Noach (parsha)

Noach (parsha)
This article is about the Torah portion "Noach." For the Biblical figure, see Noah.

Noach or Noah (נֹחַHebrew for the name "Noah," the third word, and first distinctive word, of the parshah) is the second weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading. It constitutes Genesis 6:9–11:32. Jews read it on the second Sabbath after Simchat Torah, generally in October or November.

The parshah tells the stories of the Flood and Noah’s Ark, of Noah’s subsequent drunkenness and cursing of Canaan, and of the Tower of Babel.

Noah's Ark (1846 painting by Edward Hicks)



The Building of Noah's Ark (painting by a French master of 1675)
The Deluge (illustration by Gustave Doré from the 1865 La Sainte Bible)

The Flood

Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his age, who walked with God. (Genesis 6:9) Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Genesis 6:10) God saw that all flesh on earth had become corrupt and lawless, and God told Noah that God had decided to bring a flood to destroy all flesh. (Genesis 6:11–17) God directed Noah to make an ark of gopher wood and cover it with pitch inside and outside. (Genesis 6:14) The Ark was to be 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high, and have an opening for daylight near the top, an entrance on its side, and three decks. (Genesis 6:15–16) God told Noah that God would establish a covenant with Noah, and that he, his sons, his wife, his sons’ wives, and two of each kind of beast — male and female — would survive in the Ark. (Genesis 6:18–20)

Seven days before the Flood, God told Noah to go into the Ark with his household, and to take seven pairs of every clean animal and every bird, and one pair of every other animal, to keep their species alive. (Genesis 7:1–4) When Noah was 600 years old, the Flood came, and that same day, Noah, his family and the beasts went into the Ark, and God shut him in. (Genesis 7:6–16) The rains fell 40 days and 40 nights, the waters swelled 15 cubits above the highest mountains, and all flesh with the merest breath of life died, except for Noah and those with him on the Ark. (Genesis 7:12–23)

When the waters had swelled 150 days, God remembered Noah and the beasts, and God caused a wind to blow and the waters to recede steadily from the earth, and the Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. (Genesis 7:24–8:4) At the end of 40 days, Noah opened the window and sent out a raven, and it went to and fro. (Genesis 8:6–7) Then he sent out a dove to see if the waters had decreased from the ground, but the dove could not find a resting place, and returned to the Ark. (Genesis 8:8–9)

The Return of the Dove (1851 painting by John Everett Millais)

He waited another seven days, and again sent out the dove, and the dove came back toward evening with an olive leaf. (Genesis 8:10–11) He waited another seven days and sent out the dove, and it did not return. (Genesis 8:12) When Noah removed the covering of the Ark, he saw that the ground was drying. (Genesis 8:13) God told Noah to come out of the Ark with his family and to free the animals. (Genesis 8:16)

Landscape with Noah's Thank Offering (painting circa 1803 by Joseph Anton Koch)

Then Noah built an altar to God and offered burnt offerings of every clean animal and of every clean bird. (Genesis 8:20) God smelled the pleasing odor and vowed never again to doom the earth because of man, as man’s imaginings are evil from his youth, but God would preserve the seasons so long as the earth endured. (Genesis 8:21–22)

God blessed Noah and his sons to be fertile and increase, and put the fear of them into all the beasts, which God gave into their hands to eat. (Genesis 9:1–3) God prohibited eating flesh with its life-blood in it. (Genesis 9:4) God would require a reckoning of every man’s and beast’s life-blood, and whoever shed the blood of man would have his blood shed by man, for in God’s image did God make man. (Genesis 9:5–6) God told them to be fertile and increase. (Genesis 9:7) And God made a covenant with Noah, his sons, and every living thing that never again would a flood destroy the earth. (Genesis 9:8–11) God set the rainbow in the clouds as the sign of God’s covenant with earth, so that when the bow appeared in the clouds, God would remember God’s covenant and the waters would never again flood to destroy all flesh. (Genesis 9:12–17)

Noah cursing Canaan (illustration by Gustave Doré from the 1865 La Sainte Bible)

The curse on Canaan

Noah was the first to plant a vineyard, and he drank himself drunk, and uncovered himself within his tent. (Genesis 9:20–21) Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers. (Genesis 9:22) Shem and Japheth placed a cloth against both their backs and, walking backward, covered their father, without seeing their father’s nakedness. (Genesis 9:23) When Noah woke up and learned what Ham had done to him, he cursed Ham’s son Canaan to become the lowest of slaves to Japheth and Shem, prayed that God enlarge Japheth, and blessed the God of Shem. (Genesis 9:24–27)

The dispersion of the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (map from the 1854 Historical Textbook and Atlas of Biblical Geography)

Noah lived to the age of 950 and then died. (Genesis 9:28–29)

Noah’s descendants

Genesis 10 sets forth the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, from whom the nations branched out over the earth after the Flood. Among Japheth’s descendants were the maritime nations. (Genesis 10:2–5) Ham’s son Cush had a son named Nimrod, who became the first man of might on earth, a mighty hunter, king in Babylon and the land of Shinar. (Genesis 10:6–10) From there Asshur went and built Nineveh. (Genesis 10:11–12) Canaan’s descendants — Sidon, Heth, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites — spread out from Sidon as far as Gerar, near Gaza, and as far as Sodom and Gomorrah. (Genesis 10:15–19) Among Shem’s descendants was Eber. (Genesis 10:21)

The Tower of Babel (1563 painting by Pieter Bruegel)

