Genesis – Chapter 6

6:1   “And it came to pass”  – The Talmud notes that it is a tradition that wherever the term ‘and it came to pass’ occurs in Scripture, it foretells trouble.  Thus, here introduces ‘and Hashem saw that the wickedness of man was great’ (v5) (Megillah 10b)

The Torah introduces the account of the flood by telling us that as soon as man began to multiply they began to sin.  God, however, waited until they were steeped in their full measure of sin before he punished them (Ramban).

“..and daughters were born to them.”  – Radak comments that the daughters are specifically mentioned here because they are crucial to the narrative; it was through them that the wickedness was perpetrated.

6:2  “..the sons of rulers (God)”  – These were the sons of the princes and judges, for Elohim always implies rulership, as in Exodus 4:16 ‘and you shall be his master (Rashi)’.  The daughters of man were the daughters of the general populace; the multitude, the lower classes (Rambam) who did not have the power to resist their superiors (Radak).  Thus, the Torah begins the narrative of the tragedy by speaking of the subjugation of the weak by the powerful.

According to many commentators, literally the sons of God, are the God-fearing descendants of Seth, while the daughters of man (implying less spiritual people) are the sinful descendants of Cain.  The results of such marriages was that Seth’s righteous descendants sunk as well and suffered the doom that overtook all mankind with the exception of Noah and his family.

Another view of this verse is from the Talmud (Yoma 67b) which takes the view that “sons of God” could refer to ‘godly beings’ or ‘angels’.  Quoted from the introduction to Midrash Aggadas Bereishis, it addressed this Talmudic allusion:

“Angels Uzza and Azael who’s abode was in the heavens but descended to earth to prove themselves.  While still in heaven they heard God say, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth’.  They replied, ‘what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You think of him?’ (Psalms 8:5; i.e. ‘You are right; man did not deserve to be created!’)

God said to them: ‘If you lived on earth like these people and beheld the beauty of their women, the Evil Inclination would enter you, too, and cause you to sin!’

They replied: ‘We will descend and yet not sin.’  They then descended, and as the verse says, ‘the godly beings saw the daughters of man.’  When they saw them they asked to return to heaven, and they pleaded to God: ‘This trial is enough for us!’

But God answered: ‘You have already become defiled, and you shall never again become pure!’ 

6:3  “My spirit shall not contend evermore concerning man..”  – Some interpretations:

Rashi: ‘My Spirit shall not be discontent and contentious within Me concerning man much longer; not for long will My Sprit continue to contend within Me whether to destroy or to show mercy.’

Radak: ‘No longer shall the exalted Spirit which I have lowered to reside in man be in constant strife with the body which draws him to animal lust.’

Or ‘HaChaim perceives this verse as God’s determination to no longer enter into dialogue with His creatures to reprove and debate with them as was His practice earlier when He addressed the serpent, the woman, Adam, and Cain.  Now that their abominations increased, God said: My Spirit will no longer enter into direct, personal judgment with man.

N’tziv:  Man is composed of two parts: the spirit; and the flesh.  Life is a struggle for domination between these two forces.  In this verse, God foretells that man will continue to fall victim to his physical lust.  Thus the verse is rendered: My Spirituality will not dominate man for he is a creature of flesh.

Ramban: This verse is reminiscent of Psalm 49:13 ‘He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes away…’

Minchah Belulah:  ‘I implanted My Spirit in man so he should be guided by it.  But by his evil ways man has turned even his spirit into flesh.  This is unlike the righteous who transform their physical selves into spiritual beings.’

“..his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.”  – I will not inflict punishment on mankind immediately:  I will grant them a probationary period of 120 years in which to repent.  If they refuse, I will then bring a Flood upon them (Targuimn; Rashi; Ramban)

Although the Torah records this decree after the birth of Noah’s children we must remember that events in the Torah are not always related in chronological order (Pesachim 6b) and we must assume that since Japheth, Noah’s oldest son was born a hundred years before the Flood, the decree must have been issued twenty years before Noah had any children (Seder Olam; Rashi; Ibn Ezra.)

