The world was corrupt before G-d, and the land was filled with violence. (Bereishis 6:11)
Imagine the following scenario. It will seem outlandish at first, but if you think about, it actually happens every time a professional basketball player runs on to the court to play a game.
Imagine that your favorite basketball player has just been called for a foul. But, rather than simply award a free shot to the other team, the lights dim, except for a spotlight on the errant ball player. The crowd hushes, and a booming voice yells out,
The rest of the conversation goes like this:
Player: “I what?!”
Voice: “YOU FOULED ANOTHER PLAYER!”
“Yah, so I did! Big deal! They got their free shot and three points!? Let’s get back to the game already!”
“Not so fast! That is not good enough!”
“Huh?” the player says in a confused tone. “What do you mean that it is not good enough? Hey, who are you anyhow?”
“That does not matter. What does matter is that, unless you repent from your sinning ways, you’re not playing anymore basketball!”
“WHAT!” the player says, offended and confused. “Hey, what is this, church or something? You a priest or something?”
“No, more POWERFUL than that!” the voice shouts menacingly.
“You mean . . .?”
“I mean, unless you stop fouling other players, you are not going to play basketball anymore, because we are not going to pay your salary. Fouls slow the game down and give the other team unnecessary advantages. Crowds don’t like that, and won’t pay to watch it. If the people don’t pay, then you don’t play! Do we make ourselves clear?”
“Ah . . . yes . . .” the player says, obviously humbled. “PERFECTLY clear! I play fair from now on . . .”
For some, the power of money is tantamount to the power of G-d, which, of course, is idol worship. History and everyday life constantly reveal how powerful a motivator like money is to make people follow rules, even against their own natures. Without a real fear of reprisal from a higher, more powerful source, people have little to motivate them to live by rules they do not relate to. No fear, no fair.
That was the state of creation at the time of the Great Flood. As Rashi points out, stealing was quite prevalent, which means that people had no fear of any higher authority. They were totally unfair to one another, and this is what moved G-d to wipe them out (Bereishis 6:13), for it was the best proof of what they thought about G-d and His ability to be involved in the everyday affairs of man.
It always amazes me today when people claim unfairness, especially we Jews. You can’t say that it is a totally G-d -less society today, thank G-d, but it is overwhelmingly close to it. Furthermore, many of those who do believe in a G-d-concept have such distorted and self-serving versions of Him that the world would more than likely be better off if they were agnostic instead! So, when people cry foul, especially the Jewish people today, I can’t help but wonder to whom they are crying it, and what they expect in return.
What role does a word like “fair” play in our present-day lexicon? It used to mean that someone was acting consistent with a set of objective rules to which all the players agree. But if people do not believe in G-d, or at least in a common game plan for mankind, then by definition one person’s fair is going to be another person’s unfair, and failure to realize and appreciate this can only result in tremendous vulnerability to the more powerful human forces in everyday life.
“G-d said, ‘They are one nation with one language, and they do this! Now nothing will stop them from what they set out to do. Come, let us go down and confound their language, so that one person will not be able to understand the language of the other.'”(Bereishis 11:6-7)
The NBA is a league. What does it mean to be a league? It means that the people belonging to it have agreed to a common game plan, a set of rules, rewards and punishments. It also means that they have agreed to a system by which to implement the rules and to judge adherence to them, meting out warnings and punishments when necessary.
Thus, in 1917, after suffering through WWI – a war of attrition – mankind came up with the League of Nations. It was a noble idea, just as is its descendant, the United Nations, for both have endeavored to find a common set of rules by which to self-govern mankind and bring lasting peace to the world.
And, both have failed for the same reason, that reason being the lack of an objective definition of G-d, of good, and therefore of peace. Instead, the United Nations – a modern-day Tower of Bavel – is a place to control others, to impose self-serving versions of truth on the meek. The United Nations is the biggest and best living proof of how far the world can walk off the deep end when the Jewish people fail miserably to sell the world on a single objective truth.
Is it any wonder, then, that the most popular recipient of its lack of objectivity is Israel and the Jewish people?
The Tower of Bavel had also been an effort to peacefully organize the nations of the world at that time. Post-Flood, it had been an attempt at a new world order, which did not go unnoticed by G-d. As Rashi points out (Bereishis 11:9), there was a certain camaraderie that G-d had appreciated. However, though that may have saved their lives to some degree, it did not save them from dispersal and the hardships that followed, because in their rush to bring peace to mankind they had forgotten to include G-d in their planning.