The Tower of Babel

Everyone on earth spoke the same language. (Genesis 11:1) As people migrated from the east, they settled in the land of Shinar. (Genesis 11:2) People there sought to make bricks and build a city and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for themselves, so that they not be scattered over the world. (Genesis 11:3–4) God came down to look at the city and tower, and remarked that as one people with one language, nothing that they sought would be out of their reach. (Genesis 11:5–6) God went down and confounded their speech, so that they could not understand each another, and scattered them over the face of the earth, and they stopped building the city. (Genesis 11:7–8) Thus the city was called Babel. (Genesis 11:9)

The line of Terah

Genesis 11 sets forth the descendants of Shem. Eight generations after Shem came Terah, who had three sons: Abram (who would become Abraham), Nahor, and Haran. (Genesis 11:10–26) Haran had a son Lot and two daughters Milcah and Iscah, and then died in Ur during the lifetime of his father Terah. (Genesis 11:27–28) Abram married Sarai, and Nahor married Haran’s daughter Milcah. (Genesis 11:29) Sarai was barren. (Genesis 11:30) Terah took Abram, Sarai, and Lot and set out together from Ur for the land of Canaan, but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there, and there Terah died. (Genesis 11:31–32)

In inner-Biblical interpretation

Genesis chapter 11

While Genesis 11:31 reports that Abram’s father Terah took Abram, Lot, and Sarai from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran, and Genesis 12:1 subsequently reports God’s call to Abram to leave his country and his father’s house, Nehemiah 9:7 reports that God chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldees.

God Appears to Noah (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

In classical Rabbinic interpretation

Genesis chapter 6

Interpreting the words, "Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generations," in Genesis 6:9, Rabbi Johanan taught that Noah was considered righteous in his generations, but would not have been considered righteous in other generations. Resh Lakish, however, maintained that if even in his generations Noah was able to be righteous, then he certainly would have been righteous in other generations. Rabbi Haninah compared Rabbi Johanan's view of Noah to a barrel of wine lying in a vault of acid. In its place, its aroma is fragrant (compared to that of the acid). Elsewhere, its aroma would not be considered fragrant. Rabbi Oshaia compared Resh Lakish's view of Noah to a vial of spikenard oil lying amidst refuse. If it is fragrant where it is, how much more so would it be among spices! (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a.)

The Prophecy of the Flood (engraving by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Bible in Pictures)

Similarly, Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nehemiah differed interpreting the words, "Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generations," in Genesis 6:9. Rabbi Judah taught that only "in his generations" was he a righteous man (by comparison). Had he lived in the generation of Moses or Samuel, he would not have been called righteous. Rabbi Judah said that in the street of the totally blind, the one-eyed man is called clear-sighted, and the infant is called a scholar. Rabbi Judah compared it to a man with a wine vault who opened one barrel and found it vinegar, opened another and found it vinegar, and opened a third to find it turning sour. When people told him that it was turning, he asked if the vault contained any better. Similarly, "in his generations" Noah was a righteous man. Rabbi Nehemiah, however, taught that if Noah was righteous even in his generation (in spite of the corrupt environment), how much more so would he have been, had he lived in the age of Moses. Rabbi Nehemiah compared Noah to a tightly closed vial of perfume in a graveyard, which nevertheless gave forth a fragrant aroma. How much more fragrant would it have been outside the graveyard. (Genesis Rabbah 30:9.)

Rabbi Judah contrasted the words "Noah walked with God" in Genesis 6:9 with God’s words to Abraham, "walk before Me," in Genesis 17:1. Rabbi Judah compared it to a king who had two sons, one grown up and the other a child. The king asked the child to walk with him. But the king asked the adult to walk before him. Similarly, to Abraham, whose moral strength was great, God said, "Walk before Me." But of Noah, who was feeble, Genesis 6:9 says, "Noah walked with God." (Genesis Rabbah 30:10.)

Similarly, Rabbi Abba bar Kahana read Genesis 6:7–8 together to report God saying, "I repent that I have made them and Noah." Thus even Noah, who was left, was not worthy, save that (in the words of Genesis 6:8) "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." (Genesis Rabbah 31:1.)

The Earth was corrupt before God and filled with violence (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible)

The Mishnah concluded that the generation of the Flood and the generation of the dispersion after the Tower of Babel were both so evil as to have no share in the world to come. (Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:3; Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 107b–08a.) Rabbi Akiba deduced from the words of Genesis 7:23 that the generation of the Flood will have no portion in the world to come; he read the words "and every living substance was destroyed" to refer to this world and the words "that was on the face of the ground" to refer to the next world. Rabbi Judah ben Bathyra deduced from the words "My spirit will not always enter into judgment with man" of Genesis 6:3 that God will neither revive nor judge the generation of the Flood on Judgment Day. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a.)

The Earth Was Corrupt before God and Filled with Violence (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible)

The Tosefta taught that the generation of the Flood acted arrogantly before God on account of the good that God lavished on them. So (in the words of Job 21:14–15) “they said to God: ‘Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Your ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? And what profit should we have, if we pray unto Him?’” They scoffed that they needed God for only a few drops of rain, and they deluded themselves that they had rivers and wells that were more than enough for them, and as Genesis 2:6 reports, “there rose up a mist from the earth.” God noted that they took excess pride based upon the goodness that God lavished on them, so God replied that with that same goodness God would punish them. And thus Genesis 6:17 reports, “And I, behold, I do bring the flood of waters upon the earth.” (Tosefta Sotah 3:6–8.) Similarly, the Rabbis taught in a Baraita that the good that God lavished upon the generation of the Flood led them to become arrogant. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a.)

Interpreting the words, "And the earth was corrupt (תִּשָּׁחֵת,tishachet) before God," in Genesis 6:11, a Baraita of the School of Rabbi Ishmael taught that whenever Scripture uses the word "corruption," it refers to sexual immorality and idolatry. Reference to sexual immorality appears in Genesis 6:12, which says, "for all flesh had corrupted (הִשְׁחִית,hishchit) their way upon the earth" (and the use of the term "their way" (דַּרְכּוֹ,darko) connotes sexual matters, as Proverbs 30:19 indicates when it says, "the way (דֶרֶךְ,derech) of a man with a young woman"). And Deuteronomy 4:16 shows that "corruption" connotes idolatry when it says, "lest you deal corruptly (תַּשְׁחִתוּן,tashchitun), and make a graven image." (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 57a.)

