October 23rd-24th, 1998
4 Cheshvan, 5759
"And as for Me--Behold, I am about to bring the Flood-waters upon the earth to
destroy all flesh in which there is a breath of life from under the heavens; everything
that is in the earth shall expire. But I will establish My covenant with you, and
you shall enter the Ark--you, your sons, your wife and your sons' wives with you.
And from all that lives, of all flesh, two of each shall you bring into the Ark to
keep alive with you; they shall be male and female." (6:17-19; Artscroll
Let us ask two questions on these verses from our parsha--one relating to a small detail
of word choice, a second regarding a very blatant logistical difficulty in the
living capacity of Noach's ark.
First, what does the Torah need with the grandiloquent introduction, "And as for Me,
behold (v'ani hin'ni)?" Let the Almighty just declare simply to Noach, "I
am about to bring the Flood-waters upon the earth." The message sounds weighty
enough on its own.
A quick note to justify seeming nitpicky: nothing is random or superfluous in the Chumash
(the Five Books). The Talmud and Midrash, our traditional oral understanding of the
Written Torah, reveal new halachos and uncover deeper layers of meaning in every apparent
disjointed phrase, nonsequitur, repetition, or subtle alteration of phrasing. This
is why Rashi's immortal commentary is so crucial for those of us who (at present time)
lack an encyclopedic knowledge of the Oral Traditon; with grace and brevity--and
encycolopedic knowledge--he chooses from that tradition the teachings best suited to iron
out the basic difficulties we encounter in the text of the Chumash ...and to open our
minds and hearts to the thought of our Sages.
The word, hin'ni (behold), always implies being ready to do the will of someone who has
requested something (Gur Aryeh). But it doesn't seem, in this context, that anyone
has requested anything of the Almighty. Therefore, Rashi cites an oral teaching in
Midrash Rabbah that clarifies the matter, showing that Hashem--by using the word,
referring back to an earlier interchange between Himself and the angels:
"Said the ministering angels to the Lord: ' Sovereign of the
Universe! What is man, that Thou art mindful of him, and the son of man, that Thou
thinkest of him? [a verse from Psalms: 8, 5]. This trouble, for what has it been created?
' If so, said He to them, Sheep and oxen, all of them, why were they
created...A tower full of good things and no guests-what pleasure has its owner in having
Said they to Him: ' Sovereign of the Universe! O Lord,
Lord, how glorious is Thy name in all the earth [ib. 10]. Do what pleaseth Thee!
(Genesis Rabbah: 8, 6; Soncino translation.)
When Hashem was about to create man, the angels, with admirable insight, saw the potential
this creature would have for spoiling all of G-d's marvelous handiwork. "This
trouble [!], for what has it been created?" G-d countered by explaining that
the purpose of the whole Creation, the reason for which all the plants and animals were
created in the first place--the tachlis, in Hebrew--was man. "This
trouble" was to be the guest of honor. To give of His goodness to a creature
who, with free will, could choose to emulate Him and perfect the world through following
His will: this was the purpose of G-d's Creation.
After ten generations (Adam to Noach) of mankind's spiritual decline, however, culminating
in an age of universal theft and immorality, Hashem conceded the angels' basic position,
as it were: "And as for Me, behold--Rashi: "Now I am prepared to agree with
those who pressed me and said before Me already, 'What is man, that thou art mindful of
him?'"-- I am about to bring the Flood-waters on the earth...
(Of course, Hashem--the True and Incorrigible Idealist -- thankfully chose to preserve a
remnant of mankind, from whom we are all descended, to have another go of it in the next
round. As we say in the Modeh Ani when we wake up every morning, "Great is Your
As for our second question, perhaps anyone learning Chumash with his common sense intact
will have asked it. If not, don't worry: the great Ramban (Nachmanidies) -- probably
the next most celebrated commentary on Chumash, after Rashi, and master of Kabbalah and
common sense--has asked it for us. How could an ark, even of such massive
proportions as specified by
the Torah (more than one and a half football fields long, almost 100 feet wide and over 50
feet high) possibly hold two of every species of creature? (Of every insect, we
might well say!)
He concludes that this was an instance of "a miracle of a small space containing a
great quantity"--something which occurs elsewhere in the Chumash as well.
And then Ramban goes on to address a follow-up question we might have. Since Hashem is
making a miracle anyway to pull this off, why not save Noach and his family a lot of
intensive labor (120 years) and command him to build a very small ark--economy size?
The two answers he gives both shed light on important
ways in which Hashem deals with the world. First, Hashem wanted the ark big so that
it would take a long time to build; then everybody would find out about it, talk about it,
think about it...and, perhaps, alter their ways and do teshuvah. There was plenty of
opportunity to offset G-d's decree.
Hashem gives us the time and the chance to repent.
Second, Hashem reduces the scope of all miracles in the Torah and the Prophets as much as
possible: "whatever is humanly possible is done, with the balance left to
Heaven." (Rabbi Chavel translation.) Think of Moshe stretching out his
staff before Hashem split the Red Sea. Or, better, the tradition that it was only
when Nachshon ben Aminadav of the tribe of Yehuda had actually entered the sea, and the
water reached his neck, that the sea split.
We have to do all that we are able, and only then, can
we expect Heaven to help us go beyond.
Even in the realm of miracles, we are partners with
Insights Into Genesis
Insights Into Exodus
Edelstein is Director of the Savannah Kollel/ Savannah Torah Education Project. Phone:
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Is the universe 5700 years old...or 57 billion?
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