G-d decided to destroy the world 1656 years after it was created because it had become corrupted beyond repair. Except for what was preserved on the Ark, all mankind, animal life and vegetation was destroyed.
The only human life preserved on the Ark was Noach, his wife Na’ama, their three sons, and their wives. At least one pair of each animal was saved.
A question raised is, G-d wiped out mankind because they made mindful decisions to veer from the proper path and sin. However, why were the animals destroyed? After all, they did not consciously decide to sin.
An answer offered is that the animal kingdom mirrors the behaviors of human beings. The animals were influenced by the evil ways of the humans which changed their behaviors so that they too had to be destroyed.
Rabbi Gedalya Schorr o.b.m. shows us a deeper meaning of man’s relationship with the world around him.
When G-d was about to create Adam from the earth, the Torah states the words, ‘Na’aseh Adam’ – let us make man. Commentators explain this to mean that G-d turned to all the creations that preceded man, and incorporated and invested Adam with elements of each and every creation. Essentially, Adam emerged as a microcosm of the entire world. G-d, by investing all of creation within man, informed Adam that the world was his to conquer.
G-d’s ultimate purpose for man is that he utilizes his energy to spiritually elevate himself by following G-d’s mandate and performing good deeds. If he does so, the world along with man’s surroundings from which he was composed, will become elevated as well.
Man has the power to bring ruin on himself, his surroundings and the entire world, if he chooses to distance himself from G-d by disobeying His mandate.
Before the flood, when mankind became morally and ethically corrupt, they damaged and distorted the world around them as well. Mankind rampantly disregarded their morality and did not respect the possessions of others; they brazenly snatched other’s spouses; and stealing was the norm – it became a society of survival of the fittest. As a result of their abhorrent behavior, their surroundings were negatively affected.
Because people were seizing spouses who were not theirs, and producing illegitimate children, species of the animal kingdom began mating with varied species, although such behavior or lust does not naturally exist amongst animals.
Adam himself was a mini universe, thus what he did affected the entire world; for example, when he ate from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge he introduced death and mortality into the entire world. However, as mankind began proliferating, each person possessed only a portion of the world and could therefore only affect a limited part of the world positively or negatively.
At the time of the flood the entire society of mankind was corrupt and therefore negatively affected and infected the entire world; thus, it needed to be destroyed.
The Torah attests that Noach was a Tzadik – a righteous person. His righteousness affected all the species of animals that did not deviate from their normal behavior. Those pairs of animals were the ones that boarded the Ark and were saved from the flood! Because they were saved due to Noach’s righteousness, once the flood was over, G-d permitted man to slaughter and eat animals, something that was forbidden to him before the flood.
Our Sages teach us that one who paves a path of repentance for himself, not only does G-d forgive, but his repentance affects forgiveness for the world around him as well. This follows the same concept, each person’s makeup, body and soul has connection to the world and his decisions and behavior impacts upon it, whether for bad or for good.
This is the great influence, power and efficacy of man!