Parshat Noach תש”פ
Rashi commenced his Torah Commentary last week in Parshat Bereishit with Rabbi Yitzchak’s famous question: Why did HaShem begin the Torah with a description of Creation? If the Torah’s purpose is to convey to humanity its obligations in terms of the commandments that it must fulfill, why didn’t HaShem start with the very first Mitzvah given to the Jewish people – the Mitzvah of sanctifying the New Moon, which does not appear until Chapter 12 of the Book of Exodus?
Rabbi Yitzchak answers citing Psalms 111, Verse 6.
“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 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 insightful question applies to the entire Book of Genesis and the beginning of the Book of Exodus that lead up to the first Mitzvah: Why did HaShem include all this “background” information? The answer is that in presenting the history of the world from its beginning (from HaShem’s perspective), HaShem provides us with answers to many difficult questions that would arise over time, some of which may seek to discredit the authenticity of the Torah.
Parashat Noach provides a wellspring of information that answers questions that have daunted pundits and scientists until today. This discussion will address one of the most difficult unresolved mysteries of history.
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 Avraham. 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 Methuselah for 240 years. Do you think that 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 him for many years! So, Noach had a 600-year connection to a person who had known Adam for 240 years.
Avraham Avinu was fifty-eight years old when Noach died. By then, he had learned all the information that Noach knew going back to Adam. Shem and Eber both outlived Avraham Avinu.
It is also noteworthy that Shem, Noach’s righteous son, lived long enough to know Yaakov our forefather. Shem, was ninety-eight years old when he boarded the Ark (no youngster!) and, at that age, knew well what life was like before the flood. You can be sure that it was a topic many were curious about, and, as such, was a frequent topic of conversation. Shem would speak about it to teach the people of the new world how to avoid destruction and how not to repeat the sins of their ancestors. Yaakov, who was fifty years old when Shem died, studied for fourteen 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, literally, 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 well 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 many family stories, we being a nation who took pride in, and who cherished, our ancestors. And we are talking about only a few hundred years for some of those stories. When Moshe presented the Torah to the Jewish people, they for the first time saw in print (so to speak) the world’s entire history from its beginning, including names, places, ages, etc. If there was a single wrong detail, would they have accepted it? Would they have taught “fake news” to their children?
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 forty years in the Wilderness they gave Moshe a run for his money at every turn. If every single word was not compelling and true, would these tough, stiff necked people accept false information that dictated to them how to live every aspect of their lives?
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? A stubborn person could dismiss every shred of evidence by calling it a forgery. In today’s world, even a video clip can be a total 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.
The portion of Noach provides us with the answer to yet another conundrum that has no plausible resolution: how did language begin? According to conventional wisdom, it evolved over time from non-speaking apes who eventually began communicating with each other through words. The problem is, how does one create a language without language? The human brain thinks in words, and, therefore, without words, how could communication begin? Words are the tools that we use to communicate the thoughts in our minds. Our Sages teach us that if one can’t articulate a concept, he really doesn’t understand it. The ability to crystalize a concept in words is testimony to one’s understanding of it, and is uniquely human.
Many attempts have been made to teach apes words, but all have resulted in dismal failure. They simply don’t have the hardware to process and articulate words. It is strictly a human attribute.
Another conundrum is how are there so many different languages, all with their own rules? If it is an inconceivable miracle to consider the evolution of even one language, how could so many different languages, each with different sentence structures and rules of usage, have evolved independently? What would have prompted different peoples to come up with different languages? If someone knowledgeable in languages would attempt to create a new one, where would he start? Man has no clue, and to think it just happened spontaneously is ridiculous. What about the ear, which transfers sound waves generated by an external source into vibrations that cause nerve endings in the ear to touch each other at a specific frequency, which create electrical impulses that travel to the brain for translation and understanding? And nearly instantaneously! This entire miraculous system would have had to evolve simultaneous with the miraculous power of speech for speech to have any importance at all. Just a little thought into the mystery of language presents so many impossible questions to answer that it makes this scenario completely unfeasible.
The Torah teaches us that the power of speech was inherent to the creation of man. In describing the creation of Adam the Torah tells us (Genesis 2:7):
“וַיִּיצֶר ה’ אֱלֹקִים אֶת הָאָדָם עָפָר מִן הָאֲדָמָה וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים וַיְהִי הָאָדָם לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה”
“And HaShem formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living being.”
Onkelos, who translated the Torah into Aramaic, rendered the last words of the verse as follows.
“והות באדם לרוח ממללא”
“And it (the soul) became within the man for a speaking person.”
Man was created in the “Image of HaShem.” This refers to the two essential traits that define a person: his ability to think rationally and make choices based on those thoughts, and his ability to speak. HaShem employed both these concepts in the world’s creation. First, He thought about how He wanted to create everything, then he created it by making a pronouncement to bring it into reality, as the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (5:1) says, “HaShem created the world with ten pronouncements.” When HaShem breathed the soul of life, a portion of Himself, so to speak, into Man— Man acquired these two attributes. The powers of rational thought and of speech derive directly from the lofty spiritual soul that man has received from HaShem.
