FROM THE TORAH
Last week’s Sedra Bereysheet reflects the independent spirit of Man although made by God in His own image and likeness (cf. Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1). Ultimately the Eternal regretfully recognizes that Man, as created, inclines to do evil (Genesis 6:5). So He determines to destroy him, and his animals, from upon the earth. But Noah, we are told in the last verse, “found favor in the sight of the Eternal” (Genesis 6:8). In this week’s Sedra Noach, righteous Noah becomes God’s agent to save his family and a remnant of the animals from a deluge upon the earth. From them a new world would be generated. God would establish a covenant between Himself and the survivors and their offspring, promising never again to destroy all flesh with a flood. The rainbow that appears when the sky becomes cloudy will in the future serve as a reminder to God of this covenant. Noah’s three sons are identified with nations. The genealogy of the line of son Shem is presented. It connects Shem’s father Noah with Abraham through ten descending generations. More broadly, all people are confidently unified in speech, and some are so ambitious as to create a city with its tower touching heaven. The Eternal thwarts their effort by disunifying their language. Abraham’s father Terach begins his family’s migration towards the land of Canaan.
The Saga of Noah
Noah and the Ark
These are the generations of Noah (Noach). Noah, himself a righteous man, was without blemish in his lineage (“in his generations”) (Genesis 6:9). Noah walked with God. His three sons were Shem, Ham and Japheth.
The earth has become corrupt before God. It is filled with violence. All flesh has corrupted its way upon the earth. God discloses to Noah the end of all flesh: As they have filled the earth with violence, “I shall destroy them from the earth” (Genesis 6:13)!
God instructs Noah to make an ark of gopher wood, with compartments, covered inside and out with pitch, 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, 30 cubits high. It is to have an opening for daylight and an entrance in its side. It is to have three decks.
To Preserve Life
“I am about to bring a flood of water upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which there is the breath of life from under heaven…” (Genesis 6:17). But God will establish His covenant with Noah. Noah is to enter the ark together with his sons, his wife and his sons’ wives, and he is to take two of all flesh, male and female, to keep alive with him and to take of everything that is eaten to store it as food. Noah does all that God commands him to do.
The Eternal says to Noah, “Come with your household Into the ark as I have found you righteous before Me in this generation” (Genesis 7:1). Take seven pairs of every pure animal, a male and its mate, and of every animal that is not pure take two, a male and its mate, in order to enliven their offspring upon the face of all the earth. For in seven days I shall bring rain upon the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I shall blot out from the earth all that exists that I have created. Noah does all that the Eternal has commanded him.
Chronology of the Waters
Noah is 600 years old when his family and the animals, pure and impure, birds and land creatures, domestic and wild, two by two, male and female, come to him and enter the ark.
In seven days the waters of the flood are upon the earth. On the seventeenth day of the Second Month, all of the subterranean fountains, along with the gates of heaven, are opened. Rain falls upon the earth for forty days and forty nights. And the Eternal closes up the ark for their protection.
When the flood has been upon the earth for forty days, the waters are so great that they raise the ark and the ark moves upon the surface of the waters. The waters increase fifteen cubits upward so that the highest mountains are covered. All in whose nostrils is the breath of the spirit of life perish, all that move over the earth, both the birds and the beasts. Only Noah survives, along with those who are with him in the ark. The waters persist upon the earth for 150 days.
The Waters Diminish
God is aware of Noah and all of the animals that are with him in the ark. God causes a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subside. The subterranean fountains and the windows of heaven are closed, the rain from heaven is restrained, so that the waters are diminished at the end of 150 days. On the seventeenth day of the Seventh Month, the ark rests on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continue to recede until the tenth day of the Tenth Month. On the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains appear.
A Raven and a Dove
At the end of forty days, Noah opens a window of the ark and releases a raven. It flies away and returns, repeatedly, until the waters are dried up. He sends forth a dove to see if the waters have diminished from upon the face of the earth. Not finding a resting place for the sole of its foot, the dove returns to Noah, who holds out his hand and takes it back to him into the ark. Noah waits seven days and sends out the dove again. It returns to him in the evening with the leaf of an olive plucked in its mouth, whereupon Noah knows that the waters have receded from upon the earth. He waits another seven days and sends out the dove again. It does not return to him again.
Thus, in the 601st year, in the First, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from upon the earth. Noah removes the covering of the ark and looks out upon dry ground. On the twenty-seventh day of the Second Month, the earth is dry entirely. God instructs Noah to bring out of the ark all of his family and all of the animals that are with them. “Let them teem upon the earth, be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 8:17)!
