Tag Archives: Evil

How Do You Handle the Yetzer HaRa (the Evil Impulse)?

This is a question I have been considering with a friend. How can we deal with the drive to act badly; to react with negativity, evil, calamity, poor choices; “haRa” in Hebrew?

Punk Rock Doggie

Can you tell the difference between a Nefesh haBehamit – an animal nature – and a Yetzer haRa – a negative impulse?

I think the first thing to do, at least from a Chassidic perspective, is to consider whether something we are doing is a Yezter haRa or a reaction of Nefesh haBehamit. The two look at lot alike and function in much the same way, but they are different. And need to be treated differently. Each respected for their power in a different way.

When it comes to the Nefesh haBehamit – the animal nature – that is something that we cannot stop. It is our natural desire and drive. Our carnal impulse. We cannot completely overpower that, it is part of our nature.

Now the Yetzer haRa – the negative influence – is a lot like the animal nature, it is something that is also profoundly powerful and likewise has a deep-seated drive inside of us. And this too has a seemingly usefulness, as it is the lusty drive and ambition that animates us. Much of a person’s passion for life is sparked by this drive. However, bad actions of a Yetzer haRa is something we can fix.

So how do we remedy an over-active Nefesh haBehamit and a Yetzer haRa that won’t let up?

We are taught that the best way is to learn to channel our Yetzer haRa – as manifest in our passion, drives and desires – into something useful, or even into something artistic. To use our passions for creating, instead of destroying. Though we can try to kill it, it can be useful if reused for another powerful outcome.

The Nefesh haBehamit – the animal nature – that is something we likewise need to channel into something good. This is often easier to achieve here because we can learn to treat these drives in us in a more natural fashion, instead of fighting against ourselves. We can train our nature, but we cannot break it. We cannot kill it without killing ourselves, so we shouldn’t try that.

Either way, be it a Nefesh haBehamit or Yetzer haRa, we seek to learn to not be controlled by either. We learn to master them both, and use them to our advantage. Learning to respect the powerful drives that propel us forward in life, and harness their strength.

I believe that by channelling them into something, instead of letting them simmer in the background in a pot of shame, we reclaim mastery over our desires and our creative energies.

As the Torah reads:

“Is it not so that if you improve, you will be forgiven? If you do not improve, however, sin is crouching at the door and its desire is to have you. But you must master it.”

הֲלוֹא אִםתֵּיטִיב, שְׂאֵת, וְאִם לֹא תֵיטִיב, לַפֶּתַח חַטָּאת רֹבֵץ; וְאֵלֶיךָ, תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ, וְאַתָּה, תִּמְשָׁלבּוֹ:

Genesis 4:7

What do you think? I’m not sure I exactly agree all the way with the video below, so I would like to know how maybe you would help a friend with a yetzer hara. How should we perceive the struggle of a friend in a battle with their nature and urges?

Some follow-up material for consideration:

Related articles:

Parshat Bechukotai (2012)

Parshat Bechukotai (2012)
Leviticus 26:3–27:34

Answering the Question: “Why did G-d make this happen to me?”

And you will flee when no one is pursuing you” (וְנַסְתֶּם וְאֵין רֹדֵף אֶתְכֶם, Lev. 26:17) – we become overwhelmed by our own sense of paranoia. Instead of being driven out, we run ourselves off from a state of blessing by our own guilt, shame and fear of repercussions of our actions.

With this weeks parsha we are completing the Book of Leviticus. This year this parsha is paired together with Parshat Behar as a double-parsha. This entire book of Leviticus has been related to the establishment of the Miskhan (the Tabernacle) and detailing the service and expectations that was laid upon the people of Israel. As we start this parsha we notice that all of a sudden the tone switches from talking about the responsibilities of the nation, to stating what the benefits and consequences of adherence to the Torah’s commandments are.

