The world is complex; rarely, if at all, are matters strictly black and white. So when we read the stories from the Torah, if they seem black and white, the Torah is inviting us to dig a little deeper.
A simple reading of the flood story could lead to a simple conclusion: Noach was good, and the rest of the world was evil. God decided to destroy the evil and start over with the good. Let’s take this invitation to look at the story from a different perspective.
Rav Zadok HaCohen from Lublin quotes a fascinating Zohar: “At the time of the flood they were fitting to receive the Torah.” In other words, just as the Nation of Israel was fitting to receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai, the world at the time of Noach was fitting to receive the Torah.
But the Torah tells us that the world was despicable in the eyes of God, filled with theft and illicit sexual behavior. These were the people fitting to receive the Torah, God’s most precious gift to the world?
Rav Zadok explains that a moment of revelation is a time of tremendous opportunity; there is possibility for glorious triumph, or bitter failure. It’s all a question of how one directs the raw energy.
The generation of the flood lived in a time of revelation. There was raw energy waiting to be harnessed; the direction to which that revelation would unfold was in their hands.
As the rain started to fall, their fate was not sealed. The initial drops could have been the rain of sustenance, not flood waters. The Torah, as symbolized by water, could have provided existence to the world, as we are taught that the Torah sustains existence, and is the purpose for existence.
However, we are also taught that if it were not for the Torah, the heavens and the Earth would cease to exist. The destructive nature of the world was not open to receiving the Torah. So the waters that could have sustained the world instead destroyed it.
Not always do we harness the power of the moment of revelation. But Rav Zadok assures us that the fall is a preparation for the next big moment of potential. The failure of the generation of the flood laid the foundation for Avraham. He brought a different consciousness to the world, which ultimately resulted in the giving of the Torah.