Noah builds an altar to the Eternal and offers burnt offerings thereon of each kind of pure animal and pure bird. The Eternal recognizes the pleasing aroma and promises never again to curse the ground because of man or to strike down every living being, “for the inclination of the heart of man is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). All the days of the earth these will not cease: seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night.
God blesses Noah and his sons, telling them to fill the earth through their progeny and assuring them that all living creatures of land, air and sea, will fear them. Every living creature will be permitted for food, as were green herbs before, but not “flesh in its life, its blood” (Genesis 9:4). Moreover, “whoever spills the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be spilled, for in the image of God did He make Man” (Genesis 9:6). God assures Noah and his sons, both for themselves and for their progeny, that He is establishing His covenant with them and with all who come forth from the ark, that He will never again bring a flood to cut off all flesh or destroy the earth. “My bow do I establish in the clouds to be the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth” (Genesis 9:13), reminding God of His covenantal promise not to bring another flood.
NOAH AND HIS SONS
From Noah’s three sons, who emerge from the ark after the flood, all of the earth was populated. Noah himself begins as a man of the earth by planting a vineyard. He drinks of the wine and becomes drunk, exposing himself inside his tent. When his son Ham, progenitor of Canaan, sees his father’s nakedness, he tells his two brothers, Shem and Japheth, outside. They cover up their father’s nakedness with a mantle, keeping their backs towards him so that they do not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awakes from his wine, he realizes what his youngest son has done to him and curses Canaan to be “a servant of servants” (Genesis 9:25) to his brothers. He blesses the Eternal as the God of Shem and asks for abundance for Japheth and for Japheth to dwell in the tents of Shem. Noah lives another 350 years after the flood, altogether 950 years.
SONS AND NATIONS
Japheth had seven sons: of these, his son Gomer had three sons, and his son Javan had four. From these the nation islands branched out in their respective lands, languages, ethnic and national groups.
Ham had four sons: of these his son Cush had five sons, and Cush’s son Raamah had two sons, and Cush begat in addition Nimrod, who became known as a mighty hunter before the Eternal. The primary lands of his kingdom were Babel, Erech and Accad, all in the land of Shinar, and from that land came Assyria. Nineveh was among the cities he built. Ham’s son Mitzrayim (Egypt) was the father of seven nations, and from them descended the Philistines. The first-born of Ham’s son Canaan was Sidon; Canaan was also the father of Heth and nine nations, among them the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, and the Hivites. The Canaanite families spread out so that their borders extended from Sidon to Gerar near Gaza and to places which included Sodom and Gomorrah.
Shem, the older brother of Japheth, was the father of all the children of Eber. His sons were Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. Aram had four sons, including Uz. Arpachshad begat Shelach, and Shelach begat Eber. To Eber were born two sons: Peleg, so called because the world was divided in his days, and Joktan. Joktan begat thirteen sons, among them Sheba. Their settlement extended from Mesha towards Sefarah, the mountain in the east.
THE TOWER OF BABEL
All of the earth had a single language. People migrated from the east and settled in a valley in the land of Shinar. They baked bricks hard as stone and devised for themselves a plan, “Let us build a city with a tower reaching the heavens and make for ourselves a name, lest we be scattered over the face of the earth” (Genesis 11:4)!
The Eternal observes the city and the tower which they begin to build as a single people with a single language. He sees that there is no limit to what they could thus achieve. So He determines, “Let us confound their speech there so that no one will understand the tongue of another” (Genesis 11:7). The Eternal scattered them from there over the face of all the earth so that they stopped building the city. For that reason the place was called Babel, for the Eternal made the language of all the earth seem like a babble.
Next Ten Generations
THE LINE OF SHEM
Each named descendant, through the eighteenth generation, produced sons and daughters.
Numbered according to its respective named generations,
as the continuation of the Line of Seth in Sedra Bereysheet, cf. Genesis 4:25-5:32 :
He was 100 years old when he begat Arpachshad, two years after the Flood,
and lived altogether 600 years.
He was 35 years old when he begat Shelach and lived altogether 438 years.
He was 30 years old when he begat Eber and lived altogether 433 years.
He was 34 years old when he begat Peleg and lived altogether 464 years.
He was 30 years old when he begat Reu and lived altogether 239 years.
He was 32 years old when he begat Serug and lived altogether 239 years.
He was 30 years old when he begat Nachor and lived altogether 230 years.
He was 29 years old when he begat Terach and lived altogether 148 years.
He was 70 years old when he had begotten Abram, Nachor and Haran,
and lived altogether 205 years.
20 Abram, Nachor and Haran
Haran begat Lot and died during the lifetime of Terach in his birthplace, Ur Kasdim.
