Why didn't G-d send a pandemic in Noah's time instead of a flood?

The flood destroyed everything - animals, plants, inanimate things, but only man had sinned. Why did G-d punish all of Creation?

Rabbi Avigdor Miller ,

Rav Avigdor Miller
Rav Avigdor Miller

Part I. The Ancient Mabul

The Multifaceted Flood

When we come to the subject of the Mabul (Deluge) one of the first things we must understand is that the great flood had more than one purpose. The truth is that when Hakodosh Boruch Hu does anything He has many objectives in mind.

The Gaon of Vilna said (Divrei Eliyahu, Shabbos 130), “When it comes to mitzvos, in case one reason doesn’t apply, don’t think that the mitzvah no longer applies to you because Hakodosh Boruch Hu has other reasons that do apply”.

And just like the word of Hashem in the Torah has more than one reason, Hashem’s word in history is no different. Hashem’s has reasons upon reasons, objectives layered upon other objectives. And therefore if Hashem brought such a big destruction upon the world, there’s no question that He had a number of intentions.

Now immediately, even superficially, we understand that the Mabul was a way of getting rid of sinful people. וַתִּשָּׁחֵת הָאָרֶץ לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹקִים וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ חָמָסAnd the earth became corrupt before Hashem and the earth became filled with violence… and therefore Hashem said, וְהִנְנִי מַשְׁחִיתָם אֶת הָאָרֶץ Behold I am going to destroy them with the earth (Noach 6:13). There was wrongdoing in the world so Hakodosh Boruch Hu did what He does constantly – He sanitized the world.

Destroying The Virus Spreaders

It’s like the forest fires; everyone knows that sometimes large conflagrations burn through forests and thousands of trees are destroyed. And although it seems to be a destruction, actually it’s a great benefit for the world. Because sometimes when the trees grow old, even though they might appear tall and majestic, many of them are infested with fungi and bacteria. They become nests of contagion and all across the forest there are sick trees that are spreading disease and decay to other trees and plants.

And so, when Hakodosh Boruch Hu sees that the danger has become too widespread and unrelenting, He sends a bolt of lightning to ignite a forest fire that levels the whole forest to the ground. And now the forest is sanitized; the bacteria and the fungi are burned out and the forest floor is pure and clean again.

There’s no forest anymore but in miraculous fashion the seeds of the trees survive and now they begin to grow again. And the plants that grow now, the new trees, are healthy; they don’t have this infection any more. That’s one of the purposes of the forest fires – the devastation is actually a cleansing; it’s a new beginning and the sanitized soil will now produce new trees that are pure from any disease.

And so, certainly, we can say that the Mabul was a forest fire of water. Hakodosh Boruch Hu was purifying the world from the wicked people; He washed away a civilization that had grown tall and strong but was also infected with the disease of wicked and decadent behavior. And when He saw the rot was spreading from family to family, from village to village and city to city, the time finally came to make an end to it all – to send a flood of destruction to wipe it all away and thereby sanitize the world.

Pandemics Are Better Than Floods

But actually there’s a big question here. Because Hakodosh Boruch Hu could have sent a worldwide epidemic to wipe out all the human beings from the face of the earth and He could have left the world intact. Certainly; there are epidemics that can travel quickly from person to person, from one family to another and then from city to city, killing everyone in its path. Hakodosh Boruch Hu could have punished the Dor Hamabul, the Generation of the Flood, with a pandemic – and just like the rot of society had spread from person to person, middah k’neged middah a disease would be sent by Hakodosh Boruch Hu and the world would be punished in the same manner.

And that way it could have been a sickness that wouldn’t affect the animals. Why destroy the beasts after all? Many species of animals were wiped out at that time; some of the great animals of antiquity didn’t survive the massive catastrophes that accompanied the flood. The dinosaurs were all destroyed then; that’s why you find masses of dinosaur bones jammed together in certain places as if they were buried together. Other ancient animals too; in Siberia there are huge graveyards filled with thousands of mastodon skeletons (Ed. See Villikovsky, Worlds in Chaos).

Now, it’s certain that they didn’t come and decide to bury themselves together; it’s not like a cemetery where every person has to apply for a plot. Such a thing could only be due to a big catastrophe that engulfed them suddenly. And even the species that survived on the teivah, but for every male and female animal that was saved there were thousands and thousands that were wiped out.

