pnei ha'mayim – the earth was without form and empty, with darkness on the face of the depths, and the wind of God hovered on the water's surface.
And now look back at what happened after the flood: Vaya'aver Elokim ruach al ha'aretz vayashoku ha'mayim – a wind of God passed over the earth and the water subsided. In both cases, we have this wind of God hovering over the waters of the world.
David Block: Continuing in creation, on the second day: Vaya'as Elokim et ha'rakiyah vayavdel bein ha'mayim asher mitachat la'rakiyah u'bein ha'mayim asher me'al la'rakiyah – God made a sky by separating the waters underneath and on top. And that's exactly what we saw with the flood; the waters came from below and from above, and when the flood was over, those two sources were held back and separated, once more allowing the sky to reappear
Immanuel Shalev: Pretty cool. And it continues on Day Three of creation; Vayomer Elokim yikavu ha'mayim mitachat hashomayim el makom echad v'tero'eh hayabashah – God said, gather the waters under the heavens to one place to reveal dry land. And look again at the flood; The waters receded to reveal the dry land underneath.
David Block: So the aftermath of the flood really does seem to be patterned after creation. But just in case you think that this may all be just a coincidence, let's see, do these patterns continue?
In addition to the water revealing dry land, something else happened on Day Three of creation too; vegetation and plant life were created. V'eitz oseh pri asher zaro bo – and fruit-bearing trees sprouted. And we actually have something like that in the post-flood story too; the dove brings back the olive branch signaling to Noah that plant life had re-emerged – there are now fruit bearing trees again.
Immanuel Shalev: On the fourth day of creation, God created the sun, moon and stars, the verse says: To establish night, day and the seasons of the year. And in our story, after Noah makes landfall and offers sacrifices to God, God promises He won't destroy the world again, but He also says something else.
David Block: Od kol yemei ha'aretz zerah v'katzir v'kor ve'chom v'kayitz v'choref v'yom v'lailah loh yishbotu. And what do you know? God tells Noah that: All the days of the earth, the seasons and day and night shall not cease. The day, night, and the seasons were the exact function of the sun, moon, and stars as described on the fourth day, and they make their appearance in our story right on cue.
Immanuel Shalev: These parallels actually keep on going and Rabbi Fohrman explores them all in some of the courses that we have linked below. But the question is why are these parallels here, and what in the world are they telling us?
David Block: So here's Rabbi Fohrman's theory. What is the simplest way to explain these patterns? God created the world once in Genesis, and now, with the flood, it sounds like God is creating it again. The flood is a story of destruction but also of re-creation. There are really two worlds; there's the pre-flood world, and now a brand new post-flood world.
Immanuel Shalev: By placing these parallels in the text, the author – God – is revealing the deeper significance of the flood story.
Why Did God Promise Noah Not to Flood Earth Again?
The flood isn't just the tool God uses to wipe out a few sinners, it's not the latest punishment since the ones handed out to Cain and to Adam, the flood is nothing short of the rebirth of the entire world.
David Block: This is a continuation of the story we started to tell last week. God created this ideal world in which mankind could have this really close relationship with Him, but again and again, mankind sinned by ignoring God, and by making their own rules, their own decisions as to what's good and what's evil.
Immanuel Shalev: And when humanity spiraled out of control, God isn't angry, He's sad. Vayar Hashem ki rabah ra'at ha'odom ba'aretz … Vayinachem Hashem ki asah et ha'odom ba'aretz vayitatzev el libo – and God saw that the evil of man was great in the land, and God regretted making man and became sad in His heart. God seems to realize that His plan to build a world for humanity and to have a relationship with them – it's not working. And He decides to start over. Time for Plan B.
David Block: But the million-dollar question is how does God know that the problems from the pre-flood world aren't just going to resurface again? That mankind won't continue to sin and ignore God?
How Do We Know God Will Keep His Covenant with Noah?
Immanuel Shalev: So, here's the key; God recreates the world a little bit differently than He did the first time. The reason why it won't be destroyed again is not because mankind won't ever sin, it's because it's a different world that operates with different rules.
God's Eternal Covenant With Noah
David Block: Here are a couple of ways that the world changes:
(1) God won't destroy the world. In the pre-flood world, evil was met with destruction. In the post-flood world, not so much. (
2) God won't curse the land. If you remember from last week, Adam and Cain's sins corrupted their relationship with the land – but now? The land will continue to produce like it always has. This new world is much less sensitive to the evil of mankind.
Immanuel Shalev: It seems that God designs this new world in response to humanity's shortcomings, and while mankind's evil might have seemed like a good reason for God to call it quits on humanity, He doesn't. God seems like He's still interested in holding onto that relationship. And, paradoxically, instead of holding on tighter, He lets go.
David Block: At the very least, it seems like people have more leeway now. Like, they can sin and God won't choose to destroy them like He once did. And that kind of sounds nice.
Immanuel Shalev: But from the other perspective, it's terribly sad. All relationships have expectations. If one partner betrays the other the consequences can devastate the relationship. But in some relationships, like that of a parent and child, sometimes unconditional love is what's needed. A child might rebel or do hurtful things, and the parents bear the pain and continue to show love in the hopes that their child might one day return.
David Block: Before the flood, God and man were in a deeply committed relationship. The stakes were high enough that a betrayal was met with consequences.
