Genesis – Chapter 8

Rashi apparently notes that it is unusual for a verse speaking of God’s compassionate ‘remembering’ of Noah to employ the name of God which designates Him in His strict Attribute of Justice.  ‘Hashem’, which designates Him as a Merciful God would seem more appropriate in this context.  Obviously, there is a lesson to be learned.

Rashi explains it by basing himself upon a Midrash, part of which is cited in 6:7: ‘Woe to the wicked who turn the Attribute of Mercy into the Attribute of Justice…’

The Midrash continues: ‘Happy are the righteous who turn the Attribute of Justice into the Attribute of Mercy.  Wherever Elohim is used, it implies the Attribute of Justice…yet it is written: ‘And Elohim (‘God’) remembered Noah; And Elohim remembered Rachel (30:22); And Elohim heard their groaning (Exodus 2:24).

Thus, Rashi concludes, it is the prayer of the righteous that transforms Justice into Mercy, and while the wrath of His fury was obliterating Creation, He nevertheless displayed Mercy to Noah and to those with him in the ark.

  “God remembered..”  – To say that God “remembers” implies that forgetfulness is possible for Him, which is clearly an absurdity.  The Torah uses this term, like many others, to make it easier for us to understand the course of events: God’s wisdom had decreed that up to this point He should ignore the plight of His creatures, as if He had forgotten them.  Now, when He was ready to show them mercy, it was if He had remembered.  The commentators state that Noah earned this mercy because he fed and cared for animals during all the months in the Ark. (Midrash)

God remembered that the animals that were permitted to enter the ark had not previously perverted their way, and that they had refrained from mating in the ark (Rashi).

God remembered that Noah was a perfectly righteous man, and there was a Divine covenant to save him.  Concerning the animals, God remembered His plan that the earth should continue with the same species as before (Ramban).

Only Noah is mentioned, not his family, because they were all saved by his merit.  

“And God caused a spirit to pass…’  – Rashi who is consistent with his interpretation of 1:2, comments: ‘It was a spirit of comfort and appeasement that passed before Him’.  Rashi does not translate the word to ‘wind’ instead of ‘spirit’ because wind has the effect of stirring up water (Psalm 147:18).  It was rather His compassion that calmed the turbulent water.

That very same (wind/spirit) which hovered during Creation (1:2) went forth upon the waters during the Flood and returned the waters to their original state.  Then He sent forth this same (wind/spirit) to calm the waters.

8:2  Rashi notes that unlike 7:11 which says that all the fountains burst forth, this verse does not say that all of them closed because some fountains, such as the hot springs of Tiberias were left open to benefit the world (Rashi).  Remember: the waters of the Flood – even those which flowed into Eretz Yisrael (see 8:11) – were hot (Sanhedrin 108a).

“the rain from heaven was restrained.”  – God did this so that Noah should not grow frightened at seeing new rain and think that a new Flood was coming.  God, therefore, withheld all precipitation until He made the covenant with Noah promising him never again to bring a flood upon the world (9:11).

8:6  “..Noah opened the window of the ark..”  – Noah knew that the rains had stopped earlier.  He waited until sufficient time had elapsed since the ark had landed before he opened the window because until then he was afraid that waves might suddenly rise up and rush in through the opening (Radak).

Malbim suggests, however, that he had opened it regularly for a brief time to watch the progress of the waters; this time he left it open permanently.

Ramban agrees that Noah would open and close the window at will.  Seventy-three days after the ark landed, he peered out the window.  He saw the peaks of the mountains of Ararat, and again closed the window.  Scripture then relates that forty days later he sent forth the raven, because he thought that by that time the towers and trees (which according to Ramban were not destroyed by the Flood) would be visible and the birds would find in them a place to nest, so he opened the window and sent forth the raven.  

8:7  Why did Noah send a raven which was an unclean bird (see Leviticus 11:15) and of which there were only two in the ark, thus risking a mishap that would have made an entire species extinct?  Since Noah’s purpose for sending forth the raven is not explicitly stated as it is in the case of the dove in verse 8, the commentators have different views.  The Talmud (Sanhedrin 108b) however answers the question in this way.  The raven was one of the three creatures who transgressed the prohibition of mating in the ark.  Noah’s son Ham, the dog, and the raven.

The raven’s mate had thus already been impregnated and was incubating her eggs.  Therefore Noah reasoned that it was permitted to dispatch the raven because the survival of the species was assured.

This also explains why, in the case of the raven, Noah did not stretch forth his hand to bring it back into the ark, as he did for the dove.  Noah was angered that the raven, dog, and his son Ham transgressed the prohibition, but he was helpless.  He could not banish the other creatures from the ark because they would have drowned, the raven was the only one of the three that could fly and survive outside of the ark for the duration of the Flood.