Abram married Sarai.
Nachor married Milkah, daughter of Haran.
Haran was the father of Milkah and Yiskah.
Sarai was barren.
EPILOGUE OF TERACH
Terach took Abram, Lot and Sarai, to leave Ur Kasdim for the land of Canaan. They came as far as Charan and settled there. Terach died in Charan.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Noach
Renewal of the Eternal’s Covenantal Promise
Sing for joy, O barren woman, for the children of the abandoned shall outnumber the children of the married, says the Eternal. Enlarge your dwellings, spread to the right and to the left, as your offspring shall possess nations and inhabit cities that were desolate. Fear not, forget the shame of your youth, the reproach of your widowhood, for your husband is your Maker, “The Lord of Hosts” is His name. Your redeemer is “The Holy One of Israel”; He is called “The God of All the Earth.”
The Eternal beckons to you as a woman once forsaken and dejected but now remembered as a wife of youth: in a brief wrathful moment I hid My face from you, but in boundless lovingkindness I now embrace you. As the waters of Noah, which I promised not to bring again upon the earth, so do I promise not again to be wroth with you. Though the mountains and the hills may be moved, My lovingkindness towards you shall not fail, nor shall My pledge of well-being. Thus says your Condoler, the Eternal.
Downcast, storm-tossed, unconsoled—I shall yet surround you with precious stones. “All of your children shall be learned of the Eternal, and great shall be the peace of your children” (Isaiah 54:13). In righteousness shall you be settled; of oppression you shall have no fear. If any should stir up strife, it will not be from Me. You shall defeat whoever rises to attack or accuse you. This is the due of the servants of the Eternal, whose vindication is from Me.
All who are thirsty, come to the water; all who lack money, buy wine and milk for nil! Why spend money for that which is not bread, your wages for that which does not satisfy? Listen to Me, and you shall enjoy an abundance. Let Me make with you an everlasting covenant like the faithful lovingkindnesses I extended to David. As I made him My witness to the nations, so shall you summon a nation you do not know, so shall they come running to you for the sake of the Eternal, your God, for the Holy One of Israel, the Source of your glory.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Genesis Rabbah 30:9
Righteous—In His Generation
The Torah calls Noah, “a righteous man…in his generations” (Genesis 6:9). What is the import of those words, “in his generations?” Rabbi Judah understood them to mean that only in his particularly wicked generation was Noah considered righteous by contrast; had he lived in the more righteous age of Moses or Samuel, he would not have been considered righteous by comparison. Rabbi Nechemia, on the other hand, inferred from the same words that since Noah was righteous even in the wicked environment of his generation, then in the age of Moses or Samuel how much the moreso since he would have “fit in!”
Genesis Rabbah 30:7
Noah, A Man
“Noah was a man, righteous…”
As David’s time to die drew near,
he charged Solomon his son:
“I am going the way of all the earth:
therefore be strong,
and show yourself a man!”
(I Kings 2:1-2)
Wherever Scripture says “man,” it means not only righteous as an individual but also righteous as a member of society. This was Noah’s distinction:
When the Eternal saw the evil of humanity, He said, “I shall not be patient with man forever…let their days be another 120 years” (Genesis 6:3)! Taking this as God’s decree, Noah occupied himself during those 120 years repeatedly growing cedars and cutting them down as wood for the ark (more than would actually be necessary for the building of one large ark!). This was to arouse the curiosity of his generation.
Many people asked him, “Why are you doing this?” He answered: “The Master of the Universe has decreed that He will bring a flood upon the world,” hoping that they would repent to avoid their destruction. But they responded to Noah: If He brings a flood, it will only be on your house! Then, when Methusaleh died after a long life of 969 years (Genesis 5:27), they said: See how the “flood” has come upon the house of that man!
When Job protested the arrogance of his friends, “Regarding misfortune (la-peed)—it is contemptible to the thought (ashtut) of the fortunate, but they (also) are prone to lose (mo’adey) their footing (ragel)” (Job 12:5), he could have been alluding to Noah and his generation: A torchbearer (lapeed) is contemptible to the hardness (ashtot) of those who feel secure, but they are prone to the “seasonal weeklong festivals” (mo’adey ragel), which, being two (spring and fall), refer to the two extended disasters, one above and one below, “the water sluices of heaven” and “the fountains of subterranean seas” (Genesis 7:11).
“In a place where there are no men,
you strive to be a man!”
