By: Rabbi Shlomo Rosenfeld
We grow up learning that the מבול was a flood which wiped out humanity and the animal kingdom, נח was saved inside his Ark and he and his family eventually repopulate the Earth. However, I think a closer look displays the מבול in a completely different light (we may have been “Deluge”ional all along, sorry I had to).
The description we get of the onset of the מבול is violent water everywhere, darkness and destruction. Sounds chaotic no? If you look back at the beginning of creation we also hear about a chaotic world full of water, והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך על פני תהום. The first mention of Hashem’s involvement is a wind/spirit of Hashem that hovers over the water, and then Hashem begins by creating light on day 1. This is followed by the splitting of the waters and the appearance of the sky (day 2), the creation of dry land (day 3), the sun moon and days (day 4), creation of birds and fish (day 5), and the creation of animals and man (day 6). If we follow the Pesukim of the מבול story we see the exact same process and template being used.
At the mid-point of the year long מבול, the Torah says that Hashem remembered נח, and then we hear this: ויעבר אלהים רוח על הארץ, Hashem passed a wind over the world, but the world is still covered by water, which means that Hashem’s wind was over the water. Then, Hashem causes the water falling from above to cease, and quelled the waters that had been rising from the deep, which gives us separating waters to allow the sky to appear, a mirror of day 2. A few Pesukim later we hear that the mountain peaks started to show, which is the first appearance of dry land, a mirror of day 3. But then, we skip over day 4 and go to day 5’s parallel, when נח send out the birds to see if the world was yet habitable. And finally, we hear about נח, his family, and the animals leaving the Ark, which is obviously day 6’s parallel. So, what we are seeing here is not just a flood that wiped out humanity, but rather a recreation of the world on some level.
But a question emerges. Why are the sun and moon’s recreation missing? They obviously were still there since there was light and darkness, and day and night, so why are they not included in the recreation story? I think if we understand why a recreation was necessary, we will understand why the moon and sun were not mentioned.
The מדרש says that the purpose of the world is that Hashem wants to have a dwelling place amongst us. Hashem wants to be able to be good to us and to be among us for us to experience a relationship with Him. And if you look back at the first few stories this is extremely clear. Adam sins, and when Hashem calls out, all He is trying to do is start a conversation so that Adam will confess what he did wrong and confront Hashem on how to fix it. and the same thing happens when קין sins, Hashem tries so hard to get him to discuss the problem with Hashem, and when he does, Hashem forgives him. We see that the problem is not the sins that we commit, rather it is our distancing ourselves from Hashem and not realizing that He wants to be close to us regardless of our sins. And when the world as a whole comes to a point where they are so distant from Hashem that they aren’t aware of his presence, Hashem sees that he must destroy the world.
Ironically, I think the very first moment of this is when נח is born. נח’s father says זה ינחמנו ממעשנו ומעצבון ידינו מן האדמה אשר אררה יהוה, this child will be the one to comfort us from our work and the sadness of our hands [which comes] from the ground which Hashem has cursed. Look at the roles in that Pasuk, Hashem is the curser and נח is the fixer, even if נח would fix the problem with the help of Hashem, נח is the one getting all the credit. And I think there is a play on words, because a few Pesukim later Hashem says וינחם יהוה כי עשה את האדם ויתעצב אל לבו, we have those same words ניחום and עצב, but here it is showing that Hashem has seen that mankind will need to be destroyed.
This is what led up to the destruction of the world and its subsequent rebuilding. But the world that נח walks into is not like the one that he left behind. This world needs to be much farther removed from Hashem, for its own safety. The closeness that the world had to Hashem is what led to it’s being destroyed. The world was sensitive to every misdeed and wrongdoing, so much so that the world itself was impressionable as the מדרש tells us. But this new world would house a humanity farther removed from Hashem on a cruder world that would not demand such perfection from them. Therefore, נח can kill animals to eat, before life was so sacred that no life could be taken for anything other than a sacrifice to God, but now, personal needs could allow an animal life to be taken.
This also answers a seeming contradiction in the Pesukim. Before the מבול the Pasuk (at the end of פרשת בראשית) says that Hashem saw that man’s inclinations and thoughts were only evil all day long and therefore they must be destroyed. Then after the מבול Hashem says I will no longer curse the land or destroy the land as I have done since man’s inclinations are bad from his youth. Well which one is it? do we get destroyed because we are bad, or do we get saved because we are bad? I think this is highlighting the different realities that were at play before and after the מבול. In a sensitive world our actions demand consequences, but in the post מבול world, where Hashem is slightly more removed from the world because of our evils, it is those evils which force Hashem away and therefore allow for us not to get destroyed.
And I think the next Pasuk tells us why the sun and moon were not recreated. These were not beings that lived on Earth, the occupy the heavens and could not just be remade in the way that earthly creatures could be, but they also can’t be as potent as they were before. The Pasuk says עוד כל ימי הארץ זרע וקציר וקר וחם וקיץ וחרף ויום ולילה לא ישבתו, for the rest of the earth’s existence, the six seasons and sub seasons, day and night will never rest, i.e. they have been set on auto pilot. So, their potency and involvement in the world has been limited, but the description of this comes not during the regular description of the recreation rather at the end when it discusses our relationship to Hashem, and it is there that Hashem chooses to tell us about the sun, moon, and stars’ new type of existence. Perhaps the reason for this is to draw a striking contrast between us on earth versus the beings in the sky and Hashem. We are no longer as close as we were to Hashem, we are now humans stuck here on earth.
Read again next week to see how the choosing of Avram is what allows Hashem to return to the original intensity of the relationship by narrowing down the population size with which He will be closely connected to.
Have a great Shabbos!