Copyright 2009 by Gary Konecky, 2010  by and Gary Konecky, and 2011 by Gary Konecky

In the next installment we will explore why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.  It is very possible that the same or similar sins were the reason why both the generation of the flood and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.  Therefore, in this installment, we will explore the sins committed by the generation of the flood.  

In order to understand the lesson of the flood, we need to answer some key questions.  What was the sin that condemned the generation of the flood and that lead to their destruction?  Why a flood as punishment?  Is there any significance to 40 days and 40 nights of rain?

The first verse that informs us about the wickedness of the generation that will perish in the flood is Genesis 6:2, which states:  That the sons of the nobles saw the daughters of man when they were beautifying themselves, and they took for themselves wives from whomever they chose.”  (note 1)  From this verse, several teachings are derived. 

We learn that the sons of the rulers were wicked and that demoralization comes from the rulers.  We are told that corrupt laws mandating that the brides be sent to the ruler the night before their wedding were enacted.   The common people learned depravity from these leaders.  Ultimately, this depravity took the form of attractive women, beautifully made up, parading naked in the streets.  We also are also taught that sexual immorality (including heterosexual sex acts, homosexual sex acts, and bestiality) was rampant.  Another teaching is that there was a lack of justice; for not only did the leaders do these things, but also that citizens that were charged with wrongdoing escaped any and all penalties by means of bribes and favors.

In Genesis 6:5-6, we read:  “And the Lord saw that the evil of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of his heart was only evil all the time.  And the Lord regretted that He had made man upon the earth, and He became grieved in His heart.”  (note 1)  From this verse, we learn that the additional sins were committed.  We are taught that the sin of robbery was prevalent.  An additional teaching discusses the massive extent of heterosexual immorality.  Another teaching is that the people denied that G-d created the universe and that they also denied G-d created the earth; thereby causing not only their destruction, but also the destruction of the earth itself through the flood.

In Genesis 6:13, we read:  “And God said to Noah, "The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth has become full of robbery because of them, and behold I am destroying them from the earth.”  (note 1) 

Rashi, the great Torah commentator explains:  for the earth has become full of robbery: Their verdict was sealed only because of robbery. — [from Sanh. 108a]”     (note 1)  

Rashi’s source is the Talmud.  The Talmud (Sanhedrin 108a) states:

R. Johanan said: Come and see how great is the power of robbery. for lo, though the generation of the flood transgressed all laws, their decree of punishment was sealed only because they stretched out their hands to rob, as it is written, for the earth is filled with violence through them, and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. And it is ‘also written, Violence [i.e., robbery] is risen up into a rod of wickedness: none of them shall remain, nor of their multitude, nor any of theirs: neither shall there be wailing for them.(34)  R. Eleazar said: This teaches that it [violence personified] erected itself like a staff, stood before the Holy One, blessed be He, and said: ‘Sovereign of the Universe! [There is no good in aught] of them, or aught of their multitude, or of theirs; neither shall there be wailing for them.’

(34) Ezek. VII, 11.  (note 2)

In addition to the Talmud, we also have a fascinating midrash.  Genesis Rabbah 38:6 compares the sins of the generation of the dispersion or separation (the generation that built the Tower of Babel with the intent of waging war against G-d in His heaven) to the sins of the generation of the flood.  It teaches us that the sin of robbery was greater than the sin of waging war against G-d and Heaven.

Genesis Rabbah 38:6 states:

R. Leazar said: Who is worse- the one who says to the king, ' Either you or I will dwell in the palace,’ or the one who says, ‘Neither you nor I will dwell in the palace ‘? Surely the one who says, ' Either you or I.’(4) Similarly, the generation of the Flood said, What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? (Job XXI, 15), whereas the generation of Separation said: ' It does not rest with Him to choose the celestial spheres for Himself and assign the terrestrial world to us. Come, rather, and let us build a tower at the top of which we will set an idol holding a sword, that it may appear to wage war with Him.’(5) Yet of the former not a remnant was left, whereas of the latter a remnant was left! But because the generation of the Flood was steeped in robbery, as it is written, They remove the landmarks, they violently take away flocks and feed them (ib. XXIV, 2), therefore not a remnant of them was left.  And since the latter, on the other hand, loved each other, as it is written, AND THE WHOLE EARTH WAS OF ONE LANGUAGE,(1) therefore a remnant of them was left.(2)

(4) For he means to usurp the king's throne, whereas the other wishes to drive him from it but not to usurp it.

(5) Thus they wished to supplant God--a more heinous offence. 

(1) I.e. united.

(2) A striking tribute to the value assigned to brotherly love and unity by the Rabbis.  (note 3)

Not only did robbery occur, but also, if the victim complained to the courts; the judges were more corrupt than the criminals (robbers, thieves, and embezzlers).  The justice system was set against the common man and the justice system allowed legalized robbery of the common man.  Ultimately, the verdict against this generation was sealed because of robbery.