Rabbi Johanan deduced from the words "all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth" in Genesis 6:12 that they mated domesticated animals with wild animals, and animals with humans. Rav Abba bar Kahana taught that after the Flood, they all returned to their own kind, except for the tushlami bird. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a.)

Interpreting Genesis 6:13, Rabbi Johanan deduced that the consequences of robbery are great. For though the generation of the Flood transgressed all laws, God sealed their decree of punishment only because they robbed. In Genesis 6:13, God told Noah that "the earth is filled with violence (that is, robbery) through them, and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth." And Ezekiel 7:11 also states, "Violence (that is, robbery) is risen up into a rod of wickedness; none of them shall remain, nor of their multitude, nor any of theirs; neither shall there be wailing for them." Rabbi Eleazar interpreted Ezekiel 7:11 to teach that violence stood up before God like a staff, and told God that there was no good in any of the generation of the Flood, and none would bewail them when they were gone. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a.)

Similarly, midrash interpreted the words, "the earth is filled with violence," in Genesis 6:13 to teach that it was because they were steeped in robbery that they were blotted out from the world. (Genesis Rabbah 31:1; see also 31:2–4.)

Interpreting Genesis 6:13, Rabbi Haninah told what the people of the age of the Flood used to do. When a person brought out a basket of beans for sale, one would come and seize less than the worth of the smallest coin in circulation, a perutah (and thus there was no redress under the law). And then everyone would come and seize less than a perutah's worth, so that the seller had no redress at law. Seeing this, God said that the people had acted improperly, so God would deal with them improperly (in a way that they would not relish). (Genesis Rabbah 31:5.)

Interpreting Genesis 6:13, Rabbi Levi taught that "violence" (חָמָס, chamas) connotes idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder, as well as robbery. Reference to sexual immorality appears in Jeremiah 51:35, which says, "The violence done to me (חֲמָסִי, chamasi) and to my flesh (שְׁאֵרִי, she'eri) be upon Babylon" (and שְׁאֵר, she'er refers to sexual immorality, for example, in Leviticus 18:6). And reference to murder appears in Joel 4:19, which says, "for the violence (חָמָס, chamas) against the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land." (Genesis Rabbah 31:6.)

Interpreting God’s words in Genesis 6:13, "I will destroy them with the earth," Rav Huna and Rabbi Jeremiah in Rav Kahana's name taught that the Flood washed away even the three handbreadths of the Earth's surface that a plough turns. It was as if a prince had a tutor, and whenever the prince did wrong, the king punished the tutor. Or it was as if a young prince had a nurse, and whenever the prince did wrong, the king punished the nurse. Similarly, God said that God would destroy the generation of the Flood along with the earth that nurtured them. (Genesis Rabbah 31:7.)

Building the Ark (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Rav Adda taught that the scholars of Rav Shila interpreted "gopher wood" in Genesis 6:14 to mean mabliga (a resinous species of cedar), while others maintained it was golamish (a very hard and stone-like species of cedar). (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b.)

While Genesis 6:14 tells that Noah’s Ark had pitch "within and without," Exodus 2:3 tells that Jochebed daubed the Ark of the infant Moses "with slime and with pitch." A Tanna taught that the slime was inside and the pitch outside so that that righteous child would not have to smell the bad odor of the pitch. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 12a.)

Rabbi Johanan interpreted the words, "A light (צֹהַר, tzohar) shall you make to the Ark," in Genesis 6:16 to teach that God instructed Noah to set therein luminous precious stones and jewels, so that they might give light as bright as noon (צָּהֳרָיִם, tzaharayim). (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b.) Similarly, Rav Achava bar Zeira taught that when Noah entered the Ark, he brought precious stones and jewels with him to keep track of day and night. When the jewels shone dimly, he knew that it was daytime, and when they shone brightly, he knew that it was night. The Gemara noted that it was important for Noah to be able to tell day from night, for some animals eat only during the day, and others east only during the night, and thus Noah could determine the proper feeding times for the animals under his care. The Gemara noted that if in Genesis 6:16 God told Noah, “A window shall you make to the ark,” then Noah should have been able to tell day from night. The Gemara explained that Noah needed the jewels because the account of Noah bringing jewels into the Ark followed the view that the celestial bodies – including the sun – did not serve during the year of the Flood. (Thus, no sunlight entered the Ark, and Genesis 6:16 must refer to jewels rather than a window.) (Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 2a.)

The Building of Noah’s Ark (16th Century painting by Jacopo Bassano)

The Gemara read the words, "and to a cubit shall you finish it upward," in Genesis 6:16 to ensure that thus would it stand firm (with the sides of the roof sloping, so that the rain would fall off it). (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b.)

A Tanna read the words, "with lower, second, and third stories shall you make it," in Genesis 6:16 to teach that the bottom story was for the dung, the middle for the animals, and the top for Noah’s family. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b.) A midrash, however, reported that some said that the words, "with lower, second, and third stories shall you make it," meant that the bottom story was for waste, the second for Noah’s family and the clean animals, and the third for the unclean animals. And the midrash reported that others said that the bottom story was for the unclean animals, the second for Noah’s family and the clean animals, and the top for the garbage. The midrash taught that Noah managed to move the waste by arranging a kind of trapdoor through which he shoveled it sideways. (Genesis Rabbah 31:11.)

