“And the land had become corrupted before G-d and the land had become filled with robbery.” (Beresheet 6:11)
Noach was really a creative individual who had the talent to bring his father Lemech’s dream to fruition. Lemech named his newborn son Noach (rest), stating: “This one will bring us rest from our work and the toil of our hands” (Beresheet 5:29). Everyone is aware of the fact that Noach built the Ark that served as the sanctuary for all living things during the year of the Flood, but not many know that he also invented the plow, the scythe and the axe — tools that eased the backbreaking work of the farm (Midrash Tanchuma 11). These timesaving devices gave the people of Noach’s generation more free time than their hard-working ancestors had.
One might think that such a blessing would yield more time for the spiritual aspects of life, but instead, the new-found leisure time resulted in the corruption of mankind. Crime, violence and immorality became the rage. Hashem instructed Noach to publicly build an Ark and thereby, perhaps, prompt his neighbors to repent. He spent 120 years at work on his floating animal reserve, but to no avail. People only degenerated more and more during that time until Hashem finalized His decision to wipe out mankind via the Flood.
An analysis of the downfall will reveal that the more Hashem blessed the people, the more wicked they became. The more free time they had, the more they degenerated into immoral creatures. Jealousy of another’s success not only made them unhappy with their own bounty but also brought them to lives of robbery and even murder.
In America at the turn of the 20th century, most workers had to toil almost 14 hours a day for six or seven days a week just to earn the basic necessities. Child labor was also common in the sweatshops of the manufacturing sector. Crime? No one really had much time for it. Immorality? Who had the time or energy?
The post–World War II world is quite another story. Since the end of the War, America has created the richest lifestyle on the planet with oodles of free time and a whole new industry of entertainment and leisure. Theme parks, golf courses, restaurants, sports, theaters (even the “home theater” variety), vacations and spas are part of this multi-billion dollar industry.
Unfortunately, this generation has repeated the mistake of the Generation of the Flood. Freedom from the burden of earning a basic living is a blessing that can be turned into spiritual time. If the time is well spent it will earn a person his or her eternity. Doing chessed and learning Torah are not only pleasurable ways to utilize the spare time that timesaving advances produce, but they also yield large amounts of spiritual profits.
Over 200 years ago, Harav Chaim Volozhin, zt”l, said that America would be the last stop on the long journey of our exile. The redemption that he predicted can be earned by using our leisure time in spiritually productive ways. It is the best way to keep out of trouble and to “earn while we learn.”
May we all get the message of the Generation of the Flood and correct their mistake by valuing time and using it productively.
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.