“A New Covenant” Parashat Noach 5776

Most people don’t pay much attention to dates in the Torah. My son, Amichai, was born on the seventeenth day of Cheshvan. Seems like just another ordinary day. It turns out that the seventeenth day of Cheshvan was the worst day the world has ever known. This is explicitly called out in the Torah [Bereishit 7:11]: “In the six hundredth year of Noach’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on this day all the springs of the great deep were split open and the windows of the heavens opened up”. The rain begins to fall and it does not stop falling until every last person on earth, with the exception of Noach and his immediate family, are dead.

Something here sounds vaguely familiar. Five verses earlier we hear that [Bereishit 7:6] “Noach was six hundred years old and the flood came down, water upon the earth”. If Noach is six hundred years old in Verse 6, chances are he’s still six hundred years old in Verse 11. Why does the Torah repeat itself? We should probably rephrase the question, because Verse 11 cannot be considered “repetitive” as it gives more information than Verse 6 – it gives not only the year, but also the month and the day. Rather, it is Verse 6 that seems redundant. But that’s not all. There is one more verse that mentions the date of the flood, and this verse is just as sticky as the first two. After the flood is over and the ark comes to rest on Mt. Ararat the Torah tells us [Bereishit 15:7-8] “It came to pass in the six hundredth and first year, in the first [month], on the first of the month, that the waters dried up from upon the earth. Noach removed the covering of the ark and he saw that the surface of the ground had dried up. In the second month, on the twenty seventh day of the month, the earth had become dry.” Here’s the thing: We are told that the waters dried up “in the six hundredth and first year” but aren’t told when the counting began. While it is clear that the Torah is referring to the six hundredth and first year of Noach’s life, it is unclear why the Torah does not explicitly mention this.

We can gain some traction if we observe that there is a sort of progression in the dating format. First we are told simply that the flood happened when “Noach was six hundred years old”. “Noach” and “the flood” are two objects whose paths happen to intersect. Next we are told that the flood happened “in the six hundredth year of Noach’s life”. The flood has become entwined with Noach and has become an integral part of his life. Finally, the flood ends “in the six hundred and first year”. Noach’s life becomes implicit – well of course it was the six hundred and first year of Noach’s life! – because it is impossible to mention the flood without mentioning Noach. The two have become inextricably tangled.

Let’s look back to Noach’s birth. Noach, as we discussed last week, is born ten generations after Adam. When Noach is born, his father, Lemech, says [Bereishit 5:29] “This one will give us comfort (ye’nachamenu) from our work and from the toil of our hands from the ground, which Hashem has cursed”. How did Lemech know that Noach was destined for greatness? Was he a prophet? Indeed, certain commentators[1] assert that Lemech had powers of prophecy and that he saw that his son would remain faithful to Hashem even while the rest of the world descended into a moral abyss. The Abarbanel offers an explanation that is far more simple[2]: When one “does the math” it can be easily shown that Noach was born in the first generation after the death of Adam – the same Adam who defied Hashem’s will by eating from the Tree of Life, the same Adam who was banished from the Garden of Eden, and the same Adam who caused the earth to be cursed not to give its fruits without human toil. After Adam’s death there was hope in the world that the covenant between man and Hashem would be renewed. Perhaps Hashem would return to man. The problem was that man was not ready to return to Hashem. In fact, man was running at full sprint in the opposite direction. And so after having cursed the earth ten generations earlier, Hashem is left with no choice but to destroy it.

Man requires a covenant with Hashem in order to survive. Walking with Hashem is like walking on the edge of a cliff: one slip and you’re dead. Man is too frail and unstable [Bereishit 8:21]: “for man’s inclination is evil from his youth” to walk alone. The only way to survive is if Hashem Himself catches us if we fall. And so Hashem makes a new covenant with Noach. When does this occur? Most people would suggest that the new covenant was the rainbow that Hashem shows Noach after the flood [Bereishit 9:16]: “The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will see it, to remember the everlasting covenant between Hashem and between every living creature among all flesh on the earth”. A closer look shows that the rainbow was only [Bereishit 9:17] “the sign of the covenant”. The actual covenant was established much earlier. When Hashem first tells Noach about the ensuing flood, He tells him [Bereishit 6:18] “I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you and your sons, and your wife and your sons’ wives with you” This is the translation of the Hebrew “Va’hakimoti et b’riti itach” that appears on the “The Complete Jewish Bible” at chabad.org that I typically consult. I would like to propose an alternate translation. Hashem is not telling Noach “I will establish [my persona covenant] with you.” Rather, He is telling Noach “I will establish my covenant [with mankind] through you”. Noach is not saved because he is the only human left in the world can even loosely be called “righteous”. Noach is being saved in order to father a new kind of man, the kind of man that can once again walk together with Hashem.

Consider: Hashem re-establishes his covenant with man not after his destruction, but at the moment of his destruction, as soon as Noach sets foot into the ark. This is not just a case of [Tehillim 91:15] “I [Hashem] am with him in his pain”. The implications are far greater: Rav Adin Even-Yisrael (Steinsaltz), writing in his explanation of the Tanya, compares the experience of immersion in the mikvah with re-entering the womb. In the mikvah we literally return to the foetal state, to the point that we assume the foetal position. As we leave its waters we are reborn. And so instead of looking at the flood as the vehicle for the destruction of mankind, perhaps we should be looking at the flood as vehicle for the rebirth of mankind. As the water begins to fall Noach’s new identity becomes cemented: he comes face to face with it, he absorbs it into his life, until finally the two become inseparable.

Some say that it is always darkest before the dawn. Judaism disagrees. In Judaism the dawn is preceded by “ayelet hashachar”, a sort of pre-dawn light. Ayelet HaShachar, according to the Jerusalem Talmud [Yoma 3:1] is a sign of our future redemption. It is indicative of our eternal hope and our understanding that the darkness after today’s sun sets is also the darkness before tomorrow’s sun rises[3].

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5776

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka, Yechiel ben Shprintza, and Shaul Chaim ben Tziviya

[1] See the Torah Temima ad loc.

[2] It is not surprising that the Abarbanel, as the Treasurer to the Kings of Portugal and Spain, would offer a mathematically-oriented solution.

[3] The shiur ends here, but I want to add a paragraph summarizing a discussion I had yesterday with my wife Tova when I reviewed this shiur with her. It is important to note that Hashem is not “trying it again” with Noach. The covenant with Noach will be qualitatively different from the covenant with Adam. In a covenant each side has both obligations and rights. Adam’s covenant could be summarized in one line: Don’t eat from the tree of life and you can stay in the Garden of Eden forever. Adam abrogated his side of the agreement nearly immediately and his descendants, left with no obligations, headed downhill. Hashem’s covenant with Noach came with a list of obligations – the seven mitzvot of the Children of Noach – which included the prohibitions of theft and adultery, two of the explicit reasons as to why Hashem destroyed the world. These obligations would push mankind toward G-dliness. Nearly one thousand years later Am Yisrael would extend the covenant even further when they receive the Torah at Sinai. It is interesting to note the Talmud in Tractate Shabbat [88a] that teaches that the people were so overcome by the Voice of Hashem that after each word He spoke they died and needed to be resuscitated by “dew with which Hashem will one day resurrect the dead”. For a second time, a new covenant is established accompanied by rebirth through water.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty-five years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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