Noting that Genesis 6:9 calls Noah "a man," a midrash taught that wherever Scripture employs the term "a man," it indicates a righteous man who warned his generation. The midrash taught that for 120 years (deduced from Genesis 6:3), Noah planted cedars and cut them down. When they would ask him what he was doing, he would reply that God had informed him that God was bringing a flood. Noah’s contemporaries replied that if a flood did come, it would come only on Noah’s father’s house. Rabbi Abba taught that God said that one herald arose for God in the generation of the Flood — Noah. But they despised him and called him a contemptible old man. (Genesis Rabbah 30:7.)

Noah’s Ark (illustration from the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle)

Similarly, Rabbi Jose of Caesarea read the words, "He is swift upon the face of the waters; their portion is cursed in the earth, he turns not by the way of the vineyards," in Job 24:18 to teach that the righteous Noah rebuked his contemporaries. Noah urged them to repent, or God would bring a deluge upon them and cause their bodies to float upon the water like gourds, reading Job 24:18 to say, "He floats lightly upon the face of the waters." Moreover, Noah told them that they would be taken as a curse for all future generations, as Job 24:18 says, "their portion is cursed." And Rabbi Jose of Caesarea taught that the words, "he turns not by the way of the vineyards," indicate that as the people worked in their vineyards, they asked Noah what prevented God from bringing the Flood at that moment. And Noah replied that God had one dear one, one dove, to draw out before God could bring the Flood. (That is, the aged Methuselah had to die first, so that he would not suffer the punishment of the Flood). (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a.)

Similarly, a midrash taught that Noah reproved them, calling them good-for-nothings who forsook the One whose voice breaks cedars, to worship a dry log. But they reacted as in Amos 5:10, which says, "They hate him that reproves in the gate, and they abhor him that speaks uprightly." (Genesis Rabbah 31:3.)

Construction of Noah's Ark (late 16th Century painting by Kaspar Memberger the Elder)

And Raba interpreted the words of Job 12:5, "He that is ready to slip with his feet is as a stone despised in the thought of him that is at ease," to teach that when Noah rebuked them and spoke words as hard as fiery flints, they would deride him. They called Noah "old man," and asked him what the Ark was for. Noah replied that God was bringing a flood upon them. They asked with what God would flood the earth. If God brought a flood of fire, they said, they had a thing called alitha (that would extinguish fire). If God brought a flood of water up from the earth, they said, they had iron plates with which they could cover the earth (to prevent the water from coming up). If God brought a flood of water from heaven, they said, they had a thing called akob (or some say akosh) (that could ward it off). Noah replied that God would bring it from between the heels of their feet, as Job 12:5 says, "He is ready for the steps of your feet." (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b.)

Similarly, a Baraita interpreted Job 12:5 to teach that the waters of the Flood were as hot and viscous as bodily fluids. And Rav Hisda taught that since it was with hot passion that they sinned, it was with hot water that they were punished. For Genesis 8:1 says, "And the water cooled" (יָּשֹׁכּוּ, yashoku), and Esther 7:10 says, "Then the king's wrath cooled down" (שָׁכָכָה, shachachah). (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b; see also Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 12a; Zevachim 113b.)

Rabbi Hanan said in the name of Rabbi Samuel ben Isaac that as soon as Noah entered the Ark, God prohibited his family from cohabitation, saying in Genesis 6:18: "you shall come into the Ark, you, and your sons," speaking of them apart, and, "your wife, and your sons’ wives," speaking of them apart. When Noah left the Ark, God permitted cohabitation to him again, saying in Genesis 8:16: "Go forth from the Ark, you and your wife," speaking of them together. (Genesis Rabbah 31:12.) Similarly, Rabbi Johanan deduced from the same sources that God had forbidden cohabitation for all the Ark’s inhabitants. The Rabbis taught in a Baraita that three nonetheless cohabited in the Ark — the dog, the raven, and Ham — and they were all punished. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b.)

Noah’s Ark (illustration from the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster)
The Animals Enter the Ark (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Genesis chapter 7

Reading in Genesis 7:2 the command that "of every clean beast you shall take seven, man and wife," the Gemara asked whether beasts have marital relationships. Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman said in Rabbi Jonathan's name that the command means of those animals with which no sin had been committed (that is, animals that had not mated with other species). The Gemara asked how Noah would know. Rav Hisda taught that Noah led them past the Ark, and those that the Ark accepted had certainly not been the object of sin, while those that the Ark rejected had certainly been the object of sin. And Rabbi Abbahu taught that Noah took only those animals (fulfilling that condition) that came of their own accord. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b; see also Zevachim 116a.) Similarly, Rav Hisda asked how Noah knew (before the giving of Leviticus 11) which animals were clean and which were unclean. Rav Hisda explained that Noah led them past the Ark, and those that the Ark accepted (in multiples of seven) were certainly clean, and those that the Ark rejected were certainly unclean. Rabbi Abbahu cited Genesis 7:16, "And they that went in, went in male and female," to show that they went in of their own accord (in their respective pairs, seven of the clean and two of the unclean). (Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 116a.)

Reading in Genesis 7:3 the command to take into the Ark "of the fowl also of the air, seven each," a midrash hypothesized that the command might have meant seven of each kind of animal (three of one gender and four of the other). But then one of them would lack a mate. Hence the midrash concluded that God meant seven males and seven females. Of course God did not need them, but they were to come (in the words of Genesis 7:3) "to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth." (Genesis Rabbah 32:4.)

Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai taught that because the generation of the Flood transgressed the Torah that God gave humanity after Moses had stayed on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights (as reported in Exodus 24:18 and 34:28 and Deuteronomy 9:9–11, 18, 25, and 10:10), God announced in Genesis 7:4 that God would "cause it to rain upon the earth 40 days and 40 nights." Similarly, Rabbi Johanan taught that because the generation of the Flood corrupted the features that take shape after 40 days (in the womb), God announced in Genesis 7:4 that God would "cause it to rain upon the earth 40 days and 40 nights, and every living substance that I have made will I blot out." (Genesis Rabbah 32:5.)