What language did Adam speak? The very same language HaShem used to create the world, “לשון הקודש” The Holy Language, a language like no other. In this language, each letter has a specific meaning and spiritual energy. HaShem created the world by saying the various combinations of the letters of the Aleph Bet with their unique meaning and energy for each object in the world, and through that the object known by that name came into being. For example, the word “סוס” – horse, is a combination of the properties of the letters Samech, Vav and Samech. So HaShem said “Let there be a סוס,” and a horse came out. The words that HaShem said, comprising the letters that came together to form a word in a pronouncement in “לשון הקודש”, are actually the source of the existence of those items. Not only that, but the original Ten Pronouncements are still extant and are what is keeping the world here every single second of its existence.
An analogy to this concept is a chemical formula. NaCl – sodium chloride – common table salt, forms from the chemical reaction between sodium atoms and chlorine atoms. The formula defines its essence. Just as a chemist who is familiar with all the elements on the periodic table of elements would be able to understand how different elements will react with one another, similarly, someone who understands the meanings of each of the letters of the aleph bet would be equipped to look at a word and figure out what it means.
This is the significance of what seems to be a trivial matter revealed in the Torah. The Torah tells (Genesis 2:19) us that HaShem brought all the animals to Adam to see what he would name them.
“וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָא לוֹ הָאָדָם נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה הוּא שְׁמוֹ”
“And whatever Adam called it, that was its name.”
What was the big deal to find a name for each animal? The answer is that Adam was able to discern the unique attributes that made up each animal, relate those attributes to the correct letters of the Aleph Bet that contain those attributes, and thus figure out the very name that HaShem used when He created it.
This is why an item or object is called a “דבר” : “Davar”. The word “דבר” comes from the word “דיבור”: “speech”. What does an item have to do with speech? The answer is: everything! Every item that exists testifies to the word that HaShem spoke when He created it.
This is also the meaning of the blessing that we recite on items that do not grow from the ground or on trees, “שהכל נהיה בדברו”: Everything came about with His (HaShem’s) word. HaShem used words to create the world.
We see from this that Adam spoke from the very first moment of his creation. But not just that. He was deeply familiar with the meanings of the letters and how they combined to create the world. This quality exists only in “לשון הקודש”, the Holy Language.
As to the story of how there came to be so many languages in the world, the Torah begins the story with a very cryptic statement (Genesis 11:1).
“וַיְהִי כָל הָאָרֶץ שָׂפָה אֶחָת וּדְבָרִים אֲחָדִים”
“The whole earth was of one language and of common purpose.”
The Sages teach us that this one language was לשון הקודש, and the common purpose was not a good one. The Torah continues.
ב) וַיְהִי בְּנָסְעָם מִקֶּדֶם וַיִּמְצְאוּ בִקְעָה בְּאֶרֶץ שִׁנְעָר וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם:
ג) וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל רֵעֵהוּ הָבָה נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים וְנִשְׂרְפָה לִשְׂרֵפָה וַתְּהִי לָהֶם הַלְּבֵנָה לְאָבֶן וְהַחֵמָר הָיָה לָהֶם לַחֹמֶר:
ד) וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה לָּנוּ עִיר וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם וְנַעֲשֶׂה לָּנוּ שֵׁם פֶּן נָפוּץ עַל פְּנֵי כָל הָאָרֶץ:
ה) וַיֵּרֶד ה’ לִרְאֹת אֶת הָעִיר וְאֶת הַמִּגְדָּל אֲשֶׁר בָּנוּ בְּנֵי הָאָדָם:
ו) וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ הֵן עַם אֶחָד וְשָׂפָה אַחַת לְכֻלָּם וְזֶה הַחִלָּם לַעֲשׂוֹת וְעַתָּה לֹא יִבָּצֵר מֵהֶם כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יָזְמוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת:
ז) הָבָה נֵרְדָה וְנָבְלָה שָׁם שְׂפָתָם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ אִישׁ שְׂפַת רֵעֵהוּ:
ח) וַיָּפֶץ ה’ אֹתָם מִשָּׁם עַל פְּנֵי כָל הָאָרֶץ וַיַּחְדְּלוּ לִבְנֹת הָעִיר:
ט) עַל כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמָהּ בָּבֶל כִּי שָׁם בָּלַל ה’ שְׂפַת כָּל הָאָרֶץ וּמִשָּׁם הֱפִיצָם ה’ עַל פְּנֵי כָּל הָאָרֶץ:
- “And it came to pass when they migrated from the East they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3. They said to one another, “Come let us make bricks and burn them in fire, and the brick served them as stone and the bitumen served them as mortar. 4. And they said, “Come let us build us a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be disbursed across the whole earth.”
- HaShem descended to look at the city and tower that the sons of men built. 6. And HaShem said, “Behold they are one people with one language for all, and this they begin to do? And now should it not be withheld from them all they scheme to do? 7. Come, let us descend there and confuse their language that they should not understand one another’s language.” 8. And HaShem dispersed them from there over the face of the whole earth, and they stopped building the city. 9. That is why it was called Babel, because it was there that HaShem confused the language of the whole earth, and from there HaShem scattered them over the face of the entire earth.