Flooding Away The Earth

Not only the animals were lost; even the earth itself was obliterated. Don’t forget that very many of the plants and trees were ripped away; fruit orchards and wheat fields and barley and rice paddies – everything lost. The seeds were left floating in the water and later they were able to grow again, but there was a great destruction – no question about that. No more fields and forests. No more houses; no towns and cities – everything disappeared.

That’s a difficult thing to understand. Why was it necessary to sanitize the world of anything other than men? It was Mankind who were the wrongdoers! The cows and sheep didn’t do anything wrong! Why did the earth have to be destroyed?! What did the houses and fields and trees do?

And it’s such a big question that we’re forced now to say another reason for the Mabul, a reason that will resolve that difficulty.

Lockdowns Aren’t Easy

To understand the answer to this question, we’ll look at a verse in Koheles (3:11): גַּם אֶת הָעֹלָם נָתַן בְּלִבָּםHashem put the world into the hearts of men. Shlomo Hamelech is teaching us a very important principle here – Hashem put the love of the world into man’s hearts. It’s a very lovable world and that’s why everybody feels joy at the world at first sight!

Don’t you see that a little child is immediately enthralled with everything around him? You take him to the country, to Monroe, and he’s infatuated with the outdoors; the grass and the trees and the grasshoppers and the ants – you can’t pull him away.

Even the plain street entices him. Remember when you let your little child out onto the sidewalk the first time. He was cooped up in the house always and now he’s a little older so you let him play outside for a little while. Now try to get him back inside – you need horses to drag him back into the house! I remember how my sons, one after the other, fell in love with the street. But what’s on the street? There was no candy on the street, no amusements on the street, no joy rides – just a plain street. But it draws him anyhow because “Hashem put the world into man’s heart.”

And it doesn’t end when the child grows up; all the days of our lives Hashem is putting this world into our hearts.

The Original Tech Giants

And that’s the plan of Hashem! He wants Mankind to love this world because that’s the only way Olam Hazeh will function. It takes an interest in the world if there are going to be houses and roads and
Whatever you do, don’t get distracted; don’t get lost in the world. Don’t forget that it’s really nothing. “The way you see it now,” Hashem said, “with everything gone, that’s the real truth.”

doctors and car mechanics and yeshivos and groceries and clothing stores and bridges. Bridges don’t grow on trees after all; people have to be interested in the world if there’s going to be a world. That’s why Hashem “put the world into the hearts of men.”

And the Dor Hamabul, even more than you can imagine, were exceptional in fulfilling that possuk. They were busy with everything, building the world we have now. It was during those early years in the history of the world that Mankind gained all the techniques that we need for our daily lives. And even if we have made very many advances since then, they’re built almost completely on the work of the ancients; we are merely midgets standing on the shoulders of giants.

They had to learn how to make use of fire; how to cook and bake and how to make tools.

They studied all the plants and trees and fruit in order to develop the science of horticulture and agriculture.

They had to learn how to make textiles too. It’s not something you learn derech agav; it’s not even something you learn in one generation. You need hundreds of years of experience; years and years of trial and error. It's not so easy to make clothing. Can you make a beged? You wouldn’t have the faintest idea what to do with a cotton plant or with flax or with the wool on the back of a sheep! You have to take the cotton and the wool and the linen and make it into threads. Then you have to learn how to weave it and make it into a textile. Then you have to learn how to dye and to bleach it. Then you have to learn how to shape it. It's very complicated.

Why They Lived So Long

How did they sew? They had to invent a needle and a scissor. It means they developed methods of making tools from metal. Something like that took hundreds of years of one person's experience; it took years of genius to perfect the art of metallurgy. You have to have “the world in your heart” if you’re going to innovate methods of extracting metals from ore and utilizing those metals.

That’s one of the reasons they lived long in those years – Hakodosh Boruch Hu was utilizing their stay in this world to set the stage for the future of mankind; they needed time to accumulate all the information and experience necessary to develop the processes and tools that the world needs in order to function.

And so we understand right away that when Hashem made this world a place that entrances man it was in order that the world should continue to function; so that people should be His messengers in building Olam Hazeh for future generations. And so if it were us, we would say that Koheles means like this: Hashem put the world into the hearts of men so that the world should function forever.