(Mishnah Avot 2:5)
Genesis Rabbah 30:10
“Noah Walked With God”
Why does the Torah say, “Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9)? Rabbi Judah understood this to mean that Noah was like the younger, less mature, of two children, whose parent says, “Walk alongside me.” However, to the older, more mature child, the parent would say, “Come, walk in front of me,” as God said to Abraham, “Walk before Me” (Genesis 17:1)!
Rabbi Nechemia saw Noah as one slogging through the mud. To him God said, “Before you sink, walk alongside Me.” When Abraham, on the other hand, had some small success in enlightening his neighbors, God said to him, “Before you exhaust your efforts as My champion in Charan, ‘Go out from your land…to the land that I shall show you’ (Genesis 12:1), to the Land of Israel, and there, ‘Walk before Me’ (Genesis 17:1), Illumine the path before Me! Make My Name known in all the world!”
Rabbi Yochanan said: God is the Shepherd who looks after His flock. Resh Lakish said: God is the Monarch whose courtiers proceed before Him. According to Rabbi Yochanan, we depend upon God. According to Resh Lakish, God depends upon us.
Genesis Rabbah 31:5
The Destruction of All Flesh
What justified the destruction of “all flesh?” God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me because the earth is filled with violence because of them” (Genesis 6:13). “All flesh has corrupted its way upon the earth” (Genesis 6:12)!
But how could that be? Usually only some are perpetrators, while the others are victims! The answer is that in Noah’s age there was the violence of collective corruption, which is to be distinguished from crime as defined by the law. For example, there is a legal minimum of stolen property before one can be indicted for thievery. So each of the people in Noah’s generation conspired to steal just below the indictable minimum. The Holy One blessed be He said to them, “You have avoided the strict judgment of law, thus will I treat you outside of the strict letter of the law.”
In this way we can understand the verses of Job: “Their cord of life shall surely be severed; they shall die but not in strict accordance with the wisdom (of Torah); from morning until evening they will be crushed; without the appointment of a judge they shall perish forever” (Job 4:21,20).
Talmud Sanhedrin 108a
The generation of the Flood dismissed the divine benefit which enabled the earth’s resources: “Do we have any need of God,” they argued, “except for a few drops of rain? After all, we have rivers and fountains which supply an abundance of water!” The Holy One blessed be He observed sadly, “With the good that I provide, they provoke Me.” So, on the seventeenth day of the Second Month, the subterranean fountains and the gates of heaven were opened, and rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights (cf. Genesis 7:11-12).
Of the Land of Israel God said, “It is not like the land of Egypt which you left, where you plant seed and build waterways from the flooding of the Nile with your own labor…instead from the rain of heaven will it drink water, a land which the Eternal your God watches over…if you heed My commandments, I shall grant the rain of your land according to its season” (Deuteronomy 11:10-14). The deluge which God brought upon the earth was a combination of the rain of the Land of Israel and the flooding of the land of Egypt!
Zohar Genesis I:59b
Noah and the Ark
“From Eden there flowed a river which watered the garden” (Genesis 2:10), bringing life and pleasure to all. Similarly, Noah was “the man of the earth” (Genesis 9:20), converging with it and enlivening it like the river from Eden, the ark’s divine consort, whom God told, “I shall establish My covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark” (Genesis 6:18). The ark was the ark of the covenant, for Noah entered it to cohabit with it “to enliven their offspring upon the face of the earth” (Genesis 7:3).
Genesis Rabbah 33:1
The Righteous and the Wicked
All who remained on earth were swept away by the subterranean waters, “the great deep” (Genesis 7:11), while Noah and all who were with him in the ark came to rest upon “the mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8:4). The Psalmist praised God’s righteousness “as the mountains of God” and His judgments as “the great deep” (Psalms 36:7). Rabbi Ishmael learned from this that the righteous on earth, who have accepted the Torah from the mountains of God, enjoy God’s righteousness to the extent of those exalted mountains, while the wicked, who have not accepted the Torah from the mountains of God, suffer God’s judgments to the extent of the great deep.
But Rabbi Akiba observed that in reality not only the wicked but, as we observe, even the righteous suffer God’s judgments from the depths of the great deep! Rabbi Akiba offers an explanation: God settles here and now with the righteous for the few wicked acts that they have committed in this world, in order to shower them entirely with their just rewards in the world to come. Whereas, the wicked who seem to prosper in this world are receiving full reward up front for whatever little good they have done in this world, so that they may receive for their evil only divine judgment in the world to come.
Rabbi Yonatan taught in the name of Rabbi Yoshia: Just as those mountains are weighted over the deep to prevent it from coming up and flooding the world, so also are the righteous weighted against punishments in order to prevent them from breaking out and burning up the world. Just as the mountains are sown and fruitful, so shall the deeds of the righteous bear fruit; and just as the deep cannot be sown and does not bear fruit, so shall the deeds of the wicked not bear fruit.
