Parshat Noach: The Extraordinary Powers Within Us

The Extraordinary Powers Within Us

Rabbi Bezalel Safra is the Administrative Director of OTS’s Yachad Program for Jewish Identity.

Bezalel Safra photographed by Rony NathanAre you able to bring down rain? Do people have the ability to impact on nature?  Surely that is impossible.

However, a moment of reflection will reveal we actually do believe in this notion.  We even recite it a few times each day, in the second portion of Kriyat Shema: 

“And it shall come to pass, if you shall hearken diligently unto My commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, that I will give the rain of your land in its season, the former rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your corn, and your wine, and your oil.  And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you shall eat and be satisfied.” 

The verse states that if we hearken unto God, He will give us rain and bless us with bountiful produce.  In other words – our ethical behavior impacts upon nature.

At the same time, the Torah warns us: 

“Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and turn astray, and serve other gods, and worship them; and the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and He shut the heavens, so that there shall be no rain, and the ground shall not yield her fruit; and you perish quickly from off the good land which the Lord has given you.”

In other words, moral corruption will stop the rains and lead to exile. 

This is also the message of Parshat Noach; the flood comes in the wake of moral corruption.  If we have the power to impact the world, we should also be accountable to it.

“And the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.  And God saw the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.  And God said unto Noah: ‘The end of all flesh is come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”

Moral conduct not only impacts nature, but also impacts world politics.  This is the leitmotif running through many of the stories found in the book of Judges, which repeatedly describes how the People of Israel sin, resulting in their defeat in battle and consequent enslavement. 

“And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He delivered them into the hands of looters that looted them, and He gave them over into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.”

If one were to ask why our enemies defeat us in battle, the politician might give political or tactical reasons.  In the natural order of things, this explanation is true.  However, there is also a supernatural layer which offers an ethical explanation: God is angry with us because of our sins.  Similarly, if one were to ask why there is drought, the scientist will offer a scientific explanation relating to the pattern of winds and clouds and precipitation.  This is a correct explanation which follows the laws of nature. 

But why have the winds aligned themselves thus?  The deeper reason must be spiritual: there is no rain because of moral corruption.  Both natural and political phenomena are based on natural causality; however, the latter is superseded by a spiritual-moral determinant.  If phrased differently: a spiritual cause lies at the core of any natural-scientific phenomenon, and is thus the ultimate reason for any occurrence.  And if this is so – then how great is our responsibility!

Psychosomatic medicine claims that the soul impacts the body, so much so – that a person who is mentally stressed could suffer a heart attack.  So too when it comes to Man, who is the prime of Creation, the vital spirit of the world – of course his actions impact the physical world.

This is how Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook explains this notion in his book Orot Yisrael Utchiyato, Chapter 2:

“There are two general understandings that encompass existence, and Torah, all the varied aspects of perception: the ethical approach and the causal approach.  Within the causal approach, which chronologically preceded the human spirit, is subsumed the ethical approach that acts as an oversoul vivifying it.”

We tend to research our world through science, investigating various forms of causality.  Rav Kook contends that indeed everything has a cause, and one is even able to understand this causality.  However, on a deeper dimension there also exists an ethical understanding, which is the heart and soul of the causal understanding.  Much like the soul gives life to the body, ethics is the deeper cause of all that transpires; our morality infuses life into our circumstances. Rav Kook continues:

“In the chain of causality there is contained a general restriction, a constriction that constrains the laws and their content to specific causal pathways, preventing them from attaching to different pathways.”

The laws of nature are set in stone; there is no room for flexibility.  Nevertheless, moral behavior and ethical conduct can lead to a freedom which exists beyond Nature’s rigid rules. 

“However, when we ascend to a higher plane of freedom, we are freed of this causal restriction, and the entire structure of laws appears to us as being held together by ethical bonds that are no weaker and are even stronger than those of the causal explanation, and whose total value is infinitely more exalted.  Then we stand in a world of freedom: when the ethical universe is revealed to us, it uplifts the causal universe, attracts it and enlightens it, flooding it in a sea of living light of ethical laws that far surpass the causal laws.”

Hence, behind the scenes of life, what sets off nature, politics and even history is our very own behavior, human conduct.  Consequently, we bear an enormous responsibility as human beings to preserve the world and engage in Tikkun Olam, through every deed of ours and every word we utter.  This is the great lesson to be learned from the story of the Flood. 

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