Rashi begins his Torah commentary with Rabbi Yitzchak’s famous question: Why did Hashem begin the Torah with a description of Creation? Isn’t the Torah’s purpose to convey to man his obligations in the form of the commandments that he must fulfill? So why didn’t Hashem begin the Torah with the very first mitzvah given to the Jewish people – the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon which does not appear until the Book of Exodus?
Rabbi Yitzchak answers with Psalms 111, Verse 6.
ספר תהילים פרק קיא
(ו) כֹּחַ מַעֲשָׂיו הִגִּיד לְעַמּוֹ לָתֵת לָהֶם נַחֲלַת גּוֹיִם:
He declared the strength of His deeds to His people, to give them the heritage of nations.
For if the world’s nations should tell the Jewish people, “You are thieves for having conquered the seven nations dwelling in the land of Israel and taken the land from them,” we can respond, “The whole earth belongs to Hashem since He created it. Until now, He let you have it; but now He has chosen to give it to us.
Rabbi Yitzchak’s question actually applies to the entire Book of Genesis and the beginning of the Book of Exodus: Why did Hashem include all this “background” information? The answer is that in giving us the history of the world from its beginning (from Hashem’s perspective), He answers other difficult questions that would arise over time, many of which would seek to discredit the authenticity of the Torah itself.
Parashat Noach provides answers to many difficult questions that have come up over time, and I thought I would share a few of them with you.
At the end of last week’s portion, Bereshit, the Torah lists the ten generations from Adam to Noah. And at the end of the portion of Noach, the Torah lists the ten generations from Noach to Abraham. Not only does the Torah record the names of the father and son, it also tells us how old they were when they had their first child. This allows us to chart the generations and to count the years. Please see the chart below.
When you study the chart, notice some very important and not obvious information. Adam overlaps with Methuselah for 240 years. Do you think this was enough time for Methuselah to hear stories about what things were like in the beginning of creation? Noach was born when Methuselah was 369 years old. Methuselah died at age 969, which means that Noach overlapped with him for 600 years! So Noach had a 600-year connection to a person who had known Adam for 240 years.
It is also noteworthy that Shem, Noach’s righteous son, lived long enough to know Yaakov our forefather. Shem, who was 98 years old (no youngster!) when he boarded the ark, knew well of life before the flood, and I am sure that it was afterwards a frequent topic of conversation, if for no other reason than to teach the people of the new world how to avoid destruction and how not to repeat the sins of their ancestors. Yaakov was 50 years old when Shem died, and he studied for 14 years in the Yeshiva that Shem established with his grandson Eber. The Talmud says that Amram, Moshe’s father, overlapped with Yaakov, and the rest is history, which Moshe recorded in the Torah as it occurred to the Jewish people from the Egyptian Exodus until Moshe died.
Here is something else to ponder. All the information that we are reading in the Torah now, about creation and the development of civilization, Moshe first recorded thousands of years after the events occurred and after those people lived. Moshe first gave the Torah with this information to the Jewish people in the year 2448 from creation.
Imagine, for a moment, that Moshe made it all up. Would he go out on a limb to write down information that, if found to be false, would expose the entire charade? What if, in the multitude of families in his congregation, there were family stories passed down from father to son that contradicted some of the information that he wrote down. In all likelihood there definitely were, we being a nation who took pride in, and cherished, our ancestors. And we are only talking about a few hundred years for some of those stories. When Moshe presents the Torah to the Jewish people, they for the first time see in print the world’s entire history including names, places, ages, etc. If there were a single wrong detail, would they have accepted it? Would they teach a falsehood to their children?
Of course, just the opposite happened. As they read the Torah for the first time, they all nodded their heads in agreement with everything that they read!
Not only that. In addition to the ancient history, they also read Hashem’s account of the events in Egypt that they themselves had just personally experienced: The ten plagues, the splitting of the sea, the clouds that separated them from the Egyptians at the Yam Suf, the route that they took, and so many more details. If every detail of that narrative was not true to a fault, would any of them have accepted it? Whom was Hashem or Moshe trying to fool? Recognize, too, that these people were not push-overs. Throughout the 40 years in the Wilderness they gave Moshe a run for his money at every turn. Would these tough, stiff necked people accept false information?
The upshot is that the information in the Torah was verified by the millions of people who accepted it as given. To come hundreds or thousands of years later and question the historicity of events that the people who experienced them accepted as fact cannot undermine the truth of those events.
Could anyone today question whether Abraham Lincoln really existed? If I really wanted to be stubborn, I could dismiss any evidence you could produce by calling it a forgery. You could show me a video clip of him, and I would claim it was a fabrication. Did you see Star Wars? Did that happen? But you saw the whole thing!
