6:9 Noah re-established the human race after the Flood. He was like Adam in that he too was the father of mankind. Therefore, although it has already listed Noah was the last link in the genealogy of his predecessors, the Torah begins the narrative anew, mentioning him and his children again, as the ancestors of mankind after the Flood.
“Noah was a righteous man,..” – Kli Yakar notes that after the phrase ‘these are the descendants of Noah” one would expect to see the names of his children. Instead it says ‘Noah was a righteous man’. He cites a Midrash which quotes the verse from Proverbs 11:30 – The fruits of the righteous is a tree of life’ which the Sages apply to Noah, for he did not die until he saw the world repopulated and seventy nations descended from his loins. Yet his righteousness is recorded as his offspring. For the sequence of the verse is: These are the descendants of Noah; Noah was a righteous man: his righteousness is his primary offspring.
“perfect in his generation;” – the word perfect in this case implies that Noah was born circumcised. This connection between circumcision and perfection is strengthened by the fact that Abraham was not called upon to attain ‘perfection’ (17:1) until he was instructed to undergo circumcision. All agree that he was not as great as Abraham. The Sales seek to point out, however, that the righteous of each generation must be judged and respected in terms of their own time and are placed by God in their particular generation according to its needs.
“Noah walked with God” – Rashi notes that it is written of Abraham (24:40): ‘Hashem, before Whom I walked’ Noah walked with God, in the sense that he needed His support (to maintain his righteousness), while Abraham was morally strong enough in his righteousness to walk alone, before God.
6:10 Hirsch comments that the names of Noah’s children indicate their sharply differing personalities. Shem (from ‘name’) is the thinking person because man’s wisdom lies in his ability to understand the nature of a concept or thing and define it, ‘name it’, so to speak. Ham (from ‘heat’) is the sensuous, passionate person. Japheth (from ‘openness’) is the seeker after beauty who is open to external impressions. All three characteristics were saved from the Flood and all can be turned to the service of God when guided by the spiritual greatness of Noah.
6:11-12 The behavior of people deteriorated. At first they were corrupt – being guilty of immorality and idolatry – and they sinned covertly, before God. Later, the earth had become filled with robbery – which was obvious to all. Then the entire earth was corrupted, because man is the essence of the world, and his corruption infects all of Creation (Zohar). Such is the progression of sin. It begins in private, when people still have a sense of right and wrong. But once people develop the habit of sinning. they gradually lose their shame, and immoral behavior becomes the accepted – even the required – norm. In Noah’s time, the immoral sexual conduct of the people extended to animals, as well, until they too cohabited with other species.
The Midrash teaches that they stole from one another in petty ways that were not subject to the authority of the courts. Though this not the gravest kind of sin, it is morally damaging in the extreme, because thievery within the letter of the law weakens the conscience and corrupts the social fabric (Hirsch).
6:13-22 The decree… God decreed that a generation that behaved so immorally had forfeited its right to exist, but even then, He extended mercy to them. God could have saved Noah in many ways. Why then did He burden him with the task of constructing an Ark for, as the Sages teach, one hundred twenty years? So that when the curious would see him cutting lumber and working on the Ark for so long, they would ask him why. He would answer, “God is about to bring a Flood on the world because of your sins,” and they would thus be inspired to repent … But instead of seizing the opportunity, Noah’s contemporaries scoffed at him (Rashi).
- Note: Zohar states – We have a dictum that when death rages in a town or the world at large, no man should show himself in the street because the destroying angel is then authorized to kill indiscriminately. Hence the Holy One, blessed be He said to Noah, ‘Take heed and do not expose yourself to the destroyer so he will be powerless over you’. You may think that there was not any destroying angel here but only the onrush of overwhelming waters. This is not so; no doom is ever executed on the world, whether of annihilation or any other chastisement, without the destroying angel in the midst of the visitation. So here: there was indeed a flood, but this was only an embodiment of the destroyer who assumed its name.
When Noah was informed of the Flood to come, he was unmoved. Instead of begging for mercy on behalf of the world, Noah asked God what would become of him. Scripture, therefore, rightfully calls the Flood ‘the waters of Noah’ (Isaiah 54:9); they are attributed to him because once he was assured of his own survival in the ark he did not seek mercy for the world.
The Baal Shem Tov notes that the Hebrew word for Noah’s ark also means ‘a word’. Noah, clothed in his righteousness, withdrew into his ‘words’ – into the words of Torah-study and prayer. He walked with God, and cut himself off from the sinfulness of his society.
Moreover, when men came to him and inquired about the huge ship he was building, he told them of the impending Divine punishment – the Flood. But only then, when he was approached, did he scold and rebuke them and tell them to mend their ways; he did not take the initiative. He was content to save himself.