But how could they have? The Jewish people had not yet been created and Torah had yet to be given to mankind. True, Avraham was only 48 years of age at the time and walking the face of the earth, but he was a one-man show, with lots of opposition to boot. However, as of today, the Jewish people have existed with Torah for over 3,000 years, and still the newest world order has little, if any, respect for G-d’s master plan for creation.
How can we expect the world to play fair?!
However, it is more than that. There is more to the story besides not being able to expect the world to act in an objectively fair manner. Ultimately, it is about beginnings and endings, a prevalent theme in the Torah, brought out in no uncertain terms in this week’s parshah, and about “fudge factors.”
Einstein once called it his worst mistake. Before Hubble confirmed the results, Albert Einstein had made calculations that seemed to suggest the universe was expanding. And, an expanding universe meant that it had a beginning, and therefore an end as well, something Einstein found so difficult to accept that he “fudged” certain aspects of the calculation to change the results.
As always, Einstein had been ahead of his time, but this time he had even been ahead of himself. Later forced to retract his mistake and misgivings, physics had proven that the universe was not G-d, that is, it was not infinite. Unlike the universal concept of G-d, the universe had a beginning and, as we all accept now, it will have an end. Fudge all you want, but if something is finite, it has a beginning and as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, it is going to have an end.
However, there is an exception to the rule, which, we will see, and was meant to be the rule and not the exception. And, it would have been had the Jewish people lived by it and taught it to the world.
All of you who adhere to G-d your G-d are alive today. (Devarim 4:4)
These words formed a very important part of Moshe’s farewell speech to the Jewish people in the desert. It had been after the extra 39 years in the desert and therefore after all those who had participated in the terrible sin of the spies and the other rebellions. Moshe had been talking to the survivors, pointing out to them the reason WHY they had survived, and the Torah recorded it for posterity.
On the surface of it, Moshe was telling them, “If you don’t anger G-d, He won’t wipe you out. Stay on His good side, and you can only benefit and prosper. Learn from those who didn’t learn.” However, on a deeper and far more profound level, Moshe Rabbeinu was letting the Jewish people in on a little secret that he had learned over the years: what it means to be attached to Infinity.
As long as man has had to face the prospect of aging and death, he has sought the fountain of youth. There have been many forms, some more realistic than others. However, there has always only been One, and that is G-d Himself. Stick with Him, and you can beat the rap.
What does this mean? The Talmud tells us that Ya’akov Avinu never died (Ta’anis 5b), and elsewhere it says that seven people never died. Where did they go? They went where all of us must go, except that they did it without dying. And why not? If the point of death is just to allow our bodies to dissolve any connection to the original impurity imparted on us from the Original Snake, then why should people who have done this prior to death have to suffer through it?
True, seven people is a rather small amount given the trillions of humans who have lived and died since Adam HaRishon first introduced death to mankind! And true, even extremely righteous people like Yishai, Dovid HaMelech’s father, died in spite of their great spiritual accomplishments (Shabbos 55b), so what can we expect for ourselves?
Nevertheless, in some respects, infinity is not an all-or-nothing concept, at least when it comes to G-d. By adhering to G-d, we may not live forever in our present bodies, but we can certainly live longer. By including G-d in the constitutions of societies, those societies may not last forever, but they will certainly last longer, to the extent that mankind is attached to G-d and His plan for creation.
That is why it is more than amusing that, as history comes down to its final act, it is a showdown between America and the Arab nations. Even the Jewish people seem to be on the sidelines of history at this point, together with Europe and the rest of the so-called world powers. The majority of Klal Yisroel just doesn’t get it, and fight as they do to ignore G-d and still climb to the top, they are constantly being pushed down to the bottom.
After all, for reasons that defy modern-day logic, the American dollar bill still bears the famous and powerful phrase, “In G-d we trust.” This symbol of American know-how and prowess has engraved on it the source of all their success, the Master of the Universe. When George Bush Jr. sought to console America after the attack on the World Trade Center, he bypassed many secular sources of wisdom and turned instead to King David and Tehillim. You can laugh all you want now, but we’ll see at the End-of-Days how that kept America buoyant for countless generations, in all aspects of life.