“ kept going and returning..”  – Sanhedrin 108b:

Resh Lakish said: The raven gave Noah a devastating retort: ‘Your Master hates me and you hate me.  Your Master hates me since He commanded you to save seven pairs of the clean creatures but only one pair of unclean creatures.  You hate me because you leave the species of seven and send me when I am one of only two.  Should the angel of heat or cold attack me, will not the world be short of one species?  Or perhaps you desire my mate!’

‘Evil one!’ Noah replies.  ‘Even my wife who is usually permitted to me, has been forbidden me in the ark; how much the more (your mate) which is always forbidden me!

According to the parallel Midrash, Noah is answering the raven’s complaints that it was singled out from all the birds to be sent away, by saying: ‘What need has the world for you?  You are fit for neither food nor sacrifice!’  The Midrash goes on to show how the raven was indeed a necessary species.  It was the raven that would one day feed Elijah and keep him alive (1 Kings 17:16).

8:8   When Noah saw that the raven’s mission had been fruitless, he dispatched the dove, for doves have the ability to bring a response to their sender (Radak).

Malbim suggests that Noah had brought along pairs of trained courier birds as part of his own personal belongings.  It was from his own that Noah sent forth this dove, not of the seven pairs he was required to bring into the ark and from which he would not diminish.

8:9  “But the dove could find no resting place..”  – Rav Yahudah bar Nachman comments: Had it found a place of rest, it would not have returned.  The Midrash also perceives the dove as an allegorical symbol of Israel.  Similarly ‘she dwelt among the nations, but found no rest’ (Lamentations 1:3), but had she (Israel) found rest, she would not have longed to return (to God and her land.)

Midrash Aggadah adds: Just as the dove found no resting place, so would Israel not find a haven of rest in Exile, but just as the dove returned to the ark, so will Israel return from Exile to their land, in the face of the burden of the nations who are likened to water.

“ he put forth his hand, and took it,..”  – Noah’s compassion teaches us that one should treat an unsuccessful messenger as well as a successful one, if the failure was not his fault (Haamek Davar).

8:11  “ olive leaf..”  – The Midrash asks: From where did the dove bring it?  

Rav Abba said: She brought it from the young shoots of Eretz Yisrael.

Rav Levi said: She brought it from the Mount of Olives, for Eretz Yisrael was not submerged by the Flood.

Rav Birai said: The gates of the Garden of Eden were opened for her and from there she brought it.

By bringing back a bitter olive leaf in its mouth, the dove was saying symbolically, “Better that my food be bitter but from God’s hand, than sweet as honey but dependent on mortal man (Rashi).  Hirsch elaborates: For a full year, the dove could not earn its own food; hunger forced it to rely on Noah’s kindness.  Then it found a bitter leaf that it would ordinarily not eat – and carried it back to Noah, preaching the lesson of the Sages, that even the bitterest food eaten in freedom is better than the sweetest food given in servitude.  

The Midrash says that the leaf was brought from the Mount of Olives since Eretz Yisrael was not inundated.  This should not be taken to mean that the land remained unaffected.  Rather, the rains did not fall upon Eretz Yisrael nor did the deep overflow it.  The waters did stream in from other lands, however, although not with sufficient force to uproot its trees.

The people in Eretz Yisrael, however, were overcome, because, as pointed out, the waters of the Flood were scalding hot.  The fact that the hot springs of Tiberias still exist, indicates there were hot Flood waters in Eretz Yisrael.  Those in the ark, however, were spared the devastating heat, because the water was miraculously cooled at the side of the ark. (Zevachim 113b)

“..and Noah knew that the waters subsided from upon the earth.”  – He inferred from the fact that the dove had not ‘found’ it but, as implied by the verb ‘plucked’ it, the waters had almost entirely subsided from the earth because olive trees are not high (Radak).

8:13  God had not ordered Noah to leave the ark at this time.  Noah waited because he knew that at the appropriate time God would command him to leave just as He had commanded him to enter (Radak). 

8:14  The earth had dried out and returned to its natural condition.  The cycle was complete.  The Flood had commenced on the 17th of the second month of the previous year, and a complete solar year which was the period of punishment of the Generation of the Flood had elapsed before the earth returned to its original state.  Since a solar year is eleven days longer than a lunar year, the additional eleven days from the sixteenth of the month (end of the lunar year) to the twenty-seventh of the month complete the solar year, making 365 days in all (Rashi).

8:16  In telling Noah that the Ark would save him, God used the Name Hashem (7:1), which denotes mercy.  Here, in telling him to return to the world, He uses the Name Elohim, and uses it throughout the narrative.  In addition to its familiar connotation of God as Judge, it also refers to Him as God Who dominates nature and uses it to carry out His ends.  Just as judgment proceeds along clearly defined rules, so too nature has its clearly defined laws, within which God guides the world, unless He chooses to override them and perform a miracle.  The Name Elohim refers to this aspect of God’s total mastery, for it describes Him as ‘the Mighty One Who wields authority over the beings above and below’ and ‘the Omnipotent One.  Here, when God called upon Noah to leave the Ark and build the world anew, He appeared as the God Who created and preserves the natural world, and Who would rejuvenate the universe that had lain virtually dormant for a year.  Regarding this definition of the Name Elohim, commentators note that its numerical value equals that of ‘the nature’, indicating that He controls all natural phenomena.

