Man was banished from the Garden of Eden after Adam’s sin and was made to live in this world with all its temptations. The ten generations between Adam and Noah saw a decline in spirituality and in interpersonal behavior, until mankind reached a nadir in morality. The result was G-d’s decree to bring the flood and destroy all living beings except for Noah, his family and the animals in the ark. The Torah tells us the reason for this holocaustal decree.
“And G-d saw the earth and beheld it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth. And G-d said to Noah ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me, the earth is filled with thievery because of them, and behold I will destroy them with the earth.’ ”
The end of all flesh: RASHI: Wherever you find lewdness and idolatry, total upheaval comes to the world , killing the good and the bad alike.
The earth is filled with thievery: RASHI: Their fate was sealed only because of robbery.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
The first Rashi tells us that lewdness and idolatry were the sins for which mankind was destroyed.
The second Rashi tells us that although man and animal had crossed all red lines with their perverse sexual norms, nevertheless their fate was not sealed, the decision to destroy all living beings, was not settled in G-d’s mind until He realized the extent of their thievery.
The question should be apparent. Rashi seems to contradict himself. First he says that sexual promiscuousness and idolatry were the sins for which they were punished! Then he says that thievery was the fatal sin for which their fate was sealed. Which is it?
Can you square the circle? Can you explain away the contradiction?
Certainly this is not easy.
An Answer: To understand Rashi’s reasoning we must be aware of a Midrash which says that when G-d punishes man, He does not start off by punishing the person himself. First He strikes at his material belongings, then if there is no repentance He punishes the person himself.
But this principle can only make sense when the person’s material possessions were lawfully earned. If he had stolen other’s property, then G-d’s punishing his property wouldn’t not deprive the person of anything that was really his. He would only be loosing what he had stolen.
In such a case G-d would have no choice but to begin by punishing the person himself, since the first line of defense, his possessions, could not meaningfully be attacked.
This, then, is what Rashi means. The major sins were lewdness and idolatry and for them man was to be punished. But G-d would have begun punishing him by destroying his property first and only later destroying him – if he didn’t repent.
But since mankind had also sinned by stealing other people’s property, his fate was sealed by the sin of thievery – meaning that now he would be immediately punished personally because of his sins of lewdness and idolatry. Th usual first stage of punishment – attacking his possessions – wasn’t an available option for G-d, since man’s possessions were stolen from others and not rightfully his.
So Rashi says correctly “his fate was only sealed due to the sin of robbery.” Meaning his fate of being immediately doomed to destruction was sealed.
“What’s Bothering Rashi?” is a product of the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The Rashi Institute is preparing a new, original volume of What’s Bothering Rashi? We are in need of sponsors for this project. For those interested please write us and we will supply the details.
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