The Curtailing of Human Potential and Its Restoration in Achrit Hayamim
The flood was the direct result of human action.
Originally, God granted human beings near limitless ability to impact the direction of the world. Like the workings of the brain that affects everything in the body, human actions and deeds were able to affect the entirety of existence. It’s for this reason that great works of Jewish thought, when focusing on the essence of what makes creation meaningful, focus not on creation itself, but rather on the astounding notion that God placed the keys to creation in the hands of Man: It was Gods creation, but its continued existence would depend on people. Should people choose to follow a path of goodness, then they and the world with them would be refined and elevated. And if not, then not only would mankind digress, but they would threaten the very existence of creation. This, in fact, is what took place in the generation of the flood. Human actions undermined the order of the animal world to the extent that there was an unnatural inbreeding among species, the pillars of existence were weakened, and so the world became susceptible to a devastating flood.
Gods pledge that there would never be another flood was, in essence, a curtailing of human potential, a shearing of the degree to which human beings could actually impact the creation. Where once the existence, well-being and elevation of creation was fully in the hands of Man, now, after the flood, continued existence would be determined by God, regardless of how morally corrupt human beings might become. Imagine a king that gave full responsibility for every aspect of the kingdom to his son only to realize that he wasn’t up to the task. As the mystical texts tell us, just as that king would need to take back control, so did God do in the aftermath of the flood. After the flood, there was a dramatic diminution in human potential, in the reach of human actions. Indeed, this qualitative pruning of potential was manifest in the fact that the human lifespan was also greatly curtailed.
And so we see that God grants us potential based on the moral-spiritual quality (madrega) of our choices. The truth is, original human potential was so vast that the primordial power of speech was such that it could bring about the existence of new worlds, new realities. However, similar to Bilam, a man who had in the power of his words the ability to bring blessing into the world, yet corrupted that ability and instead used it for cursing, so was the fate of Mankind: Our potential became so constricted that we now seemed to be part of the animal kingdom and no longer the singular, uniquely endowed conductor of creation that we originally were.
Today, when looking at the tide of human history, we see that the remarkable technological advancements of our age have placed unprecedented power in the hands of Man, both in the realm of productive and destructive capabilities. Julius Caesar, who reigned over much of the world, with all his power, could never have come close to doing what one man, with the press of a button, could do today to the entire planet. And this advancement of human knowledge and ability, we need to know, is no accident. This is Gods way of moving history towards a time when the original vast potential of human beings will be restored.
God does not want to see His creation destroyed, and so, if He is once again restoring our curtailed potential then this is a sign that He has confidence in our ability to now wield that potential productively and responsibly. We have traversed a long historic path that has slowly led to the moral-spiritual refinement and advancement of people so that we can once again be entrusted, quite literally, with the keys to creation. As it says, “I proclaimed that you are Elohim, all of you, exceptionally exalted.” (Tehillim 82:6) “However, [because of your corruption] your death will be that of man …” (Tehillim 82:6) And, “Man is like the fleeting breath, the days of his life passing like (the birds) shadow.” (Tehillim 144:4) Nonetheless, the day will come, when the fullness of human grandeur will be restored.
Come, as Jews, let us take to heart the reality of the ongoing flowering of the deep, inner potential of Am Yisrael. For corresponding to the technological progress that brings so much good to the outer, physical dimension of human life, so we must understand and truly appreciate that God is progressively restoring to the Jewish people our vast potential to impact the deeper underlying dimensions of existence: the ability to bring profound blessing into the world, to facilitate hashras hashechina, the Presence of God in the world, the restoration of prophecy, and the shining of Divine radiance. All of this is progressing, step-by-small-step, within the nation that again dwells in Zion.
And as for us? We have a remarkable opportunity, and the ability, to ready ourselves for the new Godly “light” that is progressively revealing itself to us. Our deepening of our understanding of Torah, our striving for kedushah, and our reaching out to God from the depths of our being, yearning and praying for God to pour upon us a heavenly spirit, and to restore every crown of sanctity that is truly befitting of us, His beloved children, Israel, the nation with whom He is particularly intimate—soon, in our very days.
Translation by Shimon Apisdorf