The Mabul and Marcheshvan

Vayehi hamabul arba’im yom al ha’aretz (Bereishis 7:17)

Parashas Noach is read in the month of Marcheshvan. However, the name for this month as well as the other months originated in Babylon, as the names by which we know them aren’t mentioned in Tanach. In fact, on a Biblical level, most months have no names and are simply referred to by their place in the calendar (e.g., the first month, the second month, etc.). Interestingly, the month of Marcheshvan has an alternate name, as the verse (Melachim I 6:38) refers to it by the name “Bool.” What is the deeper meaning of the two different names for this month, and what is the connection between them?

The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni Melachim I 184) explains that the month is called “Bool” due to the fact that the flood began in this month, and it lasted for 40 days. In Lashon Hakodesh, the word for a flood is “mabul,” which denotes 40 days (the numerical value of the letter “mem”) of “bool.” What remains to be understood is what does the word “bool” mean, and what is its connection to the flood?

In modern Hebrew the term “bool” means a stamp, but the actual term refers to transforming the appearance of an object to take on a new image, such as machines which are able to transform a penny into a souvenir with a new picture on it. In other words, the word “bool” is used to connote that one image has been erased and obliterated in order to make room for the creation of a new one. This is precisely what happened during the Mabul, when Hashem flooded the world for 40 days to destroy it in order to make room for a new, more righteous society comprised of Noach’s descendants.

Similarly, Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky points out that the Torah begins with the letter “beis” (Bereishis) and ends with the letter “lamed” (Yisrael). The Gemara in Kiddushin (30a) teaches that the middle letter of the Torah is the “vav” in the word “gachon” (Vayikra 11:42). Together, these letters spell the word “bool,” alluding to the fact that the Torah, which was given in 40 days just like the flood, has the ability to completely transform a person by obliterating what was originally present in order to facilitate the creation of a new, holier person.

As far as the significance of the Babylonian name for the month — Marcheshvan — Harav Tzvi Meir Zilberberg explains it based on the Gemara in Megillah (27b), which teaches that after a person has completed Shemoneh Esrei, he is not permitted to go to the bathroom immediately, but must first wait the period of time required to walk a distance of four amos (approximately 6–8 feet). The Gemara explains that this requirement is due to the fact that during this brief period, his tefillah is still fluent in his mouth and richushei m’rachshan sifvasei — his lips are still considered to be moving in prayer.

Harav Zilberberg points out that if the vowels are changed, the Aramaic word used by the Gemara to say that the person’s lips are still moving can also be read as Marcheshvan. In other words, the message of the Aramaic name for the month is that even though the month of Tishrei has passed, we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that all the prayers and closeness to Hashem that we experienced during that time are left behind. The name Marcheshvan conveys to us that even one month later, we are still connected to the sparks of spiritual elevation that we enjoyed during the Yamim Nora’im and Sukkos.

In Parashas Noach we read about the power of the Mabul which began in this month to obliterate the world in order to bring about a new creation in its place. Through the study of Torah, the month of “Bool” similarly contains within it the power to assist each of us in effecting the personal revolution and transformation that we yearned for and resolved to achieve.

Parashah Q & A

Q:Which item from Parashas Noach appears in Megillas Esther? (Yalkut Shimoni Esther 1056)

Q:How old was Avraham when he married Sarah (11:29)? (Seder Hadoros 1973 and 1998)

A: The Yalkut Shimoni teaches that when Haman’s wife suggested to him (Esther 5:14) that he make a gallows 50 cubits tall (approximately 75–100 feet), he searched all over for such a large beam of wood. He was unsuccessful until he found a beam of that size which remained from Noach’s ark, which he used to build the gallows upon which he was ultimately hanged.

A:The Seder Hadoros writes explicitly that Avraham was 25 when he married Sarah in the year 1973. He bases this on the Midrash which teaches that Avraham and Sarah were barren for 75 years. Since Yitzchak was born when Avraham was 100, he must have married Sarah at the age of 25. However, he subsequently writes that Avraham married Sarah after he was saved from the fire in Ur Kasdim, which occurred in the year 1998 when Avraham was 50, which seems to contradict his earlier opinion.


 

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 oalport@Hamodia.com.