Rashi on Noach

Oh boy, am I behind. Can I at least use the excuse that I just got married? Of course not! But I will anyway. Right now, I am several weeks behind. In the Weekly Torah Portions, we are now up to the death of Abraham, while my postings are only now at the beginning of the Abraham story. But, before I can write about that, I will do my summary of some of Rashi’s thoughts that I felt were interesting on the Noach portion.

Like in the previous portion, I’m not going to comment on the lion’s share of Rashi’s comments where they are illuminating a particular passage, but rather pull out some of the particularly interesting items of commentary that either aren’t at all how my reading went, or alternatively are things I simply found interesting or profound. More the former than the latter as I suspect that I am not yet capable of understanding some of the profound commentaries.

  • The first mystery that I found interesting was a great question: Why did God ask Noah to build the Ark, when God could have done all of the work for him? (And indeed, could have whisked the whole lot of men and animals off to heaven or some other protected place during the cataclysm.) In Rashi’s view, it was to ensure that all who saw the Ark would have the ability to repent. Rather than being built quickly, it was built over 120 years, giving most everyone in the world a chance to hear of it and cast off their sins. None of them did. As a result, the world was flooded and Noah was the proud owner of a very new boat.
  • While I have spent many an hour in my childhood trying to figure out what the animals in the Ark ate, Rashi asked a more important question: did anyone have sex in the Ark. The answer was “no”. Because God commanded Noah, his sons, and THEN their wives to enter the Ark, God was specifying that the genders remain separate during the long journey. That covers man, but later passages are also interpreted by Rashi as suggesting that even the animals had to refrain from “doing as they do on the Discovery Channel”.  (As Rashi also posits that the whole period in the Ark was one year, one wonders how species that do not live for an entire year would have survived – the fruit fly, for example. Maybe there were exceptions.) A separate section of Midrash suspects that Ham may have disregarded this commandment and was punished by giving him darker skin, (See my post on the Curse of Ham, earlier this month.)
  • Rashi also considered other important questions such as “How does the food the animals eat not spoil?” Obviously, everyone was a vegetarian during this period. To answer this, Rashi points out that the portion says that God says “Then I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall enter the Ark.” Since the Noach Covenant wasn’t given until after the flood, what must this pre-Noach covenant have been for? It was to say that if Noah enters the Ark, God will make the food not spoil. This covenant is clearly not known as well as the other covenants that God enters into, in the Hebrew Bible.
  • One really interesting idea is that Rashi was not just concerned with how the animals and man survived the flood, but about how “supernatural” creatures did as well. Because Noah was commanded to gather “all that lives” into the Ark, instead of “all that has flesh”, this was God commanding Noah to also gather two of every kind of demon in the Ark with him. In Jewish lore, demons live, but do not have flesh.
  • How long was the flood? Just about exactly one solar year, from 17 Cheshvan to 27 Cheshvan. (I’m not familiar with the Hebrew Calendar, but roughly October or November. This portion is generally read in the beginning of Cheshvan as well.)
  • Rashi also comments that during the flood, no heavenly bodies shed any light on the Earth, including the stars and the moon. This is demonstrated by God’s promise that he will never shut these off again, so he must have in the first place. (But Rashi also makes some comments which I interpret as meaning that the Ark was actually a Submarine for some portion of the journey, so I may be misunderstanding.)
  • And finally, Rashi commented that the rainbow is a sign of God remembering his covenant and that the reason that it does not always appear when it rains or when it is cloudy is because it only appears when God is considering destroying the world, but then stops himself. That’s a rather dour way to look at it.
  • After the flood, Rashi agrees with other midrash that Ham emasculated Noah (and may or may not have had sexual relations with his father first). Why did he do this? Because Ham wanted to ensure that Noah had no further children, so that all of the world would be split between the three sons Noah already had. Noah chose Canaan to curse because he was Ham’s fourth son and Ham prevented Noah from having a fourth son of his own.

And that’s it for this portion. Lots to say about the Tower of Babil, but I’ll have to leave that for another year…

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