This parsha is quite short, less than two complete chapters in it’s entirety. And the aliyot (the individual readings) are also quite short as well. Normally people would be thrilled that they have a shorter section to learn to lein (Yiddish meaning cantillation, read in its proper melody from the Torah scroll), but this is not an easy reading. The sections that detail the curses and judgments are most often read by the most competent reader, because according to our tradition it is to be delivered in a very different fashion from any other Shabbat Torah reading; it is to be read in a whispering tone, and as quickly as possible. We read it this way in order to not arouse or incite judgment, and so that we do not dwell on negativity.

Though the differences become apparent even before the reading begins. Normally being called up to the Torah is the greatest honor one can have. In our tradition we are so repulsed by the idea of leveling judgment against people that the person who is called up to read these sections of curses does not allow themselves to be customarily called up by name to honor them for their reading. No matter how “qualified” one is in Torah learning, we are never to take pride in being associated with the calamity that befalls someone for their wrongdoing.

The world-over it is the general custom of the religious leaders to make themselves famous for preaching fire and brimstone. People literally yelling from the rooftops, with great satisfaction in themselves, all the ways that one can be harmed and punished. But here when it comes to delivering the tragedy of punishment we as Jews are not allowed to raise our voices, nor are we to linger upon the suffering of the sinner. We discuss it because we must, but G-d forbid that this happen to someone. We mildly and quickly get through this task as we take no joy in it.

The difficulty of reading this parsha though really is more in the message, more so than being an issue of skill. It is especially difficult for the Jewish people because it really does seem to begin going through a point-by-point presentation of the sufferings Jews have experienced, even though this was written long before the expulsions and persecutions in exile.Sadly we know the Torah is right about this because it really happened, and so recently in our history that it pains people greatly still to this day in a very raw way. These things can happen, it’s a tragic truth. In light of this the discussion then naturally seems to lead to asking “why,” instead of debating the “if.”

But if we are to answer the question that is expressed as “Why did this happen? Did we really deserve this?” we must first deal with an even less sophisticated question that goes, “How can a good G-d do this? Why did He make this happen?” It’s almost seems like a fair question because the horrors in this parsha are so extreme it seems inconceivable that G-d would do these things to His people. The key error lies in the understanding of the words “do” and “make,” implying such calamity is the work of G-d.

But unsophisticated questions tend to demand equally ill-formed answers. The way the gentile nations have generally answered this question is by turning to polytheism, good gods do good and bad gods cause evil. Their attempts at monotheism are still even colored through this perception, in which evil is personified in “the devil.” However, as Jews we are not permitted this luxury of dualism. We are challenged to have to deal with G-d’s role in all this because the scriptures clearly tell us that both good and evil are caused by Him alone. We read in book of Isaiah the profound declaration:

“From the rising of the sun and from the west

there is nothing besides Me

I am Hashem, there is nothing else.

I form light and create darkness,

makes peace and creates evil;

I Hashem do all these things.”

| “Mimez’rach shemesh umima’aravah

| ki-efes bil’adai:

| ani Hashem v’ain od

| yotzer or uvorei chosech,

| oseh shalom uvorai ra;

| ani Hashem oseh kol eyleh”

Isaiah 45:6-7

Traditional Judaism has always maintained this understanding of G-d, because logic naturally dictates that if G-d is omnipotent (all powerful) then everything must be ordered by Him alone. However, orthodoxy is neither naïve nor trite. It does not place G-d in the position of a tit-for-tat enforcer nor does it over simplify the nature of individual suffering, our tradition can’t because the scriptures do not suggest this at all.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this point, because it really is basic Judaism; but something I can go into volumes with. Verse 7 above is paraphrased as part of our liturgical reading of the morning, it is said daily as part of the blessings to the Shema (our most holy confession). We recognize that G-d creates the world daily. G-d is active in the world, not in just some distant point in history but still today and everyday renewing the act of creation. However this is a distinct difference between what is formed and made, and that which is merely created. In the void He formed the world, fashioning it; G-d made the universe. And when He formed it He created it in a balanced state of fullness and light, He provided everything that was needed to sustain that world. However, evil and woe are like darkness. They not necessarily a thing, it’s the void and aftermath that is left as a result in the breakdown of the proper function and order in our lives. Other times its just a the absence of the good stuff getting to that place yet. There are two lessons in that: 1) that just like life has good times, there are also bad times, 2) woe and hardship are not a formulated response, but merely the unfortunate result of things not going according to ordered plans.