What a story! But what actually happened? What was the idea behind the Tower? And why the emphasis on their being “of one language?”
Noach, Shem, Cham, and Yafet, who survived the flood in the ark, were then still alive and well. Some of Noach’s grandchildren also lived very long lives, but, suddenly, life spans began to shrink. (Refer to the chart above) People were dying at half the age of their ancestors and were of much weaker constitution than their predecessors. Is this our fate, to just dwindle to nothing with nothing to say about it? The Midrash informs us that Nimrod took power and became the ruler over the entire population based on the platform, “No! we will not accept this! We will rebel!”
How did Nimrod plan to secede from HaShem’s powerful dominion? His idea was to have every human being on the planet rebel against HaShem and tell Him to, “Bug off! You stay in the heavens and leave us alone here on the earth!” His thinking was that if HaShem saw that the entire world didn’t want Him, He would leave them alone.
There was one fly in the ointment, though. Avraham Avinu was diametrically opposed to Nimrod and challenged him at every turn. Nimrod had an easy solution to this problem, too. He could see through astrology that Avraham was unable to have children, and, therefore, since he had no future, he needn’t be seriously dealt with.
What was it that prompted this sudden change in attitude among the people? The discovery of how to make bricks and build with them. Until now, one had to be a mighty person to hew stones and make them into a house. Yet the area in which they had chosen to create their unified community of rebels was sandy and flat. How would they live in a place like that? The discovery of how to make bricks by mixing sand with water and baking them in an oven or in the sun, and then setting them one on top of the other with a bit of mortar, changed the entire picture. They could now build easily, and endlessly; the sky is the limit, literally. This served as a metaphor for them as well: when we join person to person and are unified, we create a whole that is much greater than its parts and is invincible. They began building a tower that reached into the sky, and were going to place a statue on top with a sword in his hand waving it at HaShem in defiance.
This is a picture of a ziggurat in Iraq, which corresponds to Bavel. It is built one brick at a time from the bottom up. Can you imagine how many bricks it took to build this structure?
The Sages tell us something remarkable. If a person fell from the top of the tower that they were building, nobody paid any attention, as someone else would slide seamlessly into position to take his place, and work would continue uninterrupted. But if a precious brick was dropped, they would lament it because it would take six months until it would make it back up the tower. The Midrash teaches us it took and entire year to climb to the top of the tower and come back down.
What does all this have to do, though, with them being of one language? The Zohar adds one more important detail. The final step of their rebellion was to use “לשון הקודש”, The Holy Language, to control the angels in heaven. Since this was the language that HaShem used to create the heavens and everything in them, if they figured out the recipes that HaShem used to control the angels, they could control them, and they would be free from HaShem’s control.
Or so they thought.
HaShem had other plans for them, however, which He executed by mixing up their languages and creating seventy different languages from the one. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that all HaShem did was, to distort their speech and hearing such that they began hearing things differently, the distortions becoming independent languages. This threw a monkey wrench into the entire construction because, being unable to communicate, they could not work together.
There were seventy families who descended from Noach, and each family became one nation with its own language. The original “לשון הקודש” remained the language of עבר, Eber, and was protected and handed down to his descendant who feared HaShem, Avraham Avinu. This is one of the reasons Avraham was called”אברהם העברי” , Avraham the Ivri, because he spoke the language of Eber. Avraham taught it only to his children, and when Yosef became the viceroy in Egypt, he was the only one to know it. This put him above Pharaoh, who knew only the other seventy.
It comes out that all the other languages stem from the Holy Language, but are distortions and perversions of it. An obvious proof to this concept is something that you may have noticed on your own at some point. So many English words resemble words in לשון הקודש. Here are a few examples. אור (light) – aura |aleph bet – alphabet |ארגון (group) – orginazation | יש (yes there is) yes. The list goes on and on.
Dr. Isaac Mozeson, author of The Word- The Dictionary That Reveals The Hebrew Source of English, claims “Even if you never heard a word of Hebrew in your life, you will soon see that you have never heard a word that wasn’t Hebrew!”
As an aside, there is a very important lesson to be learned from how HaShem punished the people of the Tower. Even though their intentions were to rebel against Him, He merely dispersed them peacefully, not harming them in any way. Although the people who perished in the flood were guilty of stealing and lustful sins, they did not direct their evil at HaShem. They were simply opportunists. Why did they suffer such a terrible fate when the evil rebels of the tower experienced no suffering whatsoever?
The Sages teach us that the reason that HaShem did not punish them with suffering is that despite their rebelliousness, they were at peace with each other and unified in their cause. Even though it was an unworthy cause, because they were unified, HaShem was happy with that and did not hurt them. In the generation of the flood, where it was every man for himself, they perished.
This is a most powerful lesson for us as to how important peace between brothers is to HaShem.
In summary, once again we see how seeing history through the eyes of the Torah answers many difficult questions.