U’vachodesh hasheinu b’shiv’ah v’esrim yom la’chodesh yavsha ha’aretz
At the conclusion of the 40 days of rain, on 27 Kislev, the Torah records (7:20) that the level of water reached 15 cubits (23-30 feet) above the highest mountain. The water began to recede 150 days later — on the first of Sivan — until, ultimately, the earth was completely dry on 27 Marcheshvan, enabling Noach to finally leave the ark.
Harav Shimon Schwab points out that the amount of water needed to cover the earth until it’s 15 cubits above the highest mountain is tremendous, and for all that water to disappear naturally would require hundreds of years. If so, why did Hashem cause the process of drying out to take so long — just under six months — when that still involved an open miracle, instead of condensing it into a much shorter period of time?
Rav Schwab suggests that Hashem did so to teach us that His general approach is not to liberate a person immediately, and therefore we must be patient in our interactions with Him, confident that His salvation will come in its proper time. For this reason, even after Noach believed that the floodwaters had receded enough to allow him to exit the ark, he still had to wait an additional seven days — and not once, but twice (8:10, 12).
Rav Schwab notes that in Parashas Shemos, Moshe unfortunately failed to recognize this concept, as he complained to Hashem (5:22-23) that from the time he arrived in Egypt to speak to Pharaoh on behalf of the Jewish people, their plight had only worsened. Rashi writes that Hashem responded that although Moshe would witness the downfall of Pharaoh, he would not merit to see the wars against the 31 non-Jewish kings whom the Jewish people would defeat when they conquered Eretz Yisrael. In what way was this punishment tailored to Moshe’s error?
Hashem later told Moshe (Shemos 23:30) that when the Jewish people entered the land of Israel, He would cause the non-Jewish inhabitants of the land to leave slowly over time, which was intended to teach the Jews the value of patience. As we know, it took Yehoshua seven years to conquer Eretz Yisrael and an additional seven years to divide it among the tribes. Because Moshe had lamented the lack of immediate results and did not understand that deliverance takes time, he was disqualified from leading the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael, for conquering the land takes time and requires patience.
Rav Schwab adds that for this reason, Moshiach is referred to (Zechariah 3:8) as “avdi Tzemach — My servant who sprouts forth.” And we say in Shemoneh Esrei that Hashem is “Matzmiach yeshuah” — He causes salvation to grow like a plant. Just as plants grow slowly and it is difficult to discern their progress on a daily basis, so too the final Redemption draws slowly but imperceptibly nearer — for those who have the patience to wait for it to arrive in its proper time, may it be speedily in our days.
Q: When in world history did the sun rise in the west and set in the east?
A: The Gemara says that during the week that preceded the flood, Hashem changed the laws of nature and caused the sun to rise in the west and set in the east as a way of showing the people that they were about to be destroyed if they did not do teshuvah.
Q: In instructing Noach regarding the building of the ark, Hashem specified (6:14) that it must be subdivided into various rooms. Why was this detail significant?
A: Rashi writes (6:12-13) that the flood was a punishment for two sins: stealing and immorality. Rabbi Shalom Erlanger posits that the common thread between these two is a lack of boundaries, as Noach’s contemporaries were incapable of recognizing what belonged to whom and respecting these limits. Therefore, they were punished with a mabul, which is associated with the word bilbul (mixture), as the waters mingled together and wrought devastation throughout the world, without respecting their designated borders.
For this reason, Hashem insisted that Noach partition the ark into rooms, which serve to divide a large pooled space into individual areas. By building walls to serve as boundaries, Noach rectified the sins of his generation and was able to be saved from the jumbled waters of the flood.
Q: Was the flood that occurred in the times of Noach the first major flood in world history?
A: The Midrash teaches that the generation of Enosh was punished for their idolatrous practices when the ocean overflowed and flooded one-third of the world. Rashi adds that Noach’s contemporaries failed to learn the appropriate lessons from their punishment, thus necessitating a second, even larger flood.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.