Immanuel Shalev: In the post-flood world that God re-creates, fewer punishments are handed out, but humanity and God are also not as close as they used to be.
David Block: Sometimes, a parent needs to let go and give their children the time and space they need to make it back on their own. And that's what God seems to be doing here.
Immanuel Shalev: So does this new plan work? Does the re-created world bring humanity back to God?
The Failure of Humanity
David Block: Unfortunately, things seem to get worse before they can get better. And that seems to be what the rest of the parsha is about. In the stories of Noah and the vineyard, and the Tower of Babel, mankind seems to sin in the new world in pretty similar ways to how they sinned before the flood.
Immanuel Shalev: Sadly, we don't have time to fully explore the vineyard story, but the good news is that we have another course on Aleph Beta devoted just to that – linked below.
…And then a few generations later we arrive at the final big episode of the Parsha: the Tower of Babel.
David Block: Here's the thing, many of us may have learned that the tower builders were these really evil people who wanted to build a tower that would reach all the way up to heaven so that they could wage war with God. But the text itself says NOTHING about that at all.
Immanuel Shalev: So what was the big deal with these guys?
Is Babel Biblical Proof of God's Promise Not to Flood Earth Again?
David Block: Here's what happened; humanity seemed to band together and they say two things. First: Hava nilbenah leveinim – let's make bricks. Then: Hava nivneh lanu ir u'migdal v'rosho bashomayim – let's make a city, with a tower up to the heavens. It actually seems pretty harmless.
Immanuel Shalev: The truth is, God himself seems to admit that they did nothing wrong – yet. Vayomer Hashem hein am echad v'safah achat l'kulam v'zeh hachilam la'asot, v'ata loh yibatzer meihem kol asher yazmu la'asot – these are one people, of one language, and this they have begun to do? Now, they will be able to do anything they want! So I'm going to prevent them from going any further. It seems that God saw a potential danger in what they were doing. But what was that danger?
David Block: It's easy to miss if you don't look carefully. Their first plan wasn't even to build a tower. Let's take another look at the verse right before that; hava nilbenah leveinim venisrefa l'sreifa. Vatehi lahem haleveinah l'aven – let's make bricks, and we'll burn them, and the bricks were to them as stone.
Immanuel Shalev: Why do we care about their building materials? They all got together and decided to make bricks. Great. Do we have to hear about the building permits that they got, and who supplied the doorknobs too?
David Block: But look closely. The Torah is telling us about the newest technology of the day – the brick. And what was the brick? The verse says: Vatehi lahem haleveinah l'aven – the bricks that they had just made, they were like stones. Up until that point, if you wanted to build a house, you did it with stone, materials that the earth freely gave for the benefit of humanity.
Immanuel Shalev: But the people decided to play Creator and make their own versions of stones – the brick. That which the earth gave them, which God gave them, wasn't good enough for them anymore.
David Block: And when they invented the brick they decided to build a city with a tower to reach the heavens. But for what purpose?
Immanuel Shalev: The verse actually tell us: We want to build a tower – v'na'aseh lanu shem – in order to make a name for ourselves.
David Block: So here's a theory. There's nothing wrong with new technology. There's nothing wrong with wanting to create bricks. God made us in His image and gave us the ability to create – biologically and technologically! But as soon as they said, "in order to make a name for ourselves", God looked at that and said, 'Uh-oh, I see where this is going.' God was watching humanity revert to their pre-flood mistakes.
Immanuel Shalev: Yeah, and that's a bad direction to head in. But just like with Adam and Eve, the privileges of this world – like the ability to create – are meant to be enjoyed in the context of a relationship with God. That's why they could eat from all the trees save the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
David Block: So when God saw that humanity started to make bricks – essentially to improve upon God's bricks – God waited to see what they'd do with their new technology. Would they use the brick for good, within their relationship with God?
Immanuel Shalev: And God found the answer in their next line. They wanted to build a tower, not for God, but for their own legacy. V'na'aseh lanu shem – let's make a name for ourselves. God looked at that and said no, no, no, I've seen this episode already. I've seen mankind forget about Me, and think only about themselves. I've seen them act as the SOLE creator before, and make their own decisions about what's good and what's evil.
David Block: So before it was too late, God intervenes. He made sure the new world wouldn't make the same mistakes as the pre-flood world.
Immanuel Shalev: This time, He didn't destroy the world, but He also didn't let humanity spiral out of control.
David Block: Right. And I don't know about you guys, but these last two Parshiyot are really difficult. It's kind of like watching a horror movie when you yell at the screen, "Don't go in there!" It is incredibly frustrating to see mankind fail again and again. Plan A? God's original world? That didn't work. Plan B? Letting go of humanity? That also seems to fail.
Avoiding Humanity's Failure
Immanuel Shalev: It's time to unravel Plan C. If humanity is ever going to make its way back and have a relationship with God, they're going to need help. And soon.
David Block: Enter Abraham.
David Block: If the subject of this book is the family of Abraham, that means that we've just concluded the prologue to our story, and we're left with a failed humanity, a broken relationship, and a loving God who is left to pick up the pieces.
Immanuel Shalev: But Abraham is going to change everything. Somehow, he's going to be the antidote to the problem of humanity; he'll lead them back to the close and intimate relationship with God.
David Block: Join us next week and let's explore together the character of Abraham, and how he and his family are meant to save humanity.