The Torah describes the reasons that God decided to destroy the world in two pesukim at the beginning of the parsha. In verse 11, the Torah says, “The earth was corrupt before God and the earth was filled with violence.” Rashi comments on the two halves of the verse and argues that “corruption” refers to sexual corruption while the second half of the verse highlights the social crimes of violence and stealing. Interestingly, however, two verses later God describes the reason that He will destroy the world, “And God said to Noah, the end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through them.”
The gemara (Sanhedrin 108a) comments on the fact that the second verse omits mention of the sin of corruption and says, “Come and see how dreadful is the power of violence! For the generation of the flood committed every conceivable transgression, yet, their fate was only sealed due to the sin of robbery.”
I believe that the sin of violence and social injustice sealed the fate of the generation of the flood for the following reason. Although there are many sins and crimes that one might consider more serious than violence and social injustice, God’s decision to destroy the world was not based on the severity of the sin and crime. God chose to destroy the world because a civilization that cannot treat one another with honesty and respect does not deserve to exist. The Midrash comments that the people of the generation used to steal amounts that were less than the amount for which they could be punished by the courts. The undermining of the legal system is further evidence that the people did not respect the society in which they lived and the people with whom they shared the world. God determined that such a society was not worthy to continue and God began the world anew.
God’s promise never to destroy the world again points not only to God’s compassion but to an appreciation of the evolution of the Torah’s legal and ethical system that ensured that while people might sin, the corruption of the dor ha-mabbul would never be repeated.
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