G-d as creator made us to function well, under good and optimum circumstances just like any good designer would. G-d created this world as a brilliant form of craftsmanship, with all the features and accessories needed to help us get the job done. For us to be mad when life breaks-down is like being upset with a manufacturer because our plans for using their product didn’t pan out or we just didn’t use it properly. It isn’t realistic or proper for us to look at the world that way. The responsibility of the Divine was to give us the best chance in real situations, not to vow to save us against from every possible annoying fluke.

When we comprehend that, then we can be a bit more adult in our ways of looking at the words “do” and “make.” G-d doesn’t do anything to us, any more than He makes us do anything; those are very childish words if we use them in this tone. Instead G-d takes responsibility in being the creator who created us to function best when in line with His instructions. He should not been seen as a manufacturer who is designing a product to blow up in our faces at the first wrong step.

So in this mentality G-d nonetheless takes responsibility. He stands behind His product, disclosing what it takes for it to perform properly and warning us of how to troubleshoot when things go wrong. Because things most certainly do have a habit of going wrong at some point, that is the nature of life.

Troubleshooting Life

Do you need to troubleshoot life? I know I do, and often. Any of you who have ever worked for a help-desk know troubleshooting skills not just requires the knowledge of the complex, but also attention to the subtle. The range of what someone points to as “wrong” can span from a total malfunction to merely just someone’s baseless dissatisfaction.

One of the first tedious parts of troubleshooting is to have to go over the instructions. Are we doing everything that we are supposed to do in order to get the appropriate results? Our text explains to us as follows:

“And if you do not listen to Me,

and do not do all these commandments,

and if you grow tired of My orders

and if you loath My laws

so that you will not do all My commandments

and thus break My covenant,

after that I will make this to happen to you…”

| V’im lo tish’mu li;

| v’lo ta’asu et kol ha mitzvot ha’eileh

| v’im bechukotai tim’asu

| v’im et mishpatai

| tig’al nafshechem l’vilti asot et kol mitvotai

| l’hafrecheim et briti,

| Af ani ei’eseh zot lachem

Leviticus 26:14-16a

The Torah warns us if we do not abide by all these ways we are breaking our “terms of service agreement.” If we do this we are gonna break our lives! No really, look at the text again. It first wants to make sure that we understand the seriousness of what we are doing.

Then the text goes into explaining what to look out for, the warning signs of malfunction:

“I will appoint upon you panic;

with consumption and fever,

and I will completely destroy your sight,

and make you depressed,

and you will sow your seed in vain,

and your enemies will eat it.


And I will set my face against you

and you will be defeated before you enemies;

and you will flee

when no one is pursuing you

| V’hifkadeti aleichem behalah

| et ha’mishachepet ve’et hakadachat

| m’chalot einaim,

| umedivot nafesh;

| uz’ra’tem larik zar’achem

| va’achaluhu oi’veichem.


| V’natati panai bachem,

| v’nigaf’tem lifnei oi’veichem;

| v’radu vachem son’eichem

| v’nas’tem v’ain rodeif at’chem

Leviticus 26:16b-17

The first troubles that the Torah presents us with as signs of judgment are subtle and mild, but can easily be mistaken for something else all together.

This first wave of curses is very perplexing and even troublesome. What are we saying about G-d; that He causes us to have panic, depression and such? Are we saying that G-d takes control of our emotions in order to wreck them? And these inflictions, are we suggesting that G-d causes illness in us?

In our tradition the points of free-will and the fairness of such a course of actions is not even an issues to grapple with. The Rambam interprets Midrash Rabba concerning creation to be surmised in the idea that “only good descends from G-d above.” (Rambam, Guide For The Perplexed, III:X; concerning Midrash Rabba Chapter 1, p. 266). When G-d creates He makes everything good, just as we read in the creation story the continual phrase is used “and G-d saw all that He created and behold it was good.” And we firmly believe G-d does not give illness nor does He impose on our emotions. How can it be that here we have G-d being described as causing both physical and mental inflictions?