The Deluge (1869 painting by Wassilij Petrovich Wereschtschagin)
The Deluge (late 19th Century painting by Léon Comerre)

Reading in Genesis 7:4 that God said, "every living substance (יְקוּם, yekum) that I have made will I blot out," Rabbi Abin taught that this included the one who rose up (יָּקָם, yakam) against his brother — Cain. Rabbi Levi said in the name of Resh Lakish that God kept Cain’s judgment in suspense until the Flood and then God swept Cain away. And thus Rabbi Levi read Genesis 7:23 to say, "And He blotted out every one that had arisen." (Genesis Rabbah 32:5.)

A midrash read the words "And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him," in Genesis 7:5 narrowly to refer to the taking in of the animals, beasts, and birds. (Genesis Rabbah 32:5.)

The Gemara read Genesis 7:8 to employ the euphemistic expression "not clean," instead of the brief, but disparaging expression "unclean," so as not to speak disparagingly of unclean animals. The Gemara reasoned that it was thus likely that Scripture would use euphemisms when speaking of the faults of righteous people, as with the words, "And the eyes of Leah were weak," in Genesis 29:17. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 123a; see also Genesis Rabbah 32:4 (attributing a similar teaching to Rabbi Judan in Rabbi Johanan’s name).)

Reading in Genesis 7:10 that "it came to pass, after seven days, that the waters of the Flood were upon the earth," the Gemara asked what the nature of these seven days was (that God delayed the Flood on their account). Rab taught that these were the days of mourning for Methuselah, and thus that lamenting the righteous postpones retribution. Another explanation is that during "the seven days" God reversed the order of nature (בְּרֵאשִׁית, bereishit) (established at the beginning of creation), and the sun rose in the west and set in the east (so that sinners might be shocked into repentance). Another explanation is that God first appointed for them a long time (the 120 years to which Genesis 6:3 alludes), and then a short time (a seven-day grace period in which to repent). Another explanation is that during "the seven days," God gave them a foretaste of the world to come, so that they might know the nature of the rewards of which they were depriving themselves. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b.)

The Flood (1516 painting by Hans Baldung)
Noah's Ark floats in the background while people struggle to escape the rising water of the Flood (fresco circa 1508–1512 by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel)

Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Eliezer differed about when the events took place in Genesis 7:11, where it says, "In the sixth hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month." Rabbi Joshua taught that the events of Genesis 7:11 took place on the seventeenth day of Iyar, when the constellation of the Pleiades sets at daybreak and the fountains begin to dry up. Because the generation of the Flood perverted its ways (from the way of creation), God changed for them the work of creation and made the constellation of the Pleiades rise at daybreak. God took two stars from the Pleiades and brought the Flood on the world. Rabbi Eliezer, however, taught that the events of Genesis 7:11 took place on the seventeenth of Cheshvan, a day on which the constellation of the Pleiades rises at daybreak, and the season when the fountains begin to fill. Because the generation of the Flood perverted its ways (from the way of creation), God changed for them the work of creation, and caused the constellation of the Pleiades to rise at daybreak. God took away two stars from it and brought the Flood on the world. If one accepts the view of Rabbi Joshua, then one can understand why Genesis 7:11 speaks of the "second month" (to describe Iyar, because Exodus 12:2 describes Nisan as the first month, and Iyar follows Nisan). If one accepts Rabbi Eliezer's view, the "second month" means the month that is second to the Day of Judgment (Rosh Hashanah, which Deuteronomy 11:12 recognizes as the beginning of a year when it says, "The eyes of the Lord are upon it (the Land of Israel) from the beginning of the year"). If one accepts Rabbi Joshua's view, the change in the work of creation was the change in the constellation and the waters. If one accepts Rabbi Eliezer's view, the Gemara asked what change there was in the natural order (as the constellation usually rose at that time and that time of year is usually the rainy season). The Gemara found the answer in the dictum of Rabbi Hisda, when he said that with hot passion they sinned, and with hot waters were they punished. The Rabbis taught in a Baraita that the Sages of Israel follow Rabbi Eliezer in dating the Flood (counting Rosh Hashanah as the beginning of the year) and Rabbi Joshua in dating the annual cycles (holding that God created the world in Nisan). The scholars of other peoples, however, follow Rabbi Joshua in dating the Flood as well. (Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 11b–12a.)

Rabbi Johanan taught that because the corruption of the generation of the Flood was great, their punishment was also great. Genesis 6:5 characterizes their corruption as great (רַבָּה, rabbah), saying, "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth." And Genesis 7:11 characterizes their punishment as great (רַבָּה, rabbah), saying, "on the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up." Rabbi Johanan reported that three of those great thermal fountains remained open after the Flood — the gulf of Gaddor, the hot-springs of Tiberias, and the great well of Biram. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a.)

The Gemara interpreted the words "every bird (צִפּוֹר, tzippor) of any winged (כָּנָף, kanaf) [species]" in Genesis 7:14. The Gemara read the word "bird" (צִפּוֹר, tzippor) here to refer only to clean birds, and "winged" (כָּנָף, kanaf) to include both unclean birds and grasshoppers. (Babylonian Talmud Chullin 139b.)

Noah’s Ark (illustration from the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster)

In a Baraita, Rabbi Eleazar of Modi'im interpreted Genesis 7:22, "Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered." Rabbi Eleazar of Modi'im asked whether waters that measured fifteen cubits high on the mountains could also measure fifteen cubits in the valley. To do so, the waters would have to stand like a series of walls (terraced with the topography). And if so, the ark could not have come to rest on the top of the mountains. Rather, Rabbi Eleazar of Modi'im taught that all the fountains of the great deep came up first until the water was even with the mountains, and then the water rose fifteen more cubits. (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 76a.)

