The Root Cause of the Mabul

Bachodesh hasheini b’shivah asar yom lachodesh bayom hazeh nivke’u kol maynos tehom rabbah v’arubos hashamayim niftachu (Bereishis 7:11)

The Torah describes the onset of the flood by recording that on the 17th day of the second month, all the fountains of the “tehom Rabbah” — great deep — burst forth, and the windows of the heavens opened up.

Rashi comments that this punishment directly corresponded to their sins. Hashem’s decision to bring the flood began when He observed (Bereishis 6:5) “Ki rabbah ra’as ha’adam” — that the wickedness of man was great. Therefore, they were punished by the tehom rabbah. However, Rashi (6:12-13) also writes that their punishment was due to robbery and moral depravity. What is the connection between these two concrete sins and the more nebulous concept of “Rabbah”?

The sefer Toldos Yitzchok explains that when doctors diagnose an illness, they distinguish between the underlying cause of the disease and the presenting symptoms. In the case of Noach’s contemporaries, the signs of their turpitude — the form in which their spiritual ailments manifested themselves — were stealing and forbidden relationships. However, the Torah reveals to us that the root cause of their troubles was the trait of rabbah — excessiveness.

The reason their society reached such an unprecedented level of corruption was because their inner desires were so excessive that they could not be satisfied. Eventually, their constant need for more resulted in a hedonistic and decadent society in which they sought fulfillment and pleasure from that which did not belong to them. Since they were not satisfied by their families and possessions, they turned to immoral pursuits in an attempt to satisfy themselves. However, because their dissatisfaction emanated from the attribute of rabbah, this too was insufficient for them, and wherever they turned in pursuit of happiness, it was still never enough for them.

With this insight, the Toldos Yitzchok explains that we can now understand more profoundly the propriety of their punishment. In general, rain is beneficial for the world and necessary for its ongoing existence. However, this is only the case when rain falls in appropriate amounts. If the quantity of rainfall becomes excessive, the lifegiving rain can be transformed into an instrument of devastation. Thus, the fitting punishment for their trait of rabbah was an excess of rain that became a destructive flood.

The message for them — and for us — is that while Hashem intended for mankind to enjoy this world, these pleasures must be within reason. Just as rain is beneficial in appropriate quantities but devastating in excess, so too normal enjoyment of this world is proper but becomes destructive when it reaches the insatiable level of rabbah.

Q: Who was born inside the ark?

A: The Midrash says that Og survived the flood by hanging onto the ark, where Noach gave him food each day through a small hole in the ship. The Gemara states that Sichon and Og were brothers. Sichon could not have been born after the flood, for all the giants perished in the flood. But if Sichon was born in the antediluvian era, how did he survive the flood?

The Daas Z’keinim explains that after Og was born, his mother was expecting again, now with Sichon, at which point she left their father and married one of Noach’s sons, which gained her entry to the ark. If she was already expecting before the onset of the flood, and Noach was confined in the ark for one year (Rashi 8:14), Sichon must have been born inside the ark, where he remained for the duration of the flood.

Q: Why did Noach send a raven and a dove to determine if the floodwaters had receded (Rashi 8:8) when this created a risk that one of them might die and render its species extinct?

A: The Netziv posits that the raven and the dove that Noach sent out were not taken from the pairs that Hashem commanded him (6:19) to bring into the ark to preserve their existence. Rather, since Noach was a respected individual prior to the flood, he followed the practice of noblemen at that time of owning pet birds, which were considered part of his household and therefore eligible to be brought into the ark (7:1).

Accordingly, Noach’s decision to send the raven and the dove to check whether the water had receded did not jeopardize their species in any way, for a pair of each still remained on the ark. While Noach’s pet raven was content to remain near his house, the dove was trained to fly long distances to deliver letters and transport small objects in its mouth. Thus, when Noach dispatched the raven and it saw that the ark was surrounded by water, it simply flew around in circles because it was unaccustomed to flying long distances.

The dove was comfortable with traveling long distances, but on its initial mission, it did not find anything to bring back in its mouth, so it did not return directly to Noach, but rather (8:9) “el hateivah” — close to the ark — for it had failed in its task and feared that its master would not allow it to return empty-handed. Observing this, Noach understood what had transpired and compassionately took the dove in his hand to warm it up and restore its strength.

The Netziv writes that this teaches us that if we ask somebody to do something for us but he does not succeed through no fault of his own, rather than getting angry and blaming him, we should still be grateful for his efforts and greet him warmly.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi 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