Rabbi Judah bar Simon applied to Noah this verse: “God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark” (Genesis 8:1). God is saying: When I remember Noah, I do not remember him alone, but together with all that were with him in the ark. The deeds of the righteous, like the deeds of Noah, bear fruit.
Genesis Rabbah 33:3
Delimitation of “His tender mercies”
“God remembers Noah
and all of the animals,
wild and domestic,
that are with him in the ark.”
“The Lord is good to all,
and His tender mercies
are over all His works.”
“Over all His works,” no matter what?
1 Rabbi Levi interpreted: “The Lord is good to all, that is, His tender mercies are over all that are His works…” identifying His “works” with His “faithful ones” in accordance with what follows, “…your works shall praise you…your faithful ones shall bless you” (ibid. 10).
2 Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman interpreted: “The Lord is good to all who consider that His tender mercies are over all His works…” in accordance with what precedes, “They shall sing of Your righteousness: gracious and merciful is the Eternal…” (ibid. 7-8).
3 Rabbi Joshua of Sichnin in the name of Rabbi Levi interpreted: “The Lord is good to all by sharing of His merciful nature with His works” in accordance with the illustration provided by Rabbi Tanchuma and Rabbi Abba bar Avin in the name of Rabbi Acha, wherein a year of famine commences and His creatures show compassion one for the other, and the Holy One, blessed be He, is filled with compassion over them!
It happened in the days of Rabbi Tanchuma that Israel was in need of a public fast (to avert a year of famine). He was asked to decree a fast, he decreed a fast, but no rain came down. The next day he was asked to decree a fast, he decreed a fast, but still no rain came down. For a third day also he was asked to decree a fast, he decreed a fast, but still again no rain came down. Whereupon Rabbi Tanchuma ascended the pulpit and preached to them: My children, be filled with compassion for each other, and the Holy One, blessed be He, will be filled with compassion upon you! He delivered this message even while they were distributing tzedakah to the poor!
His point became apparent when a man was discovered giving money to a woman whom he had divorced. Scandalized, people came to Rabbi Tanchuma and said: Rabbi, here we sit while the very sin for which we suffer is here in our midst! He asked them: Why, what have you seen? They answered: We saw such-and-such a man giving money to the woman whom he divorced! Rabbi Tanchuma then summoned the man to appear before all of them in order to explain himself. Accordingly he explained: Rabbi, I saw that she was in great need and so I was filled with compassion for her. At that moment Rabbi Tanchuma turned his face up to heaven and said: Master of Worlds, if this man, who no longer owes this woman her support, nonetheless sees her in great need and is thereby filled with compassion for her, how much more should You, who are called “gracious and merciful” (ibid. 8), be filled with compassion for us, who are children of Your beloved Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! Whereupon the rains came down and all of the world was replenished.
It also happened that Rabbenu was sitting laboring in Torah in front of the Babylonian Synagogue in Tsippori when a lamb passed before him on its way to slaughter. Its bleating seemed as if to say, “Rescue me!” To which Rabbenu responded, “What can I do for you, as for that were you created!” ̶ As a result Rabbenu was afflicted with dental maladies for thirteen years. But, according to Rabbi Yosi son of Rabbi Avin, for all of those thirteen years that Rabbenu was afflicted with dental maladies, there was no miscarriage in the Land of Israel and no woman delivered a child in pain. ̶ Sometime later a reptile passed before Rabbenu’s daughter, and when she tried to kill it, he said to her, “My daughter, leave it alone, for it is written, ‘His tender mercies are over all His works’” (ibid. 9)!
4 Another opinion interpreted: “The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies were over all His works” that were in the ark in accordance with the words, “God remembers Noah and all of the animals, wild and domestic, that are with him in the ark” (Genesis 8:1)!
Genesis Rabbah 33:3
Exceptions to Divine Reference
“God remembers Noah
and all of the animals,
wild and domestic,
that are with him in the ark.”
Said Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman: Woe to those wicked who overturn the measure of Compassion in the Divine Name to result in His measure of Judgment. Usually, wherever we find “The Lord [literally YKVK, the Divine Name],” His Compassion is implied, such as “The Lord, the Lord…merciful and gracious” (Exodus 34:6). But there are citations introducing our Sedra of such extreme wickedness that the Divine Name of Compassion is co-opted for Judgment: “The Lord saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth” (Genesis 6:5); The Lord regretted having made man (Genesis 6:6); The Lord said, “Let Me blot out the man…” (Genesis 6:7)!
