Weekly Shiur- Parshat Noach- R. Shames
One of the elements that I will always remember from my studying parshat Noach over the years is the lack of clarity when it comes to the dates of the various events in the flood. Rashi in a few different places tries to reconcile the events according to both opinions of when the world was created (Nissan or Tishrei) and attempting to use both an objective system of time, counting from the creation, and a subjective one, counting from the beginning of the flood itself.
Some of the facts are clear. The rain fell for forty days and forty nights (7:12), and the water continued to envelop all of the Earth for 150 days (7:24). In addition we know that the flood started on the 17th of the second month (7:11) and they finally left the ark on the 27th of the second month, a year later.
In other words the rain both falling and increasing lasted 190 days and the rest of the time seems to be “cleaning up” the big mess that was made and letting nature get back on its feet. In a picturesque way it can be said that after the first 190 days the sun came out and a new world was to be born. The destruction was over and now the long process of rehabilitation was under way.
The scene described above way sound nice but leaves us with a major question. In the list of punishments received throughout history that appears in the Mishna Sanhedrin (Perek Chelek) we are told that the Flood Generation was punished for 12 months. This statement works nicely if we are looking at the date of entry into the ark and the date of exit, (the additional 10-11 days between the 17th and the 27th complete the year to match a solar year of 365 days), However as we have described above the real wrath was over at a much earlier stage and approximately half of the year was actually rebirth and post punishment.
The Meshech Chochmah uses this question to explain the events of the flood in a very different light. He explains that the entire year was actually punishment, or more specifically an educational process that all living things underwent. The waters of the flood were for some, obviously, the entire punishment, as they did not survive, but for others the waters set the stage for a different lifestyle which was meant to create a world that would have unique values. The life created in the microcosm of the ark was to be modeled after they were to leave the ark.
For both humans and animals the life in the ark expressed a clear sense of both discipline and dependence. Noach provided food, and any animal could quite clearly see the need to live by the rules that he set forth (despite the midrashim concerning the reactions of some of the less pleased customers such as the lions!!). Noach as well was very aware of the fragile position that he was in and the hand of God was obvious in every moment of their stay in the ark. These realizations were true not only for the first 150 days of the flood, when the torrential rains could be heard and it was obvious that all other forms of life had perished, they were, as well, crystal clear for the entire time period until the animals could once again roam freely and Noach could go about his human endeavors.
The traumatic events of the flood were to set the stage to teach a new world order. An order in which the rules that God had established would be followed with much more diligence than they had been before.
The Meshach Chochmah uses this idea to explain another peculiar Midrash. The Midrash comments on the pasuk that states that the animals left the ark “by families” by saying they left by family but they themselves did not leave.
It is clear that at first glance we do not understand the Midrash, what is meant by the fact that they themselves did not leave? He explains that the animals had gone through such a metamorphosis in the ark that it can be said that they actually left the “old self” behind and a new creature actual left the ark. His new being left the ark “according to its family” symbolizing the lessons learnt in the ark, specifically regarding the problems of crossbreeding that chazal interpret as one of the major sins of the generation. The individual hedonistic creatures were left behind and forms of life who now understood their social positions and obligations emerged from the ark.
In these peculiar days in which we live it is important to note that the lessons that we are to learn from events around us are to be found not only in the momentary events, as severe as they maybe, but as well we have what to learn from the ongoing results of these events.