This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Yair Lichtman
Following the Mabul, God blesses and instructs Noach and his family to procreate and repopulate the earth (Bereishit 9:1, 7):
(א) וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֱלֹהִ֔ים אֶת־נֹ֖חַ וְאֶת־בָּנָ֑יו וַיֹּ֧אמֶר לָהֶ֛ם פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֖וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָֽרֶץ׃…
(ז) וְאַתֶּ֖ם פְּר֣וּ וּרְב֑וּ שִׁרְצ֥וּ בָאָ֖רֶץ וּרְבוּ־בָֽהּ׃
(1) God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth…
(7) Be fruitful and multiply. Increase abundantly in the earth, and multiply in it.”
Indeed, much of the Parasha is dedicated to the theme of the inhabitants of the ark as a remnant designed to reestablish human settlement on the earth. To note one explicit example (7:2-3):
(ב) מִכֹּ֣ל׀ הַבְּהֵמָ֣ה הַטְּהוֹרָ֗ה תִּֽקַּח־לְךָ֛ שִׁבְעָ֥ה שִׁבְעָ֖ה אִ֣ישׁ וְאִשְׁתּ֑וֹ וּמִן־הַבְּהֵמָ֡ה אֲ֠שֶׁ֠ר לֹ֣א טְהֹרָ֥ה הִ֛וא שְׁנַ֖יִם אִ֥ישׁ וְאִשְׁתּֽוֹ׃
(ג) גַּ֣ם מֵע֧וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֛יִם שִׁבְעָ֥ה שִׁבְעָ֖ה זָכָ֣ר וּנְקֵבָ֑ה לְחַיּ֥וֹת זֶ֖רַע עַל־פְּנֵ֥י כׇל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
(2) You shall take seven pairs of every clean animal with you, the male and his female. Of the animals that are not clean, take two, the male and his female.
(3) Also of the birds of the sky, seven and seven, male and female, to keep seed alive on the surface of all the earth.
It is therefore puzzling that Noach does not appear to fulfill this divine directive himself. The Torah painstakingly enumerates the descendants of each of Noach’s children, and notes how they served as the progenitors of mankind (9:18-19):
(יח) וַיִּֽהְי֣וּ בְנֵי־נֹ֗חַ הַיֹּֽצְאִים֙ מִן־הַתֵּבָ֔ה שֵׁ֖ם וְחָ֣ם וָיָ֑פֶת וְחָ֕ם ה֖וּא אֲבִ֥י כְנָֽעַן׃
(יט) שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה אֵ֖לֶּה בְּנֵי־נֹ֑חַ וּמֵאֵ֖לֶּה נָֽפְצָ֥ה כׇל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
(18) The sons of Noah who went out from the ship were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham is the father of Canaan.
(19) These three were the sons of Noah, and from these, the whole earth was populated.
Note the absence of Noach himself from this list. Similarly, we later observe that, while the descendants of Noach until Avraham are said to father children beyond the ones named in the text, at no point does Noach take his place among them. Let us compare two entries:
(יב) וְאַרְפַּכְשַׁ֣ד חַ֔י חָמֵ֥שׁ וּשְׁלֹשִׁ֖ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֖וֹלֶד אֶת־שָֽׁלַח׃
(יג) וַֽיְחִ֣י אַרְפַּכְשַׁ֗ד אַֽחֲרֵי֙ הוֹלִיד֣וֹ אֶת־שֶׁ֔לַח שָׁלֹ֣שׁ שָׁנִ֔ים וְאַרְבַּ֥ע מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד בָּנִ֖ים וּבָנֽוֹת׃
(כח) וַֽיְחִי־נֹ֖חַ אַחַ֣ר הַמַּבּ֑וּל שְׁלֹ֤שׁ מֵאוֹת֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וַֽחֲמִשִּׁ֖ים שָׁנָֽה׃
(כט) וַיִּֽהְיוּ֙ כׇּל־יְמֵי־נֹ֔חַ תְּשַׁ֤ע מֵאוֹת֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וַחֲמִשִּׁ֖ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיָּמֹֽת׃
|(12) Arpachshad lived thirty-five years and fathered Shelah.
(13) Arpachshad lived four hundred three years after he fathered Shelah, and fathered sons and daughters.
|(28) Noah lived three hundred fifty years after the flood.
(29) All the days of Noah were nine hundred fifty years, then he died.
Where Noach’s descendants each contribute to the repopulation of the world, Noach simply dies.
Why does Noach, this consummate follower of God’s will (see 6:22 and 7:5), fail to obey God’s command in this regard?
This detail may have driven Chazal to understand the Ham incident as one of castration (Sanhedrin 70a):
רב ושמואל חד אמר סרסו וח”א רבעו…
Rav and Shmuel disagreed: One says that Ham castrated Noach and one says that Ham sodomized him.
How could Noach have failed to fulfill the command of procreation? It must be that he was physically incapable of doing so because of Ham’s actions.
Midat HaDin vs. Midat HaRachamim
A different interpretation suggests itself, however, when one considers how the antediluvian and postdiluvian differed from one another. Radak correctly observes that the flood serves as a kind of do-over, a repeat of the creation of the world:
ויברך אלהים, אע”פ שכבר היו ברוכים בתחילת הבריאה, עתה היה להם כתחלת הבריאה כי נתחדש העולם אחר שהיה תהו ובהו שהרי נתכסתה הארץ במים. והברכה מה שאמר להם פרו ורבו ומוראכם וחתכם.
