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Parshas Noach - Vol. 10, Issue 2
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Parshas Noach revolves around the flood that Hashem brought to destroy the earth. In order to save himself, his family, and all of the species of birds and animals, Hashem commanded Noach to make an ark which would measure 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits tall. One year, on a twelfth grade Chumash test, Rav Moshe Heinemann of Baltimore asked the students to determine the weight of the ark. He did not ask them to calculate the actual weight, but rather to detail how one would go about computing it.
The first key to answering this question lies in the words of Rashi, who writes (8:4) that based on the rate at which the floodwaters receded, we can conclude that the ark was submerged 11 cubits in the water. The second necessary component for this calculation is Archimedes' principle, which teaches that the weight of an object submerged in liquid is equal to the weight of the liquid that it displaces. In our case, multiplying the dimensions of the ark specified by the Torah by the depth of water in which it was submerged (300 * 50 * 11) yields a total water displacement of 165,000 cubits3.
Converting this into contemporary measurements is subject to a dispute regarding the exact length of a cubit. The two primary opinions are those of the Chazon Ish and Rav Avrohom Chaim Naeh. Their disagreement about the size of a cubit will result in a corresponding difference of opinion regarding the amount of water displaced by the ark, and its resulting weight. According to the Chazon Ish, a cubit is 22.7 inches, in which case one cubit3 is 6.77 cubic feet, and the total amount of water displaced by the ark was 1,117,050 feet3 (165,000 * 6.77) According to Rav Avrohom Chaim Naeh, a cubit is only 18.9 inches, in which case one cubit3 is 3.91 cubic feet, and the total amount of water displaced by the ark was 645150 feet3 (165,000 * 3.91).
Now that we know how much water was displaced by the ark, if we calculate the weight of the water, Archimedes' principle tells us that the ark weighed the same amount. Sea water is slightly more dense than fresh water, and it weighs approximately 64 pounds per cubic foot. Although this figure changes under extreme temperature variation, and the Gemora (Rosh Hashana 12a) teaches that the floodwaters were boiling during the 40 days of the flood, Rashi's calculation is based on the rate at which the water receded during the 150 days that followed the flood, at which time the water had presumably cooled to a more normal temperature.
As such, based on the weight of 64 pounds per cubic foot, the total weight of Noach's ark according to the Chazon Ish was 71,482,176 pounds, or 35,741 tons. According to Rav Avrohom Chaim Naeh, it weighed 41,257,728 pounds, or 20,629 tons. For comparative purposes, the Titanic weighed 46,328 tons, although it was 883 feet long, while Noach's ark was approximately 500-550 feet in length. Whether any of the students in Rav Heinemann's class came up with this analysis is unclear.
Hashem told Noach that the rainbow will be the sign of His covenant to never again destroy the earth. Does this mean that rainbows never existed prior to the flood and Hashem changed the laws of nature in order to bring about their existence, or that they occurred previously but only now achieved a new symbolic meaning?
A number of our greatest Rabbis disagree about this very question. After initially assuming that if Hashem declared that He was creating the rainbow to serve as a sign, it must have been a new creation at that time, the Ramban proceeds to quote the Greeks, who maintained that their advanced scientific knowledge indicated that a rainbow was a natural result of light shining in moist air.
As a result, the Ramban concludes that rainbows naturally occurred prior to the flood, but only took on new significance at that time. As a proof to this position, the Ramban and Rav Saadyah Gaon note that Hashem didn't say, "I am placing," which would indicate that the rainbow was created at that time, but rather, "I have placed my rainbow in the cloud as a sign of the covenant."
The Derashos HaRan (Derush 1) and the Gur Aryeh disagree. The Ran questions how something which has always existed, such as the rising of the sun in the morning, can suddenly take on symbolic properties. They both write that although scientists teach that a rainbow is a naturally-occurring phenomenon, the laws of nature prior to the flood were such that the sun's rays weren't strong enough to create a rainbow. As far as the proof from the past tense of the verb, the Ibn Ezra suggests that it can be reconciled with this opinion by reading it as saying, "I have placed - now - my rainbow in the cloud as a sign of the covenant."
On Yom Kippur we read the story of Yonah, who attempted to flee rather than fulfill Hashem's command to go rebuke the city of Nineveh and inform them of their impending destruction. While the narrative focuses on Yonah's refusal to go and its consequences, it is unclear from the text what special merit Nineveh had which warranted Hashem sending them a prophetic message encouraging them to repent their wicked ways.
This is not the first time in Tanach that we encounter the city of Nineveh. In Parshas Noach, the Torah records that Ashur went and built Nineveh. Why did he do this? Rashi explains that Ashur saw that his children were being negatively influenced by Nimrod and were joining his rebellion against Hashem through the building of the tower of Babel. Ashur did not want any part of it, so he left Bavel and built the city of Nineveh.
The Chizkuni (Bereishis 10:12) quotes a Medrash which says that in the merit of Nineveh being built by the righteous Ashur in rejection of Nimrod's scheme, its inhabitants merited Hashem sneding them a prophet to encourage them to do teshuvah so that they would not be destroyed for their sins. The verse (Yonah 3:3) describes Nineveh as ha'ir ha'gedola l'Elokim, which can be interpreted to mean that it was originally established as a city of Hashem. Had it not been that they possessed a solid foundation and only recently began to sin, they would not have merited being warned of their impending destruction. When we contemplate the fact that thousands of years had passed from the generation of Nimrod until the times of Yonah, it should inspire us to do mitzvos and act properly even if it means going against the tide, as we learn from Ashur that the merits that can be generated for our descendants by doing so are unimaginable.
It is also interesting to note that Yonah told the captain of the ship Ivri anochi (1:9) - I am an Ivri. Why didn't Yonah say Yehuda anochi - I am a Jew? The first person explicitly described as an Ivri was Avrohom (14:13), and the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 42:8) explains that this name is used to connote the fact that the entire world was on one side, and he was on the other. In a generation of idolater, Avrohom wasn't afraid to stand up for the monotheism that he knew was the truth. Similarly, Ashur was an Ivri in the sense that he rejected the plans of Nimrod and built his own city, and in that merit, his descendents were visited by a prophet who referred to himself as an òáøé.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) How many rooms were there in Noach's ark? (Yalkut Shimoni 53)
2) The Gemora in Bava Kamma (91b) derives from 9:5 that it is forbidden to injure one's body. Does having plastic surgery for cosmetic reasons violate this prohibition? (Shu"t Igros Moshe Choshen Mishpat 2:66, Shu"t Chelkas Yaakov Choshen Mishpat 31, Shu"t Minchas Yitzchok 6:105, Shu"t Minchas Shlomo 2:86, Shu"t Tzitz Eliezer 11:41, Shu"t Mishneh Halachos 4:246-7)
3) Rashi writes (9:5) that Hashem emphasized that although after the flood it became permissible to kill an animal in order to eat it, it is still forbidden for a person to kill himself. Is the prohibition against committing suicide applicable to Jews, non-Jews, or both? (Minchas Chinuch 34, Shu"t Seridei Aish 104, Nachalas Yaakov end of Masechta Kallah, Matamei Yaakov)
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