9:1 “God blessed Noah and his sons..” – The world benefited from God’s blessing to Adam (1:28) until the Generation of the Flood. When Noah left the ark, God renewed the blessing by repeating it to Noah and his sons.
“‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land.” – This verse is considered a divine blessing. The command to procreate is given in verse 7. Whe Noah departed from the ark and saw the world in ruins he was dismayed because only four men were left in the world. God, therefore, put his fears to rest with the blessing that few thought they were, they would, indeed, repopulate the world. (Abarbanel; Malbim)
9:2 “The fear of you and the dread of you..” – So that Noah would not be afraid that the few surviving people would be in constant danger from the hordes of animals in the world, God gave this additional blessing that He had implanted in animals an instinctive fear of human beings (Abarbanel).
The Zohar explains that in man’s ideal state, the image of God in which he was created would be sufficient to frighten animals, which are an infinitely lower order of life. But when the generation of the Flood degraded itself and sank to the level of animals, it forfeited this aura. Now God restored that blessing. This concept means that as long as man is true to his Godly image, he need not fear beasts, but if he descends from his calling, after the fashion of the Generation of the Flood, he must indeed fear the beasts of the wild.
The Talmud continues that ‘a beast has no power over man unless it takes him for an animal’. This means that the man who was attacked by a beast must have been deserving of death for an unwitnessed transgression so that the death penalty could not be applied by the courts. God therefore sends one of His ‘agents’ – in any form it might take – to execute judgment. Having lost his human dignity, the sinner appears like an ‘animal’ and is prone to attack by brazen beasts. Had he maintained his human stamp, the animals would have fled in awe (Zohar; Akeidas Yitchak).
9:3 “…shall be food for you..” – God now gave Noah and his descendants a right that had never been given to Adam or his progeny: permission to eat meat. Noah was given the right to eat meat, just as God had given Adam the right to eat vegetation, because (a) Had it not been for the righteousness of Noah, no life would have survived the Flood; and, (b) he had toiled over the animals and attended to their needs in the Ark. Of him was it said, “You shall eat the toil of your hands” (Psalms 128:2). Thus, Noah had acquired rights over them (Or HaChaim).
Malbim explains that it is logical and desirable for a lower form of life to be eaten by those absorbed into a higher form. Therefore, animals eat plant life, thus elevating it, and humans eat animals elevating them to become part of intelligent man.
9:4 “But flesh, with its soul its blood you shall not eat.” – Now that God permitted all moving things as food, He included a limitation. God prohibited tearing a limb from a living animal and eating it, because it is one of the greatest barbarisms one can inflict upon animals, and if it were permitted, people would learn cruelty (Radak; Abarbanel).
Rashi explains that this verse prohibits a limb cut from a living animal while its soul is still in it, you may not eat its flesh. According to Rashi, the word ‘with its soul’, relates to both the beginning and the end of the verse: flesh while it is yet with its soul (life); and while the blood is yet with its soul. He accordingly interprets that there are two prohibitions implicit in the verse: both the flesh and the blood taken from a living animal are forbidden.
9:5 “..your blood which belongs to your souls I will demand..” – According to Hirsch – I permitted you to take the lives of animals, but your own lives you may not take. I will require an accounting from one who spills his own blood – thus, prohibiting suicide…
The Midrash continues that lest one think that this prohibition of suicide includes even one like Saul’s (who ordered that he be killed to avoid falling into the hands of the Philistines, see 1 Samuel 31:4) and like that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego (who were prepared to give up their lives for the sanctification of God’s Name, by choosing to be thrown into the fiery furnace rather than worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idols, see Daniel 3:17. Now one could think that this verse expressly prohibits even such selfless forms of suicide..) Therefore, the Torah writes ‘but‘ (which in Talmudic exegesis is a limiting particle inferring that some forms of suicide are not prohibited). Countless Jews have committed suicide to sanctify God’s Name rather than convert to another faith. These martyrs, respectfully called, holy ones, made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Judaism, reaching a spiritual zenith of devotion to God.
The intent, then is that the body, blood, and life of animals are yours and at your disposal, but your own blood which belongs to your soul is Mine (Hirsch).
“..of every beast I will demand it..” – Although an animal has no reason and is not subject to punishment, nevertheless, in its relationship with man, animals are accountable for their deeds (Radak). Every beast that kills a human being will itself be devoured, by Divine decree, (by another animal, or it will grow weak and become easy prey (Abarbanel).) Or, compare the case of an ox which is executed by the court for killing a human being (Exodus 21:28).
“..but of man,..” The verse gives other examples of bloodshed that God will not condone: someone who contrives to kill without witnesses, so that he is beyond the reach of the courts; or someone who kills his brother, i.e. someone he loves so very much that the death had to have been accidental or unintentional. In such a case, too, the killer may well have a degree of responsibility due to his failure to exercise proper vigilance. Whenever a life is taken, God will inflect whatever punishment is merited according to the degree of the crime or the carelessness that led to the death.