The Rambam, as a physician, gave us a unique perspective in how to interpret this. In fact he gives us one of the only interpretations from among the classics that we have to examine. That is not to say the commentators didn’t deal with these verses, they wrote lengthy commentary on these sections. However, they could only give us a description of what the symptoms were. The Rambam was more concerned with what the cause was. As a physician he realized that in order to bring remedy we must first recognize the cause, as a condition is not merely a set of symptoms that need to be alleviate. The symptoms of illness are merely a reflection of the extent to which disease has advanced.

As pointed out the world was created “good,” and in fact when all the living creatures were created He declared that everything was “tov me’od / very good;” (Genesis 1:31). He created life and the world good, and then some. Nonetheless as we have learned from Isaiah, G-d does say that He causes ra – harm, evil, and calamity. However, as the Rambam point out early on in the Guide, things such as good and evil are only descriptions in relations to something. He says this is like saying “round” or “flat.” Not either physical property is good or bad necessarily, it is just a description of how we perceive something. How it looks to us. Such words are very similar in meaning and relation to the terms emet and sheker; true and false. It’s a description and qualification, not a judgment or characterization.

The Rambam explains to us that this similarly can also be applied to the words oseh and bara; makes and created. When G-d created to world He created, meaning he made something from nothing. There was nothing, no universe or anything to function. Then He created the world purposefully, everything He made has a function. He points out that that G-d also created things such as the mouth, eyes and ears so that we can speak, see, and hear. Though the Rambam points out the following verse to demonstrate his philosophical view of what happens when something goes wrong in this natural world:

“And Hashem said to him:

Who places a mouth in man,

or who makes one mute,

or deaf

or see

or blind;

I Hashem.”

| Vayomer Hashem elav

| mi sam peh la’adam

| o mi-yasum ilem

| o cheresh

| o fike’ach

| o iver halo

| anochi Hashem.

Exodus 4:11

The Rambam explains that this verse teaches that each of the body parts were created for their function. That when the function is withheld it merely means that the body part doesn’t work properly, we don’t jump to the odd suggestion that a person must not have a mouth if they can’t talk, or eyes if they can’t see, nor ears if they can’t hear. But that G-d as maker of those body parts is the one who takes responsibility for the issue as He is he only thing in the universe, He is solely its creator, there is no one else to blame; He is responsible by default and does not shirk that in any way. Then He sums it up with “I am Hashem,” its okay to hold Me responsible; I’m big enough to take it.

But if we consider it, the above mentioned maladies are examples of things that are not necessarily inflictions, but withholding of an appropriate function; example, He gave a mouth but didn’t give the speech. We need to see the terrible things mentioned in our parsha as a mere result of G-d withholding blessing – and not necessarily imposing a causative and active role of punishment. He just isn’t providing what we need for our lives to work right. Nachon, got it?

Not Being Run Out: Sometimes we run from blessing, instead of being driven

I know I have kept you for a long study, with me ranting on. But it is very important for us to look at the symptoms, the characteristics of these maladies caused by us not living properly and according to the rules set out for our lives in Torah. And by looking at them we will also see that they are really things that have their root more in us than in G-d. They are:

Panic (בֶּהָלָה) – literally fear, and sudden terror. Panic and terror will begin to consume you. One will begin to be overcome by fear and frenzy.

Consumption (הַשַּׁחֶפֶת) – literally wasting disease and emaciation. One’s health looks swept away, they being to look anguished. Rashi says this means consumption of the face, so that one begins to look sad in the face due to wasting. People often used this term historically to describe illnesses like tuberculosis, wasted away and pained to that point.

Fever (הַקַּדַּחַת) – this is very simple to understand, it simple means fever, and the results of sever illness like malaria. But the Radak tells us this can be understood as “fire in the bones;” that is how intense the effects are. Rashi also sees this connotation, and says furthermore it can be understood as being fired up to the point one is enraged, and furious (citing Deut. 32:22) The fire inside, be it in our body or emotions, burns too hot and to our detriment. Fever like fury can overwhelm a person to the point of an overwhelming trembling and loss of control over their functions and composure.