Reading in Genesis 7:22 that "all that was on the dry land died," the Gemara deduced that the fish in the sea did not die (apparently not having committed the transgressions that land animals had). (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a; see also Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 113b.)

The Tosefta taught that the Flood killed people before animals (as seen in the order of Genesis 7:23), because man sinned first (as shown in Genesis 6:5). (Tosefta Sotah 4:11.)

Noah and the Dove (mosaic circa 12th–13th century in St Mark's Basilica, Venice)

Rabbi taught that, in conferring honor, the Bible commences with the greatest, in cursing with the least important. With regard to cursing, the Gemara reasoned that Rabbi must have meant the punishment of the Flood, as Genesis 7:23 says, "And He blotted out every living substance which was upon the face of the ground, both man and cattle," starting with the people before the cattle. (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 61a.)

Reading in Genesis 7:23 that "every living substance was destroyed that was upon the face of the ground" — people and animals alike — the Gemara asked how the beasts had sinned (to deserve this punishment). A Baraita on the authority of Rabbi Joshua ben Karha compared this to a father who set up a bridal canopy for his son, and prepared a banquet with every sort of food. But then his son died. So the father broke up the canopy, saying that he had prepared it only for his son. Now that the son was dead, the father had no need for a banquet. Thus God created the animals only for the benefit of people. Now that people had sinned, God had no need for the animals. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a.)

The Mishnah taught that those who vow not to benefit from the children of Noah may not benefit from non-Jews, but may benefit from Jews. (Mishnah Nedarim 3:11; Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 31a.) The Gemara asked how Jews could be excluded from the “children of Noah,” as Genesis 7:23 indicates that all humanity descended from Noah. The Gemara answered that since God singled out Abraham, Jews are considered descendants of Abraham. (Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 31a.)

Genesis chapter 8

Reading "and he sent forth a raven" in Genesis 8:7, Resh Lakish taught that the raven gave Noah a triumphant retort, arguing that both God and Noah must have hated the raven. It was evident that God hated the raven because God commanded Noah to save seven pairs of the clean creatures on the Ark, but only two of the unclean (among which the raven counted itself under Leviticus 11:15). And it was evident that Noah hated the raven because Noah had left in the Ark the species of which there were seven pairs, and sent one of which there were only two. If the angel of heat or cold had smitten the raven, the world would have been missing the raven’s kind. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b.)

Noah sends off a dove from the Ark (miniature on vellum by Jean Dreux circa 1450–1460 at the Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum, The Hague)
The Dove Returns to Noah (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Similarly, interpreting the words, "and it went forth to and fro" in Genesis 8:7, Rabbi Judan said in the name of Rabbi Judah ben Rabbi Simon that the raven began arguing with Noah. The raven asked Noah why of all the birds that Noah had in the Ark Noah sent none but the raven. Noah retorted that the world had no need of the raven; the raven was fit neither for food nor for sacrifice. Rabbi Berekiah said in Rabbi Abba's name that God told Noah to take that back, because the world would need ravens in the future. Noah asked God when the world would need ravens. God replied that (in the words of Genesis 8:7) "when the waters dry off from on the earth," a righteous man (Elijah) would arise and dry up the world (threatening drought, and then see the threat fulfilled). And God would cause him to have need of ravens, as 1 Kings 17:6 reports, "And the ravens (עֹרְבִים, orvim) brought him bread and flesh." Rabbi Judah maintained that the word orvim (עֹרְבִים) referred to a town within the borders of Bashan called Arbo. But Rabbi Nehemiah insisted that 1 Kings 17:6 literally meant ravens, and the ravens brought Elijah food from King Jehoshaphat's table. (Genesis Rabbah 33:5.)

From the discussion of the dove in Genesis 8:8, Rabbi Jeremiah deduced that the clean fowl lived with the righteous people on the Ark. (Of the raven, Genesis 8:7 says, "he sent forth a raven." But of the dove, Genesis 8:8 says, "he sent forth a dove from him" indicating that the dove was with him.) (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b.)

Reading of the dove in Genesis 8:11, "and lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf," a midrash asked where the dove found it. Rabbi Abba taught that the dove brought it from the young shoots of the Land of Israel. Rabbi Levi taught that the dove brought it from the Mount of Olives, for the Flood had not submerged the Land of Israel. Thus God told Ezekiel (in Ezekiel 22:24): "Son of man, say to her: ‘You are a land that is not cleansed, nor rained upon on the day of indignation.’" Rabbi Birai (or some say Rabbi Berekiah) taught that the gates of the Garden of Eden were opened for the dove, and from there the dove brought the olive leaf. Rabbi Abbahu asked if the dove had brought it from the Garden of Eden, would the dove not have brought something better, like cinnamon or a balsam leaf. But in fact the dove was giving Noah a hint, saying to him in effect that better is bitterness from God than sweetness from Noah’s hand. (Genesis Rabbah 33:6.)

Noah’s Ark (1882 painting by Andrei Ryabushkin at the State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg)

Similarly, reading of the dove in Genesis 8:11, "and lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf," Rabbi Eleazar (or others say Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar) taught that the dove prayed to God that God might let the dove’s sustenance be as bitter as the olive but given by God, rather than sweet as honey and given by flesh and blood (upon whom the dove was therefore dependent). (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b (attributing to Rabbi Eleazar); Eruvin 18b (attributing to Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar).)