9:6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man..” – I shall seek vengeance if there are no witnesses, but if there are witnesses the court must put him to death. Why? – “For in the image…” (Rashid; Radak).
“For in the image of God He made man.” – And therefore whoever sheds blood is regarded as if he had impaired the divine likeness (Midrash).
One might think that since the murderer, too, was made in the image of God, it would be wrong to put him to death. Hence the verse comes to inform us that – no, the murderer expunged God’s likeness from himself by his heinous act, and deserves himself to be killed (Ragbag).
Beloved is man for he was created in the image of God; but greater still was the love shown to him in that it was revealed to him that he was created in the image of God, as it is said: For in the image of God He made man – for when God informed to man this via Noah, the basis of the sanctity of human life in the recreated world was established (Avos 3:14).
9:7 “And you, be fruitful and multiply” – Having warned them concerning bloodshed, which destroys the world, he bade them to procreate abundantly and thereby build up the world (Radak), and increase mankind which was ‘created in the image of God’ (Malbim).
According to the plain meaning, the similar statements made earlier to Adam (1:28) and to Noah (verse 1) which are preceded by the phrase ‘and God blessed them’ constitute a blessing, like the one God gave the fish (1:22). Here, the verse is understood as a commandment. In fact, the Talmud, Sanhedrin 59b cites this verse as the source of the commandment to procreate…
Additionally, from the sequence of the verse, the Talmud (Yevamos 63b) derives that this command follows the prohibition of murder to liken one who refuses to procreate to one who sheds blood, and who diminishes the Divine Image (Rashi; Ramban).
9:8-17 The rainbow; sign of the covenant – God established a covenant with Noah and his descendants, and all living beings, until the end of time. This covenant would be signified forever by the rainbow. After a rainstorm, which could have been a harbinger of another deluge like that in Noah’s time, the appearance of the rainbow will be a reminder of God’s pledge never again to wash away all of mankind in a flood. According to Ibn Ezra, it was then that God created the atmospheric conditions that would cause a rainbow to be seen after a rainstorm. Most other commentators disagree, maintaining that the rainbow, which had existed since Creation, would henceforth be designated as a sign that a deluge like Noah’s would never recur. Hirsch states that it is the eternal sign that, no matter how bleak the future may seem, God will lead mankind to its ultimate goal.
That the rainbow is a phenomenon that is predictable and explainable in natural terms is no contradiction to its status as a Divinely ordained sign. The new moon, too, symbolizes the power of renewal that God assigned to the Jewish people, even though its appearance could be calculated to the split second for hundreds of years; indeed this predictability is the basis of the current Jewish calendar, which was made known in the 4th century CE. Nevertheless, God utilized the natural phenomena of His world as reminders of His covenant, for the very laws of nature should recall to thinking people that there is a God of nature.
9:8 “..and to his sons with him..” – Opinions differ as to whether this means that God’s words were transmitted to Noah’s sons by their father, the sons being unworthy of divine revelation (Ibn Ezra, Ramban); or whether they all received God’s word together so they should all be equally aware of God’s promise to them and the other creatures of the world (Ibn Ezra; Radak).
9:11 “..and never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters…” Part of the world’s population may be destroyed, but never again will the entire world be destroyed by a flood or any other catastrophe (Sforno; Or HaChaim), even if the people are sinful. The Egyptians erred in this regard. They thought that they could drown the Jewish babies without fear of God’s measure-for-measure retribution, because He had sworn never to bring another flood. But they did not realize that only the entire world would not be flooded; therefore, the Egyptian army could be drowned at the splitting of the sea.
9:12 “And God said,..” – Hirsch comments that the rainbow is one of many signs, such as Sabbath, circumcision, and tefillin, all the which are designed to keep alive and fresh the great teachings which God gave man. The rainbow is the eternal sign that, no matter how bleak the future looks, God is not oblivious but He will lead mankind to its ultimate goal.
“..to generations forever:” Rashi notes that the sign is not required in perfectly righteous generations. For example, rainbows were not seen during the periods of Hezekiah, King of Judah, and of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (author of the Zohar) just after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
9:13 “I have set My bow in the cloud..” – The use of the first person, My bow, and the past tense, I have set, indicate that the bow was previously in existence. The verse is therefore to be interpreted: The bow which I have set in the clouds since the beginning of creation – as a natural phenomenon resulting from the sun’s rays refracting upon the moisture-laden air, similar to the rainbow visible in a container of water standing in the sun – shall henceforth service as a sign of the covenant between Me and you (Ramban).
The rainbow was chosen as a sign because it is symbolic of the Glory of God as described in Ezekiel 1:28. God thus implied: ‘When it shall rain abundantly, I will present you with a symbol of My Glory, so you shall receive the Shechinah, for were it My intentions to destroy you, I would not have manifested to you My Glory because a king does not deign to appear to his disgraced enemies (B’chor Shor).