Destroy your sight (מְכַלּוֹת) – G-d will allow our outlook to be destroyed. (Rav Hirsch) We begin to experience impairment of our faculties. As we look into our future all we will see is uncertainty and doubt, which leads to the next infliction…

Depression (וּמְדִיבֹת) – we will become overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness (Rav Hirsch). We will be overcome by debilitating depression and sorrow.

The parsha continues on describing other things that are less easily understood as being rooted in our own defect; that we will sow in vain, our enemies will reap from our hard work instead of us. But in the last clauses of verse 17 we see G-d does have a undeniable hand in all of this, because He sets His attention towards us and yet we are defeated by our enemies. G-d watches on, as we fall into calamity; not coming to our aid.

But before we get carried away and try to relieve ourselves of responsibility the Torah continues and shows a truly tragic truth of what happens when we live a life outside of Torah blessing, we aren’t run out from blessing; quite to the contrary.

And you will flee when no one is pursuing you (וְנַסְתֶּם וְאֵין רֹדֵף אֶתְכֶם) – we become overwhelmed by our own sense of paranoia. Instead of being driven out, we run ourselves off from a state of blessing by our own guilt, shame and fear of repercussions of our actions.

In the end, the yeridah – the descent and fall into bondage and foreign oppression is of our own doing. Often times we aren’t carried away, no one forces us out of a place of peaceful living; we are so haunted and hunted by our avoidance of our Torah responsibilities that we run from ourselves until we find we are not longer free to return on our own terms. It further describes this type of paranoia in verses 36-37, that we will become overwhelmed by insecurity, that even the rustling leaves will send us running in fright, like being chased by a sword though no one is there; that we are so overcome by our invisible fears that we, and those that accompany our descent, stumble over each other; running from insecurities rooted in our own conscience.

Luckily, the story doesn’t end there. Though there are all kinds of unspeakable things displayed for us as hardships for improper living and not honoring the Torah, G-d still holds out to us a hand of mercy. Though we might get worse, and worse, and worse yet the more we run from ourselves; in the end G-d says that He will not just write us off. No, instead He declares that no matter how far we run, He is intent on setting us right in the end; not to leave us ultimately to our disrepair.

“Yet even after all that, even

when they are in the land of their enemies

I will not reject them, nor abhor them,

nor grow tired of them

and then break my covenant with them –

for I am Hashem, your G-d


But I will for their sakes remember

the covenant of their ancestors,

whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt

in the sight of the nations,

that I might be their G-d:

I am Hashem.”

| Ve’af-gam-zot

| biheiotam be’eretz oiveihem

| lo-me’astim velo-ge’altim

| lechalotam

| lehafer briti itam

| ki ani Hashem Eloheihem.


| Vezacharti lahem

| brit rishonim

| asher hotzeti-otam me’eretz Mitzrayim

| le’einei hagoyim

| lihiot lahem le-Elohim

| ani Hashem

Leviticus 26:44-45

Though G-d does not write us off, and promises to ultimately grant redemption to use all, liberating us eventually; it does not necessarily say this life, though. It is true that all Israel has a share in the world to come (Pirkei Avot). But ignoring Torah has consequences. G-d does not cast people out of His kingdom for their humanity and faults; He will make a place for us all, in a way only He understands. It will come about by Him remembering His promise and the merit of our ancestors. This should comfort us. But on the other hand we should be a bit saddened by this explanation; because the truth is the suffering and being run amok could end at any time if we just decided to remember His covenant and the meritorious lives displayed by our Jewish ancestors.

Parshat Noach (2011)

Genesis 6:9 – 11:32

The Torah’s Response to Corruption in the World

bird-flying-freeOur Parsha begins with the words “ayleh toldot Noach / these are the decedents of Noah,” and from this we derive the name for this Parshat Noach. Now just briefly, as I should deal with this in more detail in Parshat Toldot; the word toldot most often means offspring, descendants, and generations or genealogy, but it can also mean chronicles or history. Yes, we will see in the second verse of this parsha the listing of Noah’s three sons, so the traditional rendering is often in relation to offspring; however, notice that the genealogy is already given in the previous parsha, not here (see Genesis 5:23).

