Noach: Slow to Anger or Zealous?

At such an early stage in the Torah and the history of mankind, the flood pours down and destroys the entire world. One must ask: How does such devastating global annihilation jibe with Hashem’s attributes of mercy, slow to anger, and His desire to bestow good upon His creation? Is there not a contradiction here?

It is interesting that while many people have “problems” with the commandments of wiping out Amalek and cities of idol worship, war and vengeance, no one gets upset when G-d Himself personally obliterates the entire world. Is this not food for thought?


There is no doubt that the terrible flood which wiped out the world so early in the history of mankind should send a message home to all those who believe in G-d and His Supervision over the world. And the message is the following: There is a purpose to the world, and without this purpose, there is no reason for man’s existence. The world was created for a reason – the crowning of G-d as King by all mankind and observance of His commandments. When mankind strays from this intended path, they in effect forfeit very existence. At such a point, physical annihilation is not very far off. For after the people stray from their intended path, what possible reason is there for the continuation of their physical existence?

It is true that after the flood, G-d swore He would not bring complete destruction to the world ever again. Nevertheless, the lesson of the flood remains with us for future generations: An entire world, bursting with vitality and vigor, was completely destroyed because it failed to serve it’s purpose in service to it’s Creator. It is a lesson taught to us from
virtually the very outset of the Torah, for it is so basic.

Should one who studies the incident of the flood come away with the impression that Hashem is an angry and zealous G-d? Is this the message of the flood? In order to answer these questions, further investigation is necessary.

Our sages teach us that G-d blessed the generation of the flood with awesome physical abundance, the likes we have never seen since. G-d wished to provide His new creations with a bounty of sustenance, and bestowed good upon them for 1,500 years. (Let us remember that the flood occurred 1,500 years after the creation of the world.) However, the sad rule, “And he became fat and rebelled” became a reality in a most extreme fashion. Precisely because of their great strength, wealth and feeling of indestructibility, the generation of the flood grew arrogant, committing every sin imaginable. In spite of all this, G-d waited and waited, hoping all the while that His children would do “tsheuva”. But the situation only got worse.

So G-d turned to Noach, the only righteous person at the time and informed him that He is bringing an end to it all. Well, not exactly yet. What He did was tell Noach to warn mankind that if they don’t do “tsheuva”, He will bring down a flood to destroy the world in…120 years! That’s a long time! What patience! Only when this, too, didn’t help did it “grieve Him in His heart”, and He destroyed the world.

And so, what do we have here? “A G-d of vengeance”, or “abundant mercy”? The answer is clear: At the beginning, G-d reveals Himself as a G-d of compassion and slow to anger. Only after all lines have been crossed, does He reveal Himself as an “angry and jealous G-d”. Is there a contradiction here? Not at all! G-d is merciful, and there is nothing that remotely compares to His level of mercy. But he isn’t a “friar” (sucker)! That is what our sages in Trachtate Baba Batra (50) tell us: “He who says that G-d forgoes, shall forego his life”. There is a limit to how much G-d is willing to take, so to speak. G-d bestows upon us an abundance of good, shows us the right way, and is slow to anger. And then His creations rebel against Him? At that point, G-d says: Sorry, (and it grieved Him in his heart – Breishit 6:6), but there is a limit. Flood!

While G-d may have “unending patience”, we must realize that even “unending patience” ends. If we insist on rebelling against Him, He will exact punishment. And his “chesbon” is precise to the letter – he forgoes nothing, provided we do not do “tsheuva”.


1. G-d desires only to bestow good for his creations, and even turns a blind eye to sinners for long periods of time, pushing aside His attribute of Judgment which would call for the immediate destruction of the sinner. Indeed, as the verse goes, “slow to anger and abundant in mercy”!

2. There is a purpose for man in this world, and without this purpose, there is no reason for man’s existence. When man strays from the intended path beyond the point of no return, the mercy runs out. A “G-d of Zealousness”! This is what the prophet Nachum spoke of (1:2): “The Lord is a jealous and avenging G-d; The Lord revenges, and is full of wrath; the Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He keeps wrath for His enemies. The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will by no means acquit the wicked”.

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