This interpretation gains credence from the Midrash: Longevity was one of the beneficent powers lost through the sins of the Generation of the Flood, for though Adam sinned he lived to the age of 930 (5:5) but, when the Generation of the Flood sinned, God reduced the normal life span to a hundred and twenty years.  In the Messianic future, however, God will restore Man’s longevity as in Isaiah’s prophecy (65:22): ‘They shall not build and another inhabit, they shall not plant and another eat; for as the days of a tree shall be the days of My people, and My chosen shall long enjoy their handiwork (Midrash HaGadol).

6:4  “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days..”  –  The Giants – They were so called because they fell and caused the world to fall (Rashi) and because the heart of whoever saw them fell in amazement at their colossal side (Ibn Ezra).

Hirsch notes the Nephilum were products of the Cainite line which submerged the spiritual thus causing gigantic physical growth.  Had the mixture of the spiritual line of Seth with the physical line of Cain achieved the ideal result, a race of spiritually inclined giants would have resulted.  Unfortunately, the physical overpowered the spiritual.

“…and also afterward..”  – Although they witnessed the destruction of the generation of Enosh when the ocean rose and flooded a third of the world, they still did to humble themselves and repent (Rashi).

..when the sons of God would consort with the daughters of man..”  – Although Ramban comments that the interpretation of these verses as referring to ‘fallen’ angels fits into the language of the verse more than all other interpretations, he avoids delving into this because of the mysteries it involves, and prefers to interpret that the b’nei Elohim, who were the Sethite line and were endowed with Adam’s distinguished godly likeness, took women by force and their offspring stood out from their fellow men by virtue of their great stature.  They were termed ‘Nephilim’ which means ‘inferior ones’ as in Job 12:3 ‘I am not ‘nophel’ – inferior – to you’ because they were inferior to their parents although they were mighty men in comparison with the rest of the generation.

So if we follow Ramban, then, the verse is to be rendered:  ‘The Nephilim’ – who were descendants of Adam through Seth – ‘were on the earth in those days and also after that’ when the Nephilim themselves begot children when the b’nei Elohim had come in unto the daughters of man and begot children’ (in other words, when the first generation who were call b’nai Elohim because they were of absolute perfection, caused the daughters of men to beget Nephilim – who were inferior to them); ‘these were the mighty men’ – in comparison to the rest of the generation; ‘that were evermore the men of renown’ – they were the men of renown in later generations.

6:5  “Hashem saw..”  – When God looked down, He saw that man had brought great evil – harm and injustice – into the world.  The present was immeasurably bad, the future would be worse (Hirsch).

“..upon the earth..”  – The verse stresses upon the earth because it was the violence that man was perpetrating upon his fellow man that most angered God (Leach Tov).

..that every product of the thoughts of his heart was but evil always.”  – Every thought conceived by man was continually motivated only toward evil, not good (R’ Meyuchas); they would not listen to rebuke and there was no prospect of repentance (their corruption of total and complete) (Sforno).

According to Radak, of the two inclinations, good and evil, that are normally found in man’s heart, that generation of man turned both to absolute evil.

God said: Look at the ways of the wicked!  When I created man I gave him two servants, one good and one evil…Not only have they failed to turn the Evil Inclination towards good; they have made the good one evil!’ (Midrash Aggadas Bereishis)

6:6  “Hashem reconsidered having made man on earth,”  – He reconsidered and His thoughts were turned from His attribute of Mercy to the attribute of Justice – from that of upholding the world to that of destroying it. (Rashi)

Ibn Ezra notes the difficulty of depicting God as ‘regretting’ and comments that such terms as ‘regret’ cannot be applied to the Creator, rather they are anthropopathic (describing human feelings to something that is not human) because ‘the Torah speaks in the language of man.’  Man perceives this Divine manifestation as if it were regret.  Similarly He was saddened, is an anthropomorphic antonym of such concepts as {slams 104:31 ‘Let Hashem rejoice in His handiwork’ for God ‘rejoices’ when man earns His graciousness.  

Rav Joseph Albo explains the concept of ‘The Torah speaks in the language of man…’ Since in human phraseology, when a king punishes those who have rebelled against him, he is said to be jealous and revengeful and full of wrath, so it is said of God when He punishes those who violate His will that He is a jealous and avenging God and is full of wrath because the act which emanates from Him against those who transgress His will is similar to the act of a revengeful, grudging, and jealous person.  The attribution sorrow to God must be explained in the same way.  Just as human beings feel sorrow when necessity compels that their works be destroyed, so the Torah says ‘it grieved Him at His heart’, and in the immediate sequel we read” ‘And Hashem said, I will blot out man whom I have made….for I regret having made them.’  ‘Regret’ is applied to God because He performs the act of a person who regrets what he has made and desires to destroy it..’