8:17  ‘..on the earth..”  – Only back on earth were the animals to be fruitful and multiply, but in the Ark, all sexual activity was forbidden (Rashi).  The next verse, by mentioning the males and females separately, suggests that the prohibition was still in force, even after the end of the Flood’s ravages.  

8:20  ‘Then Noah built an altar to Hashem..”  –  When Noah left the ark and saw the world in a state of destruction, he wept and cried out to God: ‘Master of the Universe!  You are called All Merciful.  You should have shown compassion upon the work of Your hand.’

‘Foolish shepherd!’ God answered him.  ‘Now you say this?  Why did you not plead when I said ‘I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation’ and ‘I will bring Flood-waters’, and ‘make unto yourself an ark of gopher-wood.’  I forewarned you to give you ample opportunity to seek mercy for My world.  Instead, as soon as you heard that you would be spared you were complacent; it never occurred to you to pray on behalf of the others.  You contently went into your ark and saved yourself.  Now, that the world is in ruin, you open your mouth with meaningless petitions?’

When Noah heard this, he built an altar and offered sacrifices (Zohar).

There is a tradition that the place where David and Soloman built the altar in the threshing floor of Aravnah (II Chronicles 3:1), was the same place where Abraham built the altar upon which he bound Isaac.  This is the same place where Noah had built an altar after leaving the ark, which was in the same place as the altar upon which Cain and Abel offered a sacrifice.  It was there that Adam offered a sacrifice after he was created, for Adam was created from that very ground, as the Sages have taught: Adam was created from that place where he made atonement.  This place is Mount Moriah, the site of the Temple in Jerusalem.  

8:21  “And Hashem smelled the pleasing aroma..”  –  This is the only time in Scripture where the positive article ‘the’ is used in connection with an offering.  This is to indicate that Noah’s sacrifice was in a class of its own because he was the forerunner of reborn human life and was now dedicating the entire future of the race to God’s service.

“..and Hashem said in His heart..”  – When Scripture uses this term, it means that God kept the resolution private and did not reveal it to a prophet, meaning Noah, at that time.  However, when He directed Moses to write the Torah he revealed to him that Noah’s sacrifice was accepted and. that as a result, He had resolved never again to smite every living thing.

I will not continue to curse again….nor will I again continue..”  – God repeated this so that it would constitute an oath (Shevuos 36a).  It is to this implied oath that Isaiah 54:9 refers: ‘For I have sworn that the waters of Noah will never again pass over the earth’ (Rashi).

“ evil from his youth;”  – Man receives the Evil Inclination from birth before he has the wisdom and maturity to combat it (meaning that man’s animal instincts are inborn, while the intellect and spiritual desire for self-improvement must be taught and developed with time and maturity).  Therefore, while individuals are responsible for their sins, mankind as a whole should not be wiped out totally because of sin.  God will punish people in other, less drastic, ways (Ramban; Abarbanel).

‘ I have done.”  – For in the future God will never again punish the human family as a body; He will punish only the individual sinners as He later did in Sodom (Radak).

8:22  Hirsch notes that the Midrash makes it very clear that the seasons, as we now know them and described in this verse, came into existence after the Flood.  Prior to it, fields were cultivated only once in forty years, the climate was always spring-like and the entire land mass of earth was unbroken by seas and oceans.  The Midrash also indicates that this ease of living was a major contributory factor in the corruption of the generation.  The inference is plain that inactivity and excess leisure are harmful to human moral development.

Rashi shows the year is thus divided into six periods of two month each, which, in that part of the world are:

seedtime – the time of planting wheat;

winter – the time of planting barley and beans which are quick to ripen;

cold – which is more severe than winter;

harvest – time to bring in the crops

summer – a name which originally referred to summer fruit, as in II Samuel 16:2, but which is now applied to the season of such fruit, the time when the figs are gathered and laid out to dry in the fields;

heat – the end of summer when the world is excessively hot.

The fact that the verse specifies that day and night shall not cease, implies that during the Flood they did cease, because as the Midrash says, the heavenly bodies did not function and the distinction between day and night was not apparent.

According to Ibn Ezra, the year is divided in this verse into two periods; seedtime and harvest, and then it is further divided into four opposing periods: cold corresponding to heat, summer corresponding to winter, which in total correspond to the four seasons of the year.  Finally it is divided into day and night, for the shortness of the day in one season (winter) is made up in its corresponding season (summer); similarly with night.

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