The Torah says that at the time of the flood sexual immorality was ubiquitous and theft was commonplace. At first, these seem to be two separate issues. However, the Rabbis explain that one leads to the other, and I’d like to talk about how this process works.
There are two possible motivations for a sexual act. It can be an act of giving within a meaningful relationship – an expression of intimacy, love and deep oneness. Or it can be an act of self-gratification and satisfaction – a means of using another human being to indulge personal pleasure.
We might say that if two consenting adults want to use each other for their personal desires, what’s the problem with that? The Torah believes that there is.
In last week’s portion, the Torah introduced to us an idea that must be at the core of a society’s beliefs if that society is to be a moral one: that human beings are created in God’s image. We are not simply sophisticated animals. We are holy beings. We are souls, Godly souls. Seeing others in this way gives us a sense of respect for their individual value, their dignity, and their right to life and property.
If human beings are just animals, then we live in a 'dog eat dog' world of the survival of the fittest. But if human beings are souls, we have responsibilities to each other.
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In a sexually promiscuous society, people look at each other as objects. Other human beings become means to pursue personal satisfaction. This reduces our sense of respect for each other. The more I see a person as means to my own pleasure, the more the lines will blur as to what I am allowed to do to gain that pleasure from him or her. The gap between using another human being with their consent and using them without becomes bridgeable. During the generation of the Flood, that gap narrowed and ultimately disappeared. People lost respect for each other such that theft was no longer a moral issue.
[. . .] Human beings are a composite of a Godly soul in an animal’s body. The more we see each other as animals, the less Godly we become. And if you let the tiger out of his cage at night, there is no guarantee that you will shoo him back in when morning comes.