This type of conduct is called in Yiddish” A tzaddik in pelt’ – a righteous man in a warm fur coat.’ There are two ways to warm oneself in a cold room: One is to build a fire – in which case everyone in the room benefits from the warmth; a second way is to put on a fur coat – in which case the wearer of the coat is warm but everyone else in the room remains cold. Wrapped up in the cozy warmth of his own righteousness, he is not really concerned with the bitter cold of those ‘outside’.
6:14 “..make the ark with compartments'” – Hirsch observes that it does not say ‘for the ark’. The structure was planned for its compartments. It was not meant as a home for Noah and his family with the incidental purpose of accommodating animals, rather it was intended for the salvation of all life.
6:15 Even according to the smallest estimate of 18 inches per cubit, the dimensions of the Ark were 450 x 75 x 45 feet = 1,518,750 cubic feet. Each of its three stories had 33,750 square feet of floor space for a total of 101,250 square feet.
6:17 “..to destroy all flesh.” The Hebrew word for ‘destroy’ is the same as for ‘corrupt’. The punishment was thus measure for measure: ‘for all flesh had become corrupt’ (verse 12): now I have decreed to destroy all flesh.
6:18 “But I will establish My covenant with you,..” – Rashi, following the Midrash, comments that this covenant was needed to guarantee that the food in the ark would not spoil, and that the wicked of the generation would not kill him.
The Midrash comments… ‘You were indeed the builder, but were it not for My covenant which stood you in good stead could you have entered the Ark?’ Therefore it is written” ‘But I will establish My covenant with you’ when you are brought into the ark.
Ibn Ezra concludes, however, that the interpretation most acceptable to him is that ‘covenant’ refers to the rainbow (9:13) which God was to establish after the Flood as a covenant rewarding Noah for complying with His command.
So which covenant does this refer to? The covenant that heaven and earth will never entirely cease, as in the verse (Jeremiah 33:25 ‘If not for My covenant by day and by night, I had not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth’ – in other words meaning – the apparent meaning is: ‘were it not for My covenant at the night and day of creation, heaven and earth would not enjoy permanence’.
Abarbanel similarly cites the verse from Jeremiah which identifies the act of creation as God’s ‘covenant’. He explains that our verse refers specifically to the covenant which God had made during the Six Days of Creation confining the waters to one place (1:9). In the face of this generation’s corruption, He was suspending that covenant; however, He promised Noah that for the purpose of saving him and his family, He would nevertheless fulfill His covenant regarding the established order of creation.
6:19 ‘..shall you bring into the ark..’ – The command here cannot mean that God intended for Noah to actually bring in these animals; the animals will come of their own accord. The meaning of the verse is rather that he should help them enter and provide for their welfare.
“..two of each..” – As the following verse explains, these animals were to be one male and one female, so that the species could be replenished after the Flood. In the case of the kosher species that could be used for offerings, Noah was later commanded to bring seven pairs (7:2), so that he could bring offerings of gratitude and commitment after returning to dry land.
There were many huge beasts, such as elephants, and so many species of all sizes that even ten such arks could not have held them all, along with one year’s provisions. It was a miracle that the small Ark could contain them. Even though the same miracle could have taken place in a smaller ark, thus sparing Noah the hard physical labor of building such a huge one, nevertheless, God wanted it to be so large in order to make the miracle less obvious, because people should try to reduce their reliance on miracles as much as possible. (Rambam)
6:20 The phrase ‘according to each kind’ implies that he was to take only those that had kept to their own species, and who had not committed the perversion of mating with other species. God’s decree was that only those animals whose purpose it was to be preserved (7:3) would come of their own accord. Therefore, Noah ‘took’ only those ‘clean’ beasts which God commanded him.
6:21 “And as for you, take yourself…” – According to Kli Yakar this phrase is to be interpreted: take from your own possessions and not from another’s. Noah might have rationalized that since the generation was about to perish anyway, he could take their belongings. Therefore God told him: Take only from your own possessions, however limited and seemingly insufficient they are for the intended purpose, in order to accentuate the miracle.
Noah was not to expect them to bring along their own food the way animals usually prepare their winter food during the summer. This was to be Noah’s responsibility; he would gather the food and the animals would be sustained through him (Malbim).
The Midrash comments that the greater part of his provisions consisted of pressed figs along with various greens for the different animals. He also stored away vine-shoots, fig-shoots, olive-shoots, and various seeds for future planting after the Flood. This is implied by the term ‘and gather it in to yourself – because a man does not ‘gather’ (in the sense of ‘store away’) anything unless he needs it for later’.
Ragbag suggests that for Noah to have known how much food to gather he must have been told approximately how long God was planning for them to stay in the ark. Others maintain that Noah did not know how much to prepare; that the food sufficed was itself part of the miracle.