In the other corner is the Islamic world. For all their unorthodox ways of serving G-d and mankind, they are the ones, seemingly, who talk about G-d no matter what they are involved with. It has served them well, while at the same time making life frighteningly unstable for the non-Islamic part of humankind.
However, even more scary is that, at this precarious period of history, the secular forces within America are trying hard to erode the religious base of American society. The Sitra Achra will always call it something else and couch it in terms that resemble positive values, but at the end of the day, another reference to G-d and His master plan for creation will have been removed. It’s like handing over one’s ammunition to the enemy in the heat of the battle, and it’s just a matter of time before they cause “In G-d we trust” to be removed as well.
Clever, aren’t we?
Terach lived for 70 years and fathered Avram, Nachor and Haran. (Bereishis 11:26)
As we know from so many different sources, and particularly the Purim story, 70 is a number of redemption. And, as the Vilna Gaon pointed out, there is a potential Moshiach in every generation, and in the Generation of the Dispersion, Avraham Avinu was certainly him. Thus, it was good news for the world when Avraham had been born in Terach’s 70th year, and had the world been ready he would have led them to the Final Redemption in his lifetime.
The truth is that even though Avraham did not usher in the Final Redemption, he did bring about a temporary one. For, had he not come around when he did the world would have gone the same route as the Generation of the Flood, wasting life and angering G-d to the point where He would have again regretted mankind’s existence and wiped them off the face of the earth. Avraham Avinu was the only glimmer of hope for mankind that gave creation a new lease on life.
What was unique about Avraham? Religions and religious people were plentiful in Avraham’s day; idol worship was quite extensive in his time. Obviously, what made Avraham unique was the way he related to G-d, and more importantly, to the extent to which he attached himself to Him, bringing about the eternity of his progeny.
There is an interesting allusion to Avraham at the beginning of Parashas Bereishis in the following posuk:
“These are the generations of Heaven and Earth b’hebar-am (in the creating of them) . . .” (Bereishis 2:4)
In the word “b’hebar-am,” the letter heh is written smaller than the rest, setting it aside from the other letters. This, of course, implies a deeper meaning to the word, which Rashi promptly provides, quoting the Talmud (Menachos 29b). However, it is the very same heh that transformed the name “Avram” into “Avraham,” confirming that the reality of Avraham was the basis for all of existence.
The Avos – they were the merkavah [chariot for the Shechinah]. (Bereishis Rabbah 47:6)
What does it mean to be a chariot for the Divine Presence? It means this:
There are two levels of understanding of Elokus. The first is when creation recognizes that there is a Creator; this is called Ma’aseh Bereishis. Another level deals with the way G-d runs the world – how G-d “rides” on His creations – and that is called Ma’aseh Merkavah; this was the level and understanding of the Avos. (Tzidkus HaTzaddik 189)
The concept of a chariot is that it carries its rider anywhere he wishes to go, without giving the impression that the chariot itself is in control. So, too, was it with the Avos – everywhere they went the reality of G-d as the Creator, Sustainer, and Maintainer of the Universe went as well, visible through their words and deeds. Everything they did was a Kiddush Hashem – a sanctification of G-d’s Holy Name.
Furthermore, no one ever confused their greatness for G-d’s, because they made a point of seeing to it that such errors in judgment never occurred. This was Avraham’s side of the covenant He made with G-d, eventually referred to as Bris Avos. It was to let G-d do the driving, unlike the rest of the world that insists upon relegating G-d to the back seat, if they let Him into their chariot at all.
Thus, the Ramchal, when discussing Avraham and his accomplishments, wrote:
There was, however, one exception, and that was Avraham. He had succeeded in elevating himself, and as a result of his deeds was chosen by G-d. Avraham was therefore permanently made into a superior excellent Tree, conforming to man’s highest level. It was further provided that he would be able to produce branches possessing his characteristics . . . After this, the gate was closed on the era of roots. (Derech Hashem, 2:4:3)
And, as long as G-d remains in the back seat, so too will the Jewish people. And, as long as that is the case, there is no sense in screaming “FOUL!” every time the world misjudges a situation; it will fall on deaf ears and bounce off of closed minds. And, if an Avraham does not rise to the occasion and appear on the historical horizon soon, we may find ourselves once more contending with a regretful G-d Who will stop at nothing to justify the purpose of creation. We may find out just how finite our existence really is.
Have a great Shabbos,