“Listen to the Pelican!”
“…The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with robbery through them; and behold, I am about to destroy them from the earth.” (Bereishis 6:13)
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized that they were naked….” (3:7)
A pelican went to the seashore to catch some fish. It thrust its beak into the water, coming up with a large fish. The fish begged for mercy. “Please let me go. Don’t kill me. Take pity on a creature that was formed by Hashem.”
The pelican was about to release the fish when it noticed a small fish hanging out of the mouth of the larger fish. Apparently, the larger fish had been about to swallow this small fish when the pelican caught the larger fish. The pelican said to the larger fish, “You are a fraud! Why should I take pity on you and not eat you when you yourself were about to do the same thing to the small fish?” (sefer Talelei Oros, quoting this analogy from Rabbi Yosef Shaul Nathansohn zt”l, a 19th century Polish rav)
Noach’s generation was morally perverse and decrepit. They also served idols. Rashi (6:13) indicates that these were the reasons that the people were punished. Yet, Rashi also says that their decree was sealed because of theft. If their actions were so terrible why weren’t they destroyed because of them? Why was their fate only sealed because of theft?
Hashem had granted Noach’s generation excessive goodness. They were prosperous and happy and felt safe in their homes (Talmud Sanhedrin 108A). They were healthy and lived long lives (Midrash 36:1). Despite that, they didn’t value Hashem’s goodness and they sinned terribly. During the last seven days before the start of the Flood, Hashem even gave them a “taste” of the World to Come so they could appreciate what they would be losing if they continued sinning. Unfortunately, they continued sinning. (Talmud Sanhedrin 108B).
After the Jews had sinned with the golden calf, Hashem wanted to destroy them. Moshe davened to Hashem, “blaming” Hashem for their actions. “Master of the Universe, because of the gold and silver that you lavished upon Israel during the exodus from Egypt until they said enough [dai]; it was this wealth that caused Israel to make the Golden Calf.” (Talmud Berachos 32A) Hashem listened to Moshe’s pleas. Although the Jews were severely punished, they were not destroyed.
Rabbi Shimshon Chaim Nachmani zt”l (In sefer Zera Shimshon 2 by Rabbi Nachman Seltzer) says that the people of Noach’s generation could have defended their abominable and perverse actions, using the same defense strategy that Moshe Rabbeinu had used. They could have “blamed” Hashem. They could have claimed that they felt compelled to sin because of the incredible and overwhelming goodness with which Hashem had showered them. They could have said that it was too hard to live a moral life because they were surrounded by so much luxury. However, since they also stole, they proved that their possible defense of having sinned because of too much prosperity, was a fraudulent defense.
Thus, this generation sinned horribly with their immorality and idol worship. Yet, despite their abominable sins, they would not have been destroyed. However, they sealed their own fate by stealing. Since they stole, they negated their only defense. It was their stealing that was the final straw and led to their destruction.