The real proof is that when Abraham Lincoln lived, no one questioned his existence, and we have an unbroken chain of credible evidence as to his historicity.
Not only does Parashat Noach contain history about the people who inhabited the earth early on, it is also chock full of history about the earth itself.
When we look at Nature today, we see a network of systems that work in harmony keeping our planet alive and well. Little do we realize the cataclysmic changes the world underwent during the flood that destroyed all life on the planet except for what Noach took with him in the ark.
Here are some of the things that our Sages of the Midrash say changed after the flood.
Prior to the flood, rain would fall only once in 40 years. The land would produce food for 40 years until the next rain. As we know, after the flood, one must plant every year anew.
Prior to the flood, no one ever got sick.
As we can see in the chart, prior to the flood, people lived for hundreds of years; afterwards, life expectancy was drastically reduced.
Prior to the flood, man was not allowed to eat meat, only fruits and vegetables. After the flood, Hashem permitted man to eat meat. (This brought about the seventh Noachide law, that one may not eat the flesh taken from a living animal.)
Prior to the flood, there were no seasons. The earth did not have its 23.5° tilt, and the equator was always parallel to the sun. This notion is based on the following verse (Genesis 8:22):
ספר בראשית פרק ח
(כב) עֹד כָּל יְמֵי הָאָרֶץ זֶרַע וְקָצִיר וְקֹר וָחֹם וְקַיִץ וָחֹרֶף וְיוֹם וָלַיְלָה לֹא יִשְׁבֹּתוּ:
- Continuously, all the days of the earth, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.
The Malbim (R. Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Weiser, 1809 – 1879) in his commentary to the Torah explains that from then on, in each year, there are going to be different seasons. A season for planting, and a season for harvesting. Cold – winter, and heat- summer. And you are going to have to continually work to get your food. No longer will you be able to plant once and harvest the bounty for the next 40 years.
The Malbim uses this change to explain some of the other occurrences: Because of the weather swings from hot to cold, and cold to hot, the body became weakened and could get sick, and the human lifespan was shortened. The earth’s surface was destroyed and could no longer produce the fruit for 40 years. This is one of the reasons why Hashem permitted man to eat meat. No longer would he be able to nourish himself with fruits and vegetables alone.
The foregoing was all intentional and necessary. The Midrash explains that the human body’s extreme vitality and its ability to last for hundreds of years contributed to man’s life of sin. He felt that he was invincible and would live forever. He also had the very practical problem of hundreds of years of time on his hand with a minimum of work to do. Once in 40 years he had to put in a few hours of work. What was he supposed to do with the rest of his time? Get into trouble, what else! These ideas are expressed in this Midrash:
מדרש תנחומא בראשית – פרק יב
אר”י למה היו מורדין? שהיו זורעין שנה אחת ועושין מזון למ’ שנה. א”ל הקב”ה, וכך אתם עושים עוד כל ימי הארץ זרע וקציר. ור’ שמואל בר אבא אמר, למה היו מורדין? שהיו רואין לעצמן בנים ובני בנים חמשה וששה דורות ולא היו מתין. אמר הקב”ה וכך אתם מורדין מכאן ואילך עוד כל ימי הארץ זרע קציר שתהיו מולידין וקוברין וקר וחם שתהיו מתיסרין בשחפת ובקדחת וקיץ וחורף שתהיו מתקייצין ופניכם מתחרפין והייסורין אינן פוסקין ותהיו מצטערין בגופיכם אין אתם שובתין יומם ולילה ותהיו נדונין באש ובשלג:
Rabbi Yehudah said, “Why did they rebel? Because they would plant once and the earth would produce fruit for the next forty years. So, Hashem said, ’This is what you do? From now on you are going to have to plant and harvest every year.’”
Rabbi Shmuel said, “Why did they rebel? Because they saw five and six generations of offspring while they were still alive. Hashem said, ‘This is how you rebel against me? From now on you are going to have to plant and harvest and you will give birth to children and also bury them. You will also have heat and cold, you are going to suffer with all kinds of sicknesses and pain. You will have no rest day and night.’”
As noted, the surface of the earth also underwent drastic changes during the flood.
When Hashem instructed the waters to recede and reveal the land, the understanding is that there was only one piece of land and one body of water, as stated clearly in the Midrash Rabbah (5:8). Yet we currently have seven continents. At some point, the land mass split up and drifted apart to form the different continents. There is a reference in the book of Job indicating that this happened during the flood.