But on the other hand, blessed are the righteous who overturn the measure of Judgment in the generic Divine Reference to result in His measure of Compassion. Usually, wherever we find “God [Elokim, generic reference to God, which means ‘Judges’],” His Judgment is implied, such as “Do not curse Elohim” (Exodus 22:27), viz. the judges who render an unfavorable verdict, and “The case of each of them shall come before ha-Elohim (the judges)” (Exodus 22:8). But there are citations of such righteousness that the generic Divine Reference of Judgment is co-opted for Compassion: “Hearing their groaning, God remembers His covenant…” (Exodus 2:24); “God remembers Rachel and opens her womb” (Genesis 30:22); and ̶
“God remembers Noah…” (Genesis 8:1).
Remembrance for what?
God remembered Noah for his Righteousness, viz. the care and sustenance that Noah provided all of the animals during the twelve months “that they were with him in the ark” (Genesis 8:1).
Genesis Rabbah 33:6
No Resting Place
Noah “sent forth the dove…
but the dove did not find a resting place
for the sole of its foot…
so it returned to him, to the ark.”
Judah bar Nachman said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish: If it had found a resting place, it would not have returned. Similarly, “Judah has gone into exile…she has dwelled among the nations, she has not found a resting place” (Lamentations 1:3): If she had found a resting place, she would not have returned. This, then, should be considered in Moses’s admonition to Israel, “Among those nations you shall not be tranquil, and there shall not be a resting place for the sole of your foot” (Deuteronomy 28:65): Were they to find a resting place, they would not return!
Genesis Rabbah 34:14
Mechilta Yitro deVachodesh 8
The Image of Our King
When Noah and his sons were released from the ark to repopulate the earth, they were warned by God, “Whoever spills the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be spilled, for in the image of God did He make Man” (Genesis 9:6). Rabbi Akiba explained: If one spills the blood of another, it is as if he diminishes the image of God.
This may also be inferred from the two tablets of The Ten Commandments. On top of one tablet was written, “I the Eternal am your God…” (Exodus 20:2), and on top of the other, across from the first, “Do not murder!” (Exodus 20:13), thereby teaching us: Whoever spills the blood of another is considered as having reduced the image of the King!
A king of flesh and blood displays his likeness in pictures and statues throughout his realm and strikes his profile on its coins, but others may come along and take down his pictures, break his statues into pieces, and invalidate his coins, thereby reducing the image of the king. So does one who spills the blood of another diminish the image of our King, “for in the image of God did He make Man” (Genesis 9:6).
Genesis Rabbah 38:3-4
Repaying Good or Evil with Evil
Noah and his descendants were rescued from the Flood, and the earth had a single language. But the generation of Babel repaid God’s favor with evil, and the consequence is taught: “Whoever returns evil in place of good, evil does not depart from his house” (Proverbs 17:13). Judah bar Rabbi taught: The generation of Babel failed to learn from those who came before them.
But Rabbi Yochanan added this warning: “Whoever returns evil in place of evil, evil does not depart from his house either,” and Rabbi Alexandri cited that teaching in the Torah: “If you see the animal of your enemy struggling under its burden, should you refrain from releasing it? No, you should work with your enemy to release the animal” (Exodus 23:5)!
Genesis Rabbah 38:6
Comparison of Generations
“All of the earth had a single language
and single [achadim] words [devarim].”
What is the meaning of “and single words?”
Rabbi Elazar: “And secret [achadim, literally “closed”] communications [dibburim],” in contradistinction to the sin of the Generation of the Flood, whose sin is explicit in the Torah—“The earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11), and “All flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth” (ibid. 12)—this generation, the Generation of the Dispersion, exploited its single language (ease of communication) to devise clandestine plans, which are not explicit in the Torah.
Rabbi Yochanan: “And words of reproach [devarim] regarding the two ones [achadim],” that is to say, against both the Eternal, who is “One” (Shema: Deuteronomy 6:4), and Abraham His heir, whom the Prophet calls “One” (Ezekiel 33:24). As for Abraham, he is like a barren mule without his own heirs (at that time, before Isaac was born), his righteousness is worth nothing because it will not be passed on! As for the Eternal “One,” it was not right for Him to arrogate the upper realms for Himself and leave us the lower, so let us build for ourselves a tower crowned by an idol holding a fierce sword, as if to make war against Him!
Another Opinion: “And common [achadim in the sense of oneness, unity] things [devarim], in that whatever one person possessed, every other person possessed the same thing, i.e., equality of wealth.