Instead of giving us a genealogy our parsha begins to introduce us to Noah with the statement, “Noach ish tzadik tamim haya bedorotav / Noah was a righteous and whole-hearted man in his generations; / et ha-Elohim hit’halech Noach / Noah walked with G-d.” (v.9) This majority of this first paragraph (v. 9-12,) is about telling a story, only one verse (v. 10) concerns the three sons. In this parsha we find the actual story of Noah’s life and deeds, not just who Noah and his sons were, but what Noah did: this is his story. So the translation can go either way; “these are the descendants of Noah” or “these are the chronicles of Noah.” However, in this case it seems clear the latter is a better choice.

In our previous parsha (Parshat Bereshit) we were given an introduction as to what we are walking into here, saying that in Noah’s days:

“Hashem saw that the wickedness of man was

great upon the earth (land),”

| Vayar’a Hashem ki raba raat ha-adam

| ba’aretz

Genesis 6:5a

This is the summation of the state of the earth. And the description of the state of man is described as:

“and all his heart had tendency to consider was

only evil all the time.”

| v’kol yetzer mach’shevot libo

| rak rah kol ha-yom

Genesis 6:5b

In the case of the earth, the problem was simple; it was man. However, the description of the condition of the heart of mankind is a little more complicated. It says that all of mankind’s yetzer, his impulse and inclination, was to think about evil all day long. Most of us recognize the word yetzer right away and first thing we think of is the yetzer ha-tov and yetzer ha-ra, the concept of our good inclination in opposition to our evil inclination. But this scripture isn’t saying that man’s nature was evil. No this word yetzer only has meaning here when connected to the word after it, mach’shevto which means thoughts, considerations, interest, philosophy; this is what was evil. The yezter is only the vehicle, so this word takes on more of the meaning of drive or urge. Everything mankind felt the urge to think about, everything that drove their interest, that motivated their outlook was only evil all of the time (kol ha-yom), all day long! Not just evil (ra), and evil all the time, but only (rak) evil; nothing else but evil.

And of course yetzer closely relates to the word yatzar, same spelling different pronunciation as a verb, which means to create or to produce. The world was in a sad state because the people of the world felt the urge to take everything they could produce, think, or take interest in and utilize it for how to cause evil (ra).

So often I hear the message of the parsha presented by yelling Bible-thumpers, saying that mankind had become grotesquely evil after the fall of man in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). But really what it’s saying is that man’s mindset had become inclined to think about wrong things all the time. I don’t want to get carried away on this point, but usually when we hear this story we are told about how evil man is, perverted to the core of his nature. But that’s not what I see here at all. I would like to remind these fire and brimstone people that dichotomize society that even Hashem, the Holy One blessed be He, is said to be the cause of both tov (good) and ra (evil). (see Isaiah 45:6). When I say that of course the non-Jewish fundamentalists get all upset and say that it’s true that the vast overwhelming majority of the time the word does simply means evil, though this doesn’t mean that G-d is engaging in sin or malice, but that by evil we can mean trouble, ill, woe, calamity, and disaster. This is true, examples are:

Genesis. 19:19 – “I cannot escape to the mountain, and the destruction (ha-ra’ah) will overtake me and I will die.” In this instance it means calamity and disaster.

Jeremiah 7:6 – “Neither follow after other gods, leading to your determent/harm (l’ra).”  In this instance it means ill, harm, trouble and woe.

Genesis. 26:29 – “That you will do us no harm (ra’ah) as we have done nothing but good (rak tov) to you” In this instance not only does it mean calamity and disaster, but also evil and bad (notice how bad/ra is expressed as the opposite of good/tov), showing it can certainly mean both in the same breath.

