This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmos
Vol. 24 No. 2
Leah Baila bas Aryeh Leib Halevi z"l
Mendel ben Moshe z"l and Basya bas Mendel z"l
"Make for yourself a box of Gofer-wood, compartments you shall make 'the box', and you shall overlay it both on the inside and on the outside with pitch" (6:14).
It was the first boat to be built since the Creation of the world; the world had never even heard of a boat before, let alone seen one (perhaps that is why G-d referred to it as a box, and not a boat).
Bearing in mind that No'ach had never before seen a boat, and the fact that all he had to work with were the primitive tools that he himself manufactured by hand, that he succeeded to build a boat of that size that was entirely water-proof, notwithstanding that he took a hundred and twenty years to build it, was nothing short of a miracle.
At first glance, one might think that the gigantic boat that he built (300x50x39 Amos - an Amah is well over half a meter -) may have appeared adequate to suit the purpose for which it was built. The Ramban however, comments that the boat that No'ach built, plus ten boats like it would not have sufficed to accommodate all the animals that eventually lived in it for an entire year. So that too, was a miracle.
To understand the Ramban, one needs to remember that the boat accommodated two of every species in the world, and seven pairs of the Kasher species. Remember too, that every species of animal that exists today existed then. In other words, No'ach took into the boat, not just two dogs, but two Labradors, two poodles, two terriers, and so on. There were also the birds and the insects - the Ramban also points out that there are a hundred and twenty species of the bird called 'Ayo' alone- and that there exist numerous species of Kasher birds, each of which required fourteen to live in the boat.
And over and above the animals, No'ach also had to bring into the boat a year's supply of food and provisions, both for his family of eight and for all the animals - imagine how much just a single lion eats in a year! Yet another miracle regarding a relatively confined space holding a vast quantity - before of animals, now of food! And we can add the miracle of gathering all that food and taking so many animals safely into the boat!
The question is asked, if so many miracles were anyway required regarding the salvation of No'ach and his family, why did G-d trouble No'ach to 'waste' a hundred and twenty years of his life building the boat? Why did He not simply save them in a miraculous manner, as he saved Yisrael at the Yam-Suf, without them lifting a finger?
Rashi answers that the time No'ach spent building served as an opportunity for the people to do Teshuvah - when No'ach explained to them what he was doing and why. The Ramban ascribes it to the principle G-d employs in running the world by 'minimizing the miracle in order to increase man's freewill and choice' by creating a fa?ade of natural phenomena.
The G'ro presents an original way of explaining the miracle concerning the food space. Based on the fact that the words "the food that can be eaten" (in Pasuk 21) used by G-d here are the same words as those used in Shemini (11:34) in connection with the Tum'ah of food, he points out that Chazal there explain this to mean that an egg-volume, the maximum amount that person can swallow at a time, is subject to Tum'as Ochlin. In that case, he says, here too, the Torah is telling No'ach to bring into the boat, one egg-volume of each and every type of food that would be needed to feed all the occupants.
According to the G'ro therefore, the miracles regarding the animals and the food were twofold - 1). The boat accommodated all the animals. 2). The small measure of food that No'ach took into the boat increased to the point that it was sufficient to turn into the number of meals that the animal required for an entire year.
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The Dog, the Raven & Chom
When the world is in trouble, says the Gemara, marital relations are forbidden, as we find by commenting on the Pasuk in Bereishis (41:50), which informs us that Efrayim & Menasheh were born "before the years of famine arrived". Rashi explains that 'from here we learn that marital relations are prohibited during a time of famine'.
That is why, for the twelve months that the Flood lasted, all the inhabitants of No'ach's boat refrained in marital relations - all that, is except for the dog, the raven and Chom, who were unable to control their physical urges.
Consequently, G-d punished them: the dog is kept on a leash (he is controlled by man); the raven mates by spitting into its partner's mouth, and Chom's skin turned black - a sign of degradation and shame.
More about Chom
"And he said 'Cursed be Cana'an, a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers!' " (9:26).
There are a number of opinions as to what exactly Chom did to his father; according to some, he actually castrated him. Why? Because he did not want his father to have any more children - which in turn, would mean less inheritance for him.
This would explain why No'ach cursed Cana'an - his fourth son (measure for measure). And if you ask why Cana'an should suffer for the sin of his father - Rashi cites an opinion that it was Cana'an who (gleefully) informed his father Chom about No'ach's embarrassing predicament, and it is fair to assume that the author of the two above-mentioned opinions is one and the same. And for his greed, G-d paid him by decreeing upon his descendants slavery, as whatever slaves own belongs to their master.
Much later on, when, in the tribunal that Alexander the Great set up, the Cana'anim demanded that Yisrael return the land that Yisrael had stolen from them (See Torah Temimah, Bereishis 9, note 23), Gevihah ben Pesisah (Yisrael's defense counsel) citing this very Pasuk, replied that Ca'anan were slaves, and that consequently, Eretz Cana'an, of which they had taken possession, belonged to their masters - Yisrael.
More about the Raven
" … he sent the raven, and it went back and forth …" (8:7).
Rashi explains that the raven flew round and round the boat. It refused to fulfil its mission, he says, because it suspected No'ach of intending to have an affair with its mate.
This conforms to the Pasuk in Mishlei (27:19) "As water reflects one's face, so too, does one tend to see one's own faults in others". Having seen earlier (in the first Pearl) that the raven was exceptionally promiscuous, it is not surprising that it perceived the same fault in No'ach, whom it therefore suspected of sending him away in order to steal his mate (Sanhedrin, 108b).
Others in the same Gemara define the raven's (legitimate) complaint to the fact that only one single pair of ravens remained in the entire world. Constantly, should anything happen to him (the raven) and he failed to return, the species would become extinct!
No'ach accepted his argument, and sent a dove, of which there were fourteen still in existence.
Whatever the case, the Chafetz Chayim points out that a person who lacks merit will be prevented from going on a mission that entails a Mitzvah. This, he explains, is on account of the principle that G-d brings about good things through good 'people' and bad things through bad people. Consequently, even if he succeeds in setting on his mission, he will not succeed in completing it. Hence the raven was deemed unworthy to bring salvation to No'ach and the occupants of the boat, and returned 'empty-handed'.
Rashi however, cites a Medrash that although for whatever reason, the raven did not carry out the sh'lichus here, it was reserved for another sh'lichus many years later - when ravens brought Eliyahu, who was hiding from the wicked King Achav, bread and meat.
Rabeinu Bachye completes the story: When the raven returned from his unfulfilled mission, he explains, No'ach refused to take him back 'What use are you to the world?' he exclaimed; You are not Kasher to be eaten, nor are you eligible to go on the Mizbe'ach!'
But G-d intervened: 'Take him back!' He ordered, 'until the water dries up' (ad yevoshes ha'mayim) - until a certain Tzadik will come and decree a drought upon the world, with reference to Eliyahu ha'Navi (as is hinted in the word "yevoshes", which contains the same letters as 'Tishbi', as Eliyahu is also called). 'Then I will need the raven to bring him bread and meat from the kitchens of Achav to sustain Eliyahu.
For reasons known to G-d, He decided to use ravens to feed Eliyahu (just as he used a spider to save David from the clutches of Shaul ha'Melech). And that was reason enough to save the raven from extinction.
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