The Ark Rests upon Ararat (woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Die Bibel in Bildern)

A midrash taught that when Psalm 142:8 says, "Bring my soul out of prison," it refers to Noah’s imprisonment 12 months in the Ark, and when Psalm 142:8 says, "for You will deal bountifully with me," it refers to God’s bounty to Noah when God told Noah in Genesis 8:16, "Go forth from the Ark." (Genesis Rabbah 34:1.)

Rabbi Johanan interpreted the words, "After their kinds they went forth from the Ark," in Genesis 8:19 to teach that the animals went out by their families, not alone. Rabbi Hana bar Bizna taught that Abraham's servant Eliezer once inquired of Noah’s son Shem about these words in Genesis 8:19, asking Shem how his family managed. Shem replied that they had a difficult time in the Ark. During the day they fed the animals that usually fed by day, and during the night they fed those that normally fed by night. But Noah did not know what the chameleon ate. One day Noah was cutting a pomegranate, when a worm dropped out of it, and the chameleon ate it. From then on, Noah mashed up bran for the chameleon, and when the bran became wormy, the chameleon would eat. A fever struck the lion, so it lived off of its reserves rather than eating other animals. Noah discovered the avarshinah bird (some say the phoenix bird) lying in the hold of the Ark and asked it if it needed food. The bird told Noah that it saw that Noah was busy and decided not to give him any more trouble. Noah replied by asking that it be God’s will that the bird not perish, as Job 19:18 says, "Then I said: ‘I shall die with my nest, and I shall multiply my days as the phoenix.’" (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b.)

The Covenant of the Rainbow (woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Die Bibel in Bildern)

A midrash recounted that Noah fed and provided for the Ark’s inhabitants for all of 12 months. But Rav Huna said in Rabbi Liezer's name that when Noah was leaving the Ark, a lion nonetheless set on him and maimed him, so that he was not fit to offer sacrifices, and his son Shem sacrificed in his stead. The midrash took this as an application of the words of Proverbs 11:31: "the righteous shall be requited on earth; how much more the wicked and the sinner." From this, the midrash inferred that if in spite of his comparative righteousness, Noah was punished for his sins, "how much more" was the generation of the Flood. (Genesis Rabbah 30:6.)

Noah's Sacrifice (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Rav Huna cited the report in Genesis 8:20 that Noah offered burnt offerings from every clean animal and bird to support the proposition in a Baraita that all animals were eligible to be offered, as the words "animal" (behemah) and bird (bear) refer to any animal or bird, and the term "animal" (behemah) includes wild beasts (hayyah). (Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 115b.)

Rabbi Haninah cited the report of Genesis 8:21 that "the Lord smelled the sweet savor; and . . . said . . . ‘I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake,’" for the proposition that those who allow themselves to be pacified when drinking wine possess some of the characteristics of the Creator. (Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 65a.)

Rav Awira (or some say Rabbi Joshua ben Levi) taught that the Evil Inclination has seven names. God called it "Evil" in Genesis 8:21, saying, "the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth." Moses called it "the Uncircumcised" in Deuteronomy 10:16, saying, "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart." David called it "Unclean" in Psalm 51:12; Solomon called it "the Enemy" in Proverbs 25:21–22; Isaiah called it "the Stumbling-Block" in Isaiah 57:14; Ezekiel called it "Stone" in Ezekiel 36:26; and Joel called it "the Hidden One" in Joel 2:20. (Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 52a.)

Noah Descending from Ararat (1889 painting by Ivan Aivazovsky)

Genesis chapter 9

Genesis 6:18–7:8 in a Torah scroll

The Rabbis interpreted Genesis 9 to set forth seven Noahide laws binding on all people: (1) to set up courts of justice, (2) not to commit idolatry, (3) not to commit blasphemy, (4) not to commit sexual immorality, (5) not to commit bloodshed (Genesis 9:6), (6) not to commit robbery, and (7) not to eat flesh cut from a living animal (Genesis 9:4). (Tosefta Avodah Zarah 8:4–6; see also Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 56a; Genesis Rabbah 34:8.) Rabbi Hanina taught that they were also commanded not to consume blood from a living animal. Rabbi Leazar taught that they were also commanded not to cross-breed animals. Rabbi Simeon taught that they were also commanded not to commit witchcraft. Rabbi Johanan taught that they were also commanded not to emasculate animals. And Rabbi Assi taught that the children of Noah were also prohibited to do anything stated in Deuteronomy 18:10–11: "There shall not be found among you any one that makes his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, one that uses divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or one that consults a ghost or a familiar spirit, or a necromancer." (Genesis Rabbah 34:8.) The Tosefta instructed that Israelites should not tempt anyone to violate a Noahide law. (Tosefta Demai 2:24.)

Rabbi Shimon ben Eleazar deduced from Genesis 9:2 that even a one-day-old child scares small animals, but said that the corpse of even the giant Og of Bashan would need to be guarded from weasels and rats. (Tosefta Shabbat 17:19.)

Rabbi Tanhum ben Hanilai compared the laws of kashrut to the case of a physician who went to visit two patients, one whom the physician judged would live, and the other whom the physician judged would die. To the one who would live, the physician gave orders about what to eat and what not to eat. On the other hand, the physician told the one who would die to eat whatever the patient wanted. Thus to the nations who were not destined for life in the World to Come, God said in Genesis 9:3, "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you." But to Israel, whom God intended for life in the World to Come, God said in Leviticus 11:2, "These are the living things which you may eat." (Leviticus Rabbah 13:2.)