My point is that when the scriptures are saying that the thoughts of men were “rak rah kol ha-yom / only evil all the time” it is not saying that mankind was so depraved that they only had their heart set on maliciousness, no I believe there were good-natured people that just had their mind set on destruction, trouble, tragedy and hardship until it made them hardened and corrupt people. So it can be said that “v’kol yetzer mach’shevot libo” can also mean that the tendency of man’s heart was to worry all the time. One of the meanings of the words machshavah is “to worry,” and it can clearly be appropriately applied here. Not all destruction is what people plan for others, it can also be the disasters that one neurotically imagines for themselves, worry that drives people to act as less that upright people.

Old-World Thinking and Corruption

“And the earth was corrupt before G-d

and the earth was filled with violence”

| Vatishachait ha-aretz lifney ha-Elohim

| vatimalay ha-aretz chamas

Genesis 6:11

As we come into this weeks parsha we find ourselves looking at this perplexing statement. It says that the earth (ha-aretz), the very land itself was corrupt (shichait) before G-d. Are we saying the Earth was depraved by nature?

In looking at the word shichait, we see it means to corrupt, to destroyed, to damage and to ruin.

It has two meanings, on one hand it is true that it does mean moral corruption. We will see this at the incident of the golden calf, “lech raid ki shichait amcha / Go, descend, your people have become corrupt” (Exodus 32:7), it is also paraphrased using the same word in Deuteronomy 9:12. We again see it used this way in Deuteronomy 32:5, “shichait lo, loh / Is corruption His? No”

But it also means simply to destroy and damage, as we see the people fearing in Jeremiah 39:39 that, “bo yivoach melech bavel v’hish’echit et ha-aretz ha-zot / the king of Babylon will certainly come to destroy this land / v’hish’bit mimenah adam u’beheima / and cause the extinction of man and beast.”

It should be noted that the same word as a verb means to be pitted or excavated, dug up like a trench or a cistern (a shallow well), as seen in Psalms 7:16, “bor y’habel aven / He dug a trench, and burrowed / vayipol b’shachat yif’al / and has fallen into the pit he made.” In Job 33:22 it also clearly equates this image of the pit as a grave, though it is implied elsewhere. The landscape is marred and deadened.

I believe the reason some translators have chosen to look more at the idea of earth being corrupt, more than the earth being scarred and damaged is because of the second clause of this statement, “va’timalay ha-aretz chamas / and the earth was filled with violence.” The word chamas, here is an interesting word. Aside from violence it also means to cause oppression, as well as to rob; thus in Jewish law the term chamas means to rob a person through violence. As a noun it can figuratively also means theft and evil doing. [Interesting side note: if we add just one silent letter to this word, an alef, you get the name Hamas, same pronunciation, which is the name of the evil Islamic terror organization. Apparently they really do live up to their name]

As I look over this verse it becomes apparent to me that the translators tried to pair the meaning of the first clause with the second, and harmonized the meaning of the two so they were in agreement; and I agree that it is wholly appropriate. However, it doesn’t give us a good picture of what the nature of the world at this point in the story. It can confuse a person and lead them to the conclusion that now the scriptures are saying that world itself was evil; and such is the position of many faiths, to call the physical world bad and only the spiritual plane good. This is not at all what the scriptures are trying to say, it’s not even closely leaning to asceticism or demoralizing the physical world. So it clarifies for us in the next verse:

“And G-d saw the earth, and behold,

it was corrupt (or destroyed)

because all flesh had destroyed

(or corrupted) their way on the earth.”

| V’yare Elohim et ha-aretz, v’hinai

| nish’echatah

| ki hish’chit kol basar

| et dar’ko al ha-aretz

Genesis 6:12

And this is what I’m want to get at my friends, that the corrupt ways of humans were imposed on the earth itself. When it used the word “dar’ko / their way” we are talking about the literal, we mean they imposed their derech (way), like making a paved path or road (Genesis 16:7); men have changed the physical landscape to suit their aims. But it also means figuratively as well, meaning way of life or lifestyle; the manners to which one is accustomed (see Genesis 19:31, 45:23; 1 Sam 21:5, etc). The best example of this latter description is in Ezekiel 20:30, “…when you pollute yourselves after the manner (ha-derech) of your fathers…”

When we look at it this way the scriptures are presenting us with a sad image of this young and fruitful world as scared and destroyed. Being polluted both in environment and even more so in mentality, that it was prevalent on the earth for people to be corrupt. Again there is nothing by nature that is wrong with the world or people that makes them evil. But the earth has been damaged, likewise the social environment was also, in a way that it was recreating a cycle of destruction. This is why G-d had to put a stop to it. And this is the only reason that the earth had been dragged into this judgment with man at all during the flood, because both the physical and social environment had to be cleansed.