In 1915, German geologist Alfred Lothar Wegener published his book The Origins of the Continents and Oceans citing research that proves that the continents started out as one. Subsequent extensive research and current opinion overwhelmingly support the theory of continental drift, though it did not take place over millions of years as scientists says. Rather, it happened within a relatively short period, one year, the time that the land was covered with water.
The Talmud tells us the water of the flood was boiling hot.
תלמוד בבלי סנהדרין דף קח:
אמר רב חסדא ברותחין קלקלו בעבירה וברותחין נידונו
Rav Chisda said: They sinned with hot lust and passion, so they were punished with hot boiling water.
How did the waters of the flood become boiling hot?
The Torah tells us that the waters came from the depths of the earth as well as from the heavens.
ספר בראשית פרק ז
(יא) בִּשְׁנַת שֵׁשׁ מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה לְחַיֵּי נֹחַ בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בְּשִׁבְעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה נִבְקְעוּ כָּל
מַעְיְנוֹת תְּהוֹם רַבָּה וַאֲרֻבֹּת הַשָּׁמַיִם נִפְתָּחוּ:
- In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth; and the windows of the heavens were opened.
The water coming from the depths of the earth was boiling hot. In 1977, scientists made a stunning discovery on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean: vents pouring hot, mineral-rich fluids from beneath the seafloor. These hydrothermal vents emit boiling hot waters from the center of the earth that are 750° F and are rich with sulfur and minerals.
In the flood, instead of the hydrothermal vents remaining under the sea bed, they burst forth with great intensity and poured forth hot boiling water that eventually heated the entire body of flood waters.
Do you remember the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami? It was caused by an underwater volcanic eruption and caused $14 billion in damages. The flood of Noach, was thousands of tsunamis happening in the one body of water as the magma from the earth’s crust poured forth into the bottom of the ocean, reacting with the cool water. This, coupled with the pelting rain, non- stop for 40 days, caused catastrophic results to the earth’s surface.
The Torah tells us:
ספר בראשית פרק ז
(כג) וַיִּמַח אֶת כָּל הַיְקוּם אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה
- And He blotted out all existence that was on the face of the ground –
The Malbim explains that because of the force of the churning waters, all who perished in the flood–the people, the animals, the birds, the trees, and fauna—simply disintegrated. Even the earth’s surface radically changed as the dirt and mud were washed away by the flood’s currents and churning waters and redistributed in various ways.
Noach and his family were in the ark for exactly one year. They entered the ark on the 17th day of the second month of the 600th year of his life, and exited the ark on the 17th day of the second month of his 601st year. It took an entire year for the earth’s surface to dry. When Noach left the ark, nothing remained of the life that had existed before the flood.
The Malbim uses these facts to explain different scientific mysteries.
According to current scientific theory, the various layers of the earth’s crust represent millions of years of development. Fossils founds within these layers are assumed to be as old as the layers themselves. This presents a seeming contradiction to the Torah’s calculation that the world is 5778 years old. However, if we consider that the layers were formed as the mud settled after the flood and that the fossil is a random bone that survived intact, there is no contradiction at all.
This also resolves the many contradictions that scientists have in the order of the layers of earth in different parts of the world. Shouldn’t the layers of the earth have developed in a uniform way? Why would it differ from place to place? The answer is that is just how it happened to settle in this place, and how it happened to settle in that place.
Another point. The method used by scientists to date fossils makes them millions of years old. However, recent scientific research found objects that were encased in lava from a volcanic eruption to exhibit the same characteristics as fossils. They tested to be millions of years old, even though it was known they were made very recently. Knowing that there were all kinds of minerals and magma from the hydrothermal vents, the bones that survived the flood became fossilized in their resting places. There is scientific research that shows when fresh bones are put in water rich in minerals, they fossilize in a matter of weeks.
The flood answers yet another question. Carbon 14 dating shows objects to be too old for a world that is only 5778 years old. Scientists have come to realize that carbon dating is inaccurate on items that were in water. In his article, “The freshwater reservoir effect in radiocarbon dating,” published in the Heritage Science Journal, Bente Philippsen explains how the results are skewed when specimens are taken from water.
This also explains pre-historic fossils of animals we no longer see on our planet. These fossils are the remnants of animals who did not enter the ark and did not survive the flood. Once again, they are not from millions of years ago, they are from before the flood.
There is so much more interesting information on this topic, but this will suffice. In short, Hashem has provided us with the information we need to realize that the Torah is true, and we should feel so privileged to know that we have the truth.
ספר תהילים פרק קיא
(ו) כֹּחַ מַעֲשָׂיו הִגִּיד לְעַמּוֹ לָתֵת לָהֶם נַחֲלַת גּוֹיִם:
The strength of His deeds He declared to His people, to give them the heritage of nations