The World Wide Web

But when we look at the end of that possuk we see that Shlomo Hamelech tells us something altogether different. Listen to what the wisest of all men tells us: גַּם אֶת הָעֹלָם נָתַן בְּלִבָּםWhy did Hashem put the world into the hearts of men? What was the intention of Hashem when He made such an interesting world? מִבְּלִי אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִמְצָא הָאָדָם אֶת הַמַּעֲשֶׂה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה הָאֱלֹקִים מֵרֹאשׁ וְעַד סוֹףIn order that man shouldn’t discover the plan of creation that Elokim made from the beginning to the end. You hear that? It’s a trap! The world is a big web, waiting to snare you!

Of course Hakodosh Boruch Hu put the world into the minds of men so that they should be busy with it and make it a better world, that’s poshut; but Shlomo Hamelech is telling us a secret here. More important than building the world, Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants you to build yourself. I’ll explain that.

Hakodosh Boruch Hu made an interesting world in order to test you. Again; גַּם אֶת הָעֹלָם נָתַן בְּלִבָּם – Why did He make man so vulnerable to the sights and sounds of this world? מִבְּלִי אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִמְצָא הָאָדָם אֶת הַמַּעֲשֶׂה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה הָאֱלֹקִים in order that man should not discover the work that Elokim made.

Hashem intentionally made the world as a trap – will you get lost in all the interesting things? Will you get so busy with the world that you’ll go overboard and forget what the world is really for?

The Builders Become Destroyers

And that’s what happened in the generations before the Mabul. They built the world but as they did so they became distracted and forgot about building themselves. The world was so bewitching, so interesting, that they became Olam Hazeh people.

As their minds filled with this world more and more, they became so busy with everything that they forgot about their real purpose in the world. Because the only thing that really matters is that you should “discover the plan of creation that Elokim made from the beginning to the end.” Hakodosh Boruch Hu! That’s the only subject that should be occupying your mind! Be busy with this world, certainly; but don’t ever forget the One who made the world.

And that’s why the Mabul came upon the world. The word Mabul means that it made everything into hevel. The Mabul was mihabeil it all; it made everything into nothing! When they looked outside and they saw “a blanket of water covering the face of the earth,” (Noach 7:20) it was a great shock! Wherever you looked, nothing and nothing and nothing.

Where is everything?! The world that was thumping continuously in our hearts, the world we thought about day and night, the world we lived for, is nothing now!” Ooh, was that a lesson! Before the Mabul, a person's eyes could sweep over the landscape and see trees and gardens and forest and people; and it was all so very interesting – so interesting that they forgot about the main purpose in life.

Everything Is Nothing

But now, when Noach and his family, the ones from whom the world would be made again, gazed at the expanse of nothingness on all sides, they said, “Look! The old generation went wild over trying to get more money; now they’re all wiped out. They were busy raising livestock – they had big herds of sheep and cattle and now it’s all wiped out. Some had beautiful gardens; all wiped out. Many had built beautiful homes, palaces; all wiped out! Some even had kingdoms with power and income as rulers; all gone!”

People fought with each other over possessions. This one said, ‘This field is mine.’ The other one said, ‘It’s mine.’ And they were busy sometimes for generations fighting with each other. It’s all wiped out.

Where are your enemies now? All gone.

Where are the people who you were jealous of? Gone.

Where are the politics, the kings and the princes? They’re all gone.

All the enmity, the hostility, the jealousy, the competition; everything was wiped out by the Mabul.

All the distractions were gone now. That’s why Hashem said, “Behold I am going to destroy the people along with the earth (Noach 6:13). Even the earth and everything on it will be washed away in order to teach you the great lesson that everyone must learn if they want to succeed in this world: It’s a busy world and you must live in this busy world. But whatever you do, don’t get distracted; don’t get lost in the world. Don’t forget that it’s really nothing.

“The way you see it now,” Hashem said, “with everything gone, that’s the real truth.” The Mabul made it all hevel now so that you should see the truth of Olam Hazeh – it’s a beautiful place; it’s interesting and entrancing and very distracting; but whatever you do don’t forget the One who put you into this world.

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