In chapter one of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), we are taught that:  “Rabbi Shimon the son of Gamliel would say: By three things is the world sustained: law, truth and peace. As is stated (Zachariah 8:16), ‘Truth, and a judgment of peace, you should administer at your [city] gates.’'' (Note 4)

This teaching from Pirkei Avot is why robbery was the reason the verdict was sealed against the generation of the flood.  According to Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, we know that world is based on three things; on peace, on truth, and on justice (law).  We also know that none of these existed at the time of the flood: - for robbery (including theft and embezzlement) are the opposite of truth; corruption is the opposite of justice; and that robbery (including theft and embezzlement) all lead to quarrels and disputes, the very opposites of peace. 

Now that we understand that robbery is the sin that condemns the generation of the flood, we are also taught that the people knew the consequences of their actions.  Enosh was the son of Seth, who was the son of Adam, or in others words Enosh was the third generation of man.  During Enosh’s life, there were two floods and two thirds of civilization was destroyed.  Despite this, the people did not repent.  Additionally for 300 years preceding the flood G-d warned the people to change their ways with earthquakes, lighting, thunder and darkness.  Despite this, the people did not repent. 

We are taught in the Talmud that one of the reasons the people did not repent was that they were exceedingly wealthy and as a consequence very haughty; so haughty as to deny they needed anything from G-d including the rain needed to grow their food. 

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 108a) teaches us that those in the generation of the flood said:  

What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him? They said thus: Do we need Him for aught but the drop of rain? We have rivers and wells to supply our wants. Thereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, said: By that very good which I lavished upon them they provoke Me, and by that I will punish (22) them, as it is written, And behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth. 

(22) Lit., ‘judge’           (note 2)

From this Talmud passage, we now know not only why they did not repent, but we also know why of all the punishments at G-d’s disposal, He chose a flood. 

Now that we know the sin being punished was robbery and why a flood was chosen as punishment, we now come to the question of why 40 days and 40 nights of rain?  Why not 39 or 41 days and nights of rain?  Why not 20 days or 60 days and nights of rain?  What is the significance of 40?  What are 40 days and 40 nights of rain here to teach us? 

We are told the reason in Genesis Rabbah 32:5: 

R. Johanan said: They corrupted the features which take shape after forty days,(2) therefore I WILL CAUSE IT TO RAIN... FORTY DAYS AND FORTY NIGHTS. AND EVERY LIVING SUBSTANCE (YEKUM) THAT I HAVE MADE WILL I BLOT OUT.

(2) The features of a human embryo take shape after forty days. The idea of the expression is that sin is an essential degradation of the human dignity. (note 3)

We have already noted that there was widespread sexual immorality and depravity.  Now, of all the options G-d has available, he chooses 40 days and nights of rain.  40 days and nights of rain, as in for 40 days and nights G-d watches a human embryo take form.  As in for 40 days and nights, G-d has been watching and safeguarding the illegitimate embryos that are the result of heterosexual sexual immorality and massive heterosexual promiscuity. 

We will soon be studying the sin of Sodom.  Those who condemn the LGBTI community claim that Sodom was destroyed because of the sin of homosexuality.  If this is true, then why does G-d choose to destroy this generation, not for the sin of homosexuality, but for the sin of robbery?  If G-d destroyed Sodom for the sin of homosexuality as they claim, then why is the punishment of 40 days and 40 nights of rain linked to the illegitimate embryos that came into being from heterosexual sins and heterosexual activity?

To summarize, we know that the generation of the flood committed many sins, including:

  • Sexual immorality (homosexual and heterosexual)

  • Sexual depravity (including bestiality)

  • Idolatry

  • Corrupt rulers, laws, and courts

  • Robbery (including its variations of theft, embezzlement and related violence).

Yet of all these sins, it is the sin of robbery that is the reason for G-d’s decree that the earth and its inhabitants be destroyed in the flood.  It is important to keep this thought in mind as we study Sodom and Gomorrah next.

Note 1:  All quotes from Genesis chapter 6, including Rashi’s commentary, are from:

Note 2:  The Soncino Talmud, Judaic Classics by David Kantrowitz, Version 3.0.8, Copyright 1991-2004, Davka Corporation.  

Note 3:  The Soncino Midrash Rabbah, Judaic Classics by David Kantrowitz, Version 3.0.8, Copyright 1991-2004, Davka Corporation.  

Note 4: 

A very detailed account of the wickedness of the generation of the flood can be found in The Torah Anthology / Me’Am Lo’Ez, Book 1, Genesis 1, Beginnings, by Rabbi Yaakov Culi, translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Moznaim Publishing company, copyright 1988.  

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