Rabbi Elazar raised a question that relates to both Rabbi Yochanan’s explanation and that of Another Opinion. Who is worse: One who tells the king that it makes no difference who occupies the palace—or–One who tells the king that he, and not the king, should occupy the palace? Certainly one who tells the king that he, and not the king, should occupy the palace! Now what did the Generation of the Flood say about the King? Only, “what is the Almighty that we should serve Him, and what benefit is there for us to approach Him” (Job 21:15)? But what did the Generation of the Dispersion say about the King? It is not right for Him to arrogate the upper realms for Himself and leave us the lower, so let us build for ourselves a tower crowned by an idol holding a fierce sword, as if to make war against Him! Yet the Generation of the Flood, who did not seek to drive the King out of His palace but arguably ignored the King, perished in their entirety, while the Generation of the Dispersion, which sought to displace the King, survived! Why?
The Generation of the Flood perished in their entirety because they stole from one another, as was said, “They moved established landmarks and seized flocks to feed them as if their own” (Job 24:2). But the Generation of the Dispersion loved one another, as was said, “All of the earth was a single language [safah]” (Genesis 11:1), which can be understood, “on a single plane [shafah],” humble [shafui] towards each other!
So teaches Rabbi: Great is peace, as even when Israel worships idols, but there is peace among them, it is as if the Omnipresent says, “I have no power over them (to punish them) because there is peace between them!” “Ephraim is joined with idols; let him alone” (Hosea 4:17)! But when they are divided, what does the Prophet say? “Their heart is divided; now they shall be punished” (Hosea 10:2)!
Thus you learn: Great is peace, and hated is division!
Genesis Rabbah 38:8
Tanchuma Buber Noach 28
A City and a Tower
The people of Shinar determined to “build a city
with a tower reaching the heavens.”
Rabbi Yudan observed: When the Eternal exiled them, the Torah says, “They stopped building the city” (Genesis 11:8), but it does not say that they stopped building the tower. In fact the Holy One blessed be He allowed them at first to succeed in building the tower. Why? Because if they had not succeeded, they would have thought, “If we had built the tower, we could have gone up to heaven and waged war against Him!” Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, let them succeed at first in order to demonstrate their limits in the world. According to Rabbi Chiya bar Abba, a third of the tower was burned, a third collapsed, and a third remained standing.
Pirkey d’Rabbi Eliezer 24
What is most precious?
“Terach lived seventy years,
and he begat Abram…”
The tower under construction had steps on both its east side and its west side. Those who were carrying bricks up would ascend on the east side; after they completed their delivery, they would descend on the west side. If a worker fell and was killed, no one paid attention to him. But when a single brick fell, all would stop and mourn the loss, “Woe is us! When will another be brought up in its stead?”
Then one day Abram son of Terach came to observe the great construction and all who were engaged in it. He cursed them in the name of his God, “Confuse their speech, O Lord, divide it! For I see violence and strife in the city. By day and by night they encircle its walls; evil and trouble are in its midst.” (Psalms 55:10)
Abram’s words were dismissed by the people as a stone that is thrown upon the ground. But a stone that is “chosen and good” (I Samuel 9:2), however much others fail to appreciate it, is destined to become the cornerstone of the house. This is Abraham, of whom the Psalmist says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Psalms 118:22)!
Genesis Rabbah 38:13
“Terach lived seventy years,
and he begat Abram…”
Rabbi Chiya grandson of Rav Adda of Jaffa related: Terach, Abraham’s father, was a maker of idols. One day Terach had to leave his idol shop, putting Abraham in charge. A man entered seeking to purchase an idol. Abraham asked him, “How old are you?” The man replied, “I am sixty years old.” “Woe to him,” said Abraham, “who at the age of sixty chooses to worship a god that my father made just yesterday!” The would-be customer retreated in shame.
On another occasion a woman came carrying a dish of fine flour which she left as an offering to the idols. Abraham grabbed a club and shattered all the idols but one. He then left the club in the hand of the idol that remained. It was the biggest one.
When Terach returned, he asked his son, “Who did this to them?” Abraham replied: “We cannot lie to you. A woman brought some fine flour to be offered before them. And so when I offered it, one of them said, ‘Let me eat of it first!’ and the other said, ‘No, I shall eat of it first!’ Then the biggest idol in the shop took a club and shattered the others.” “Don’t try to fool me,” said his father, “you know full well that they have no understanding!” To that statement Abraham responded, “Let your ears hear what your mouth declares!”
The aggadah continues, based upon the genealogy from Noah:
“When Noah was 500 years old,
he begat Shem, Ham and Jephet.”
“Ham had four sons: of these his son Cush had five sons…
and Cush begat in addition Nimrod,
who became known as a mighty hunter before the Eternal.