“He had heart-felt sadness.(He was grieved)”  – Sforno says ‘He was grieved’, because God does not desire the death of the wicked but that he should repent and live.

As Rav Yehudah said: God was grieved because the execution of judgment is always displeasing to Him.  Similarly, at the time when Israel crossed the Red Sea, when the angels came as usual to chant their praises before God on that night, God said to them: ‘The works of My hands are drowning in the sea and you will chant praises?’ (Zohar).

6:7  “And Hashem said..”  –  Noting that ‘Hashem’ (Lord), which indicates God in His Attribute of Mercy, is used in these verses of judgment instead of the more appropriate Elohim (God), which indicates His Attribute of Justice, the Midrash (33:3) comments:

‘Woe to the wicked who turn the Attribute of Mercy into the Attribute of Justice.  For wherever ‘Hashem’ is used it indicates the attribute of mercy, as in the verse ‘Hashem, Hashem, God merciful and gracious’ (Exodus 34:6); nevertheless, here it is written ‘And Hashem saw that the wickedness of man was great’; and ‘Hashem reconsidered…’; ‘and Hashem said I will blot out man’.

Torah Shelemah suggests that the point might be ‘that man’s wickedness was so great that even in His capacity ‘Hashem’, the God of mercy, He had to decree destruction upon them; or: while it appeared that He was now acting as the God of Judgment in truth that very judgment, stern though it was, would ultimately prove to be an act of mercy, for thereby a higher humanity was enabled to arise’.

Hirsch elaborates:  ‘Hashem, the same mercy, the same God of love that had placed man on earth, now proclaims his destruction.  Man’s corruption was so great, that the very extermination was an act of mercy.’

The more esoteric implications of these matters, according to Ramban, constitute ‘a great mystery which may not be written. Whoever knows it will understand why the Four Letter Name, Hashem, is written here while in the rest of the chapter and in account of the Flood the name “Elohim” (God of Judgment) is used.’

Let no one deceive himself: Although He is long-suffering, God does not overlook transgressions.  Man must remember that he will ultimately be held accountable for his actions, because God collects His due and retribution finally comes…He waits for the opportune moment when man’s evil is great, as He acted toward the generation of the Flood, granting them an extended period of apparent immunity but: ‘When Hashem saw that man’s wickedness was great in the earth’ … ‘Hashem said: I will blot out man’ (Bamidbar Rabbah).

“..for I have reconsidered (for I am sorry) .. having made them.”  – The question is asked here, in 1 Samuel 15:11, and Exodus 32:14: How can we associate the concept of reconsideration and regret with God?  We must understand that it is impossible for God to promise and then change His mind, or find Himself unable to carry out His promise.  Such behavior is possible only for humans.  But there is another form of regret; God created man to serve Him and to contribute to the divine Glory.  If man sins and becomes unworthy of this calling, and, as a result, is wiped off the earth, it seems as if God recanted when it is actually man who falls short (B’chor Shor).

Or HaChaim notes that if the cause of man’s destruction had been only his own sins, then people below the age of punishment would have been spared.  Rather the reason is God’s regret for having made him.  If so, even the righteous would be included in the Decree.  But Noah was spared by God’s grace.

6:8  – “But Noah found grace with Hashem.”  – God’s grace was to make possible the salvation of Noah’s family, for otherwise only he would have been spared.  Although Noah was a righteous man, he did not influence his generation to know God, therefore his merit was insufficient to save others.  Only a righteous person who attempts to make others righteous can bring about their salvation, because he can then influence them to repent (Sforno).

Hirsch concludes the Sidrah with the thought that after 1656 years of history, God was ready to wipe away all creation and carry on His plan with one man and his family.  As Psalm 29 proclaims, the Presence of God feels all that is awesome and sublime.  Nevertheless, Hashem sat at the Flood: He remained firm and unshaken, refusing to compromise His plan for the education of mankind.  Such firmness is the precondition of peace as the psalm concludes “Hashem will give strength to His people, Hashem will bless His people with peace.

We will break from Chapter Six to the Overview of Noah and Abraham.

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  “ 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.

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