ויברך אלוקים, even though they had enjoyed G’d’s blessing already ever since the creation of mankind, the renewal of life on earth reassured them by their receiving a new blessing also. The blessing consisted primarily of the promise that they would once again be fruitful and multiply.
As such, one would expect great similarities and only minor differences. For example, the extent of God’s command to procreate appears substantively identical when one compares 1:28 and 9:1, 7. Yet Noach obeys God’s first command while ignoring his second. What changed?
Let us compare the verses about the nature of mankind from before (6:5) and after the Mabul (8:21):
(ה) וַיַּ֣רְא יְהֹוָ֔ה כִּ֥י רַבָּ֛ה רָעַ֥ת הָאָדָ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ וְכׇל־יֵ֙צֶר֙ מַחְשְׁבֹ֣ת לִבּ֔וֹ רַ֥ק רַ֖ע כׇּל־הַיּֽוֹם׃
(ו) וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם יְהֹוָ֔ה כִּֽי־עָשָׂ֥ה אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב אֶל־לִבּֽוֹ׃
(5) Hashem saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all day long.
(6) Hashem regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was saddened in His heart.
(כא) וַיָּ֣רַח יְהֹוָה֮ אֶת־רֵ֣יחַ הַנִּיחֹ֒חַ֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהֹוָ֜ה אֶל־לִבּ֗וֹ לֹֽא־אֹ֠סִ֠ף לְקַלֵּ֨ל ע֤וֹד אֶת־הָֽאֲדָמָה֙ בַּעֲב֣וּר הָֽאָדָ֔ם כִּ֠י יֵ֣צֶר לֵ֧ב הָאָדָ֛ם רַ֖ע מִנְּעֻרָ֑יו וְלֹֽא־אֹסִ֥ף ע֛וֹד לְהַכּ֥וֹת אֶת־כׇּל־חַ֖י כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשִֽׂיתִי׃
(21) Hashem smelled the pleasant aroma. Hashem said in his heart, “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake, because the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again strike everything living, as I have done.
In both verses, God observes that mankind is inherently wicked, and in both cases, makes a decision about the world as a consequence. But while the former verses explain God’s decision to destroy the earth, the latter explain the motive to refrain from destroying it anymore. While the former decision was motivated by a calculus of Din, the latter is inspired by the ideology of Rachamim.
Noach is motivated in his actions by Din. To hear the Torah tell it, he earned his place on the ark with hard work in the service of God, by being righteous in his generation and by fulfilling divine commands exactly as instructed. The prophet Yechezkel saw it the same way (Yechezkel 14:20):
(כ) וְנֹ֨חַ [דָּנִיֵּ֣אל] (דנאל) וְאִיּוֹב֮ בְּתוֹכָהּ֒ חַי־אָ֗נִי נְאֻם֙ אֲדֹנָ֣י יֱהֹוִ֔ה אִם־בֵּ֥ן אִם־בַּ֖ת יַצִּ֑ילוּ הֵ֥מָּה בְצִדְקָתָ֖ם יַצִּ֥ילוּ נַפְשָֽׁם׃
(20) though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness.
Noach’s life made sense to him in a world governed by Din, where the righteous survive and the wicked are wiped out. But that’s not how God planned to operate the world anymore (9:9-11):
(ט) וַאֲנִ֕י הִנְנִ֥י מֵקִ֛ים אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֖י אִתְּכֶ֑ם וְאֶֽת־זַרְעֲכֶ֖ם אַֽחֲרֵיכֶֽם׃
(י) וְאֵ֨ת כׇּל־נֶ֤פֶשׁ הַֽחַיָּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אִתְּכֶ֔ם בָּע֧וֹף בַּבְּהֵמָ֛ה וּֽבְכׇל־חַיַּ֥ת הָאָ֖רֶץ אִתְּכֶ֑ם מִכֹּל֙ יֹצְאֵ֣י הַתֵּבָ֔ה לְכֹ֖ל חַיַּ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃
(יא) וַהֲקִמֹתִ֤י אֶת־בְּרִיתִי֙ אִתְּכֶ֔ם וְלֹֽא־יִכָּרֵ֧ת כׇּל־בָּשָׂ֛ר ע֖וֹד מִמֵּ֣י הַמַּבּ֑וּל וְלֹֽא־יִהְיֶ֥ה ע֛וֹד מַבּ֖וּל לְשַׁחֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃
(9) “As for me, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your offspring after you,
(10) and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the livestock, and every animal of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ship, even every animal of the earth.
(11) I will establish my covenant with you: all flesh will not be cut off any more by the waters of the flood, neither will there ever again be a flood to destroy the earth.”
This new covenant demands no service from mankind. It’s an unconditional promise to never again wipe out human life from the earth, one which cuts against the grain of who Noach is. Noach, like Yonah, despairs of a world driven by Rachamim, and has no interest in perpetuating the flawed and wicked human life upon it.
Yair Lichtman (SBM 2018) is a student at Yeshiva University, where he is pursuing rabbinical ordination and graduate degrees in Bible and Jewish Education.