I cant help but think of how we were faced with a disastrous fews years due to the scandals that rocked the Jewish world from the fallout of corruption claims. In politics, in religion, through investment schemes, through fraud, in bribery and even in some Jewish companies and communities being dragged into grotesque environmental and civil ordinance violations. Our community is no different than any other, faced with the same challenges as any other people. But the Jewish community has rightly be focused on the embarrassment of such instances and the chilul hashem, the desecration of the Name of G-d, that is caused.

I was reflecting on this the other day with someone who has been a missionary pastor abroad for decades. He rightfully pointed out to me that corruption and bribery is pretty much the norm in all places, especially in third-world countries. The strictness of the American ethic against corruption for instance, in that we do not allow it to run rampant and unchecked, is quite rare. Corruption is presented in most places as the way of the world. We started to compare tragic stories of corruption specifically within religious communities and the shame it causes to the faithful. As we discussed, I was asked how is it that wise and good people could be dragged into crookedness.

As an honest person I had to start out with the examples I know most intimately, those in the Jewish community. Unfortunately, my experience had shown me that often times there is among the religiously observant, and sadly especially among haimish people, for there to be an old-world style disregard for the civil law. Even worse, there is a tendency to cook the books and submit to bribery. The reasoning is not hard to understand, this is the way that Jews both in Europe and in the Arab world were conditioned out of survival. As less than true citizens they were subjected to not only unfair tax practices, but also constant extortion. Because the law was unfair it seemed okay to defraud the unjust authorities. As you could be robbed blind at any moment it was seen as good practice to conceal your funds as an act of discretion. Avoiding the proper channels of civil authority or giving over to bribery used to be the only way to get things done in the old-world, where permission based on merit and necessity was not honored for Jews. Abuse and waves of genocide only ingrained this even deeper, as there grew the paranoia to always try to get as much as one could while the getting was good, because the tides of tolerance would surely turn in the imminent future and funds would be needed. This became a norm and a constantly repeating cycle; just like Ezekiel 20:30, polluting ourselves after the ways of our fathers, foolishly following a bad example.

Sure, just like in the days of Noah there are many people whose hearts are set on nothing else other than doing the wrong and unethical for their own benefit. But not everyone does this intentionally, some people get sucked into foolish acts of corruption because of their constant worry and tendency to focus on calamity. It doesn’t matter what the reason is though, it leads to the same result; judgment. For a person of faith it is essential that we live our lives and manage our business practices above the board and ethically. The Torah commands us to follow the laws of the land, and by doing so we are honoring the will of G-d and the commands of His Torah. Furthermore, it is incumbent upon us to acknowledge that G-d is the one who provides for us; if we are corrupt or even lax in our ethics we do not truly believe that G-d rewards and cares for those who hold by His Torah. G-d would not call us to do something if He was not going to also to provide for us to do accordingly, if we cannot believe that then our view of G-d is far too small and is defective.

The first thing G-d did with Noah after emerging from the ark was give the Seven Laws of Noah, which calls for us to honor G-d, establish courts of justice, honor the lives of man, honor the lives of the beasts of the earth, etc. (Genesis 9:1-7) The Torah then continues on with the promise of never again destroying all life nor the earth with a flood (v.9-17). The only reason the earth and life upon the earth was troubled was because of the evilness that drove the ambitions of mankind. G-d was not just making a promise here, but also providing the means to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, by commanding the establishment of a system of law and order to enforce justice in place of judgement.

I would hope that we walk away asking ourselves two questions this week. First, how do our actions effect and scar the earth? Secondly, do we perpetuate unbecoming and unethical practices in our dealings?

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