The primary lands of his kingdom were Babel, Erech and Accad, all in the land of Shinar,
and from that land came Assyria.
Nineveh was among the cities he built…”
“Haran, Abraham’s brother, died during the lifetime of [al-p‘ney] Terach his father
in the land of his birth, in Ur Kasdim.”
As Abraham openly opposed his father’s pretension and livelihood, Terach handed him over to King Nimrod. Nimrod said to Abraham, “Let us worship fire!” Abraham replied, “Let us rather worship water, which extinguishes fire.” “Very well,” said Nimrod, “then let us worship water!” “Even better,” said Abraham, “let us worship the cloud, which is laden with water.” “Then,” said Nimrod, “let us worship the cloud!” “But then,” said Abraham, “let us worship the wind, which blows away the cloud.” “Very well,” said Nimrod, “let us worship the wind!” “But then,” proposed Abraham, “should we not worship the man, who carries the wind in his intestines?” “Scoffer!” shouted Nimrod, “you scorn me with nonsense: I worship only fire, and I will cast you into it, and let the God whom you worship come and rescue you from it!”
Now, during this exchange between Abraham and Nimrod, Abraham’s brother Haran was standing nearby, unsure of what to do or say. Unsure, as he was calculating: If Abraham prevails, then I should say, “I am with Abraham!” but if Nimrod prevails, then I should say, “I am with Nimrod!” When Abraham was, in fact, thrown into the fire and then survived to emerge unhurt, Haran was asked, “Whose side are you on, Abraham’s or Nimrod’s?” Haran answered, “I am on the side of Abraham!” Thereupon Haran, too, was thrown into the fire. But, unlike his brother, he was mortally burned and survived only long enough to be brought before [al-p‘ney] his father. Thus is written: “Haran died in the presence of [al-p‘ney] Terach his father in…Ur of the Chaldeans [Kasdim]” (Genesis 11:28), which may be understood, “Haran died on account of [al-p‘ney] Terach his father in the fire [ur] of the Chaldeans (perhaps identified with Babel or otherwise one of the idolatrous peoples he ruled) . Because their father was a maker of idols, they both were thrown into Nimrod’s idolatrous fire, from which one of them was saved and by which one of them perished!
Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 20:5
“Like the Waters of Noah”
“Sing for joy, O barren woman,
for the children of the abandoned
shall outnumber the children of the married,
says the Eternal.”
Rabbi Abba bar Kahana finds an explanation for Isaiah’s prophecy through his interpretation of the words, “Your mouth [midbarech] is lovely [naveh]” (Song of Songs 4:3): What was the Abode [Naveh] of God is now your Desolation [Midbarech]—they occupy the same space! Even though the Abode has been made a Desolation, the impure who violate the sacred space of its Ruin are as liable as those who violated the sacred space of its standing Abode. (Its Ruin is as sacred as was its Abode!)
When the Temple was standing, it raised up wicked kings like Ahaz, Manasseh and Amon, but after it had been destroyed, it was the inspiration of righteous men like Daniel and his court, Mordechai and his court, and Ezra and his court. Rabbi Acha in the name of Rabbi Yochanan applies this observation more fully to the prophecy of Isaiah: There were more righteous leaders after the time of its Destruction than there were at the time of its Abode:
“Like the waters of Noah was this to Me!”
Genesis Rabbah 34:6
“In a brief wrathful moment I hid My Face from you,
but in boundless lovingkindness I now embrace you.”
The Prophet Isaiah in Babylon assured the defeated exiles of Zion that God had allowed their conqueror to prevail for only a moment.
“As the waters of Noah,
which I promised not to bring again upon the earth,
so do I promise not again to be wroth with you.”
He likened God’s anger to “the waters of Noah”: As God swore that the waters of Noah would never again pass over the earth, so does He swear to restore you from ruin.
But in Noah’s time
how did God come to swear
that he would never again
cause a flood to pass over the whole earth?
When the earth was entirely dry, God instructed Noah to leave the ark together with his family and the animals. But Noah acted like a guardian, who is charged with the welfare of others. When the guardian’s term of service ends, he does not leave his charges until he has installed another in his place or otherwise attended to their security.
So when God ordered Noah to leave the ark with his family and all of the animals, saying, “Let them teem upon the earth; be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 8:17), Noah at first refused, protesting to God, “Should I ‘be fruitful and multiply’ so that my offspring will perish in another flood?”—He refused to leave the ark until God actually swore, “I shall never again strike down every living being as I have done” (Genesis 8:21)!
Copyright © 2022 Eric H. Hoffman