Rabbi Akiva said that it demonstrated the value of human beings that God created us in God’s image, and that it was an act of still greater love that God let us know (in Genesis 9:6) that God had created us in God’s image. (Mishnah Avot 3:14.) And Rabbi Akiva also said that whoever spills blood diminishes the Divine image. (Tosefta Yevamot 8:7.) Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah and Ben Azzai both said that whoever does not have children diminishes the Divine image as demonstrated by proximity of the notice that God created us in God’s image (Genesis 9:6) and the command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 9:7). (Tosefta Yevamot 8:7.) Similarly, a midrash taught that some say a man without a wife even impairs the Divine likeness, as Genesis 9:6 says, “For in the image of God made He man,” and immediately thereafter Genesis 9:7 says, “And you, be fruitful, and multiply (implying that the former is impaired if one does not fulfill the latter). (Genesis Rabbah 17:2.)

Rabbi Meir taught that while it was certain that God would never again flood the world with water (Genesis 9:11), God might bring a flood of fire and brimstone, as God brought upon Sodom and Gomorrah. (Tosefta Taanit 2:13)

Noah's Drunkenness (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)
The Drunkenness of Noah (1509 fresco by Michelangelo at the Sistine Chapel)

The Mishnah taught that the rainbow (of Genesis 9:13) was one of ten miraculous things that God created on the sixth day of creation at twilight on the eve of the Sabbath. (Mishnah Avot 5:6.) Rabbi Jose and Rabbi Judah disagreed whether verses of remembrance referring to the rainbow (Genesis 9:15–16) needed to be said together or individually. (Tosefta Rosh Hashanah 2:14)

The Gemara helped explain why (as Genesis 9:13 reports) God chose a rainbow as the symbol of God’s promise. The Mishnah taught with regard to those who take no thought for the honor of their Maker, that it would have been better if they had not been born. (Mishnah Chagigah 2:1; Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 11b.) Rabbi Abba read this Mishnah to refer to those who stare at a rainbow, while Rav Joseph said that it refers to those who commit transgressions in secret. The Gemara explained that those who stare at a rainbow affront God’s honor, as Ezekiel 1:28 compares God’s appearance to that of a rainbow: "As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." Thus those who stare at a rainbow behave as if they were staring directly at God. Similarly, Rabbi Judah ben Rabbi Nahmani, the speaker for Resh Lakish, taught that because Ezekiel 1:28 compares God’s appearance to that of a rainbow, staring at the rainbow harms one’s eyesight. (Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 16a.)

Noah damning Ham (19th Century painting by Ivan Stepanovitch Ksenofontov)
Noah’s curse of Canaan (engraving by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Bible in Pictures)

The Talmud deduced two possible explanations (attributed to Rav and Rabbi Samuel) for what Ham did to Noah to warrant Noah's curse of Canaan. According to one explanation, Ham castrated Noah, while the other says that Ham sexually abused Noah. The textual argument for castration goes this way: Since Noah cursed Ham by his fourth son Canaan, Ham must have injured Noah with respect to a fourth son, by emasculating him, thus depriving Noah of the possibility of a fourth son. The argument for abuse from the text draws an analogy between "and he saw" written in two places in the Bible: With regard to Ham and Noah, it was written, "And Ham the father of Canaan saw the nakedness of his father (Noah)"; while in Genesis 34:2, it was written, "And when Shechem the son of Hamor saw her (Dinah), he took her and lay with her and defiled her." Thus this explanation deduced that similar abuse must have happened each time that the Bible uses the same language. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 70a. See also Genesis Rabbah 36:7; Leviticus Rabbah 17:5.)

Genesis chapter 10

A Baraita employed Genesis 10:6 to interpret the words "and Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt" in Numbers 13:22 to mean that Hebron was seven times as fertile as Zoan. The Baraita rejected the plain meaning of "built," reasoning that Ham would not build a house for his younger son Canaan (in whose land was Hebron) before he built one for his elder son Mizraim (in whose land was Zoan, and Genesis 10:6 lists (presumably in order of birth) "the sons of Ham: Cush, and Mizraim, and Put, and Canaan." The Baraita also taught that among all the nations, there was none more fertile than Egypt, for Genesis 13:10 says, "Like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt." And there was no more fertile spot in Egypt than Zoan, where kings lived, for Isaiah 30:4 says of Pharaoh, "his princes are at Zoan." And in all of Israel, there was no more rocky ground than that at Hebron, which is why the Patriarchs buried their dead there, as reported in Genesis 49:31. But rocky Hebron was still seven times as fertile as lush Zoan. (Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 112a.)

Rab and Samuel equated the Amraphel of Genesis 14:1 with the Nimrod whom Genesis 10:8 describes as "a mighty warrior on the earth," but the two differed over which was his real name. One held that his name was actually Nimrod, and Genesis 14:1 calls him Amraphel because he ordered Abraham to be cast into a burning furnace (and thus the name Amraphel reflects the words for "he said" (amar) and "he cast" (hipil)). But the other held that his name was actually Amraphel, and Genesis 10:8 calls him Nimrod because he led the world in rebellion against God (and thus the name Nimrod reflects the word for "he led in rebellion" (himrid)). (Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 53a.)

Building the Tower of Babel (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Genesis chapter 11

The Tosefta taught that the men of the Tower of Babel acted arrogantly before God only because God had been so good to them (in Genesis 11:1–2) as to give them a single language and allow them to settle in Shinar. And as usage elsewhere indicated that "settle" meant "eat and drink" (see Exodus 32:6), this eating and drinking was what led them to say (in Genesis 11:4) that they wanted to build the Tower. (Tosefta Sotah 3:10.)

The Tower of Babel (1594 painting by Lucas van Valckenborch at the Louvre)

Rabbi Levi, or some say Rabbi Jonathan, said that a tradition handed down from the Men of the Great Assembly taught that wherever the Bible employs the term "and it was" or "and it came to pass" (וַיְהִי, wa-yehi), as it does in Genesis 11:2, it indicates misfortune, as one can read wa-yehi as wai, hi, "woe, sorrow." Thus the words, "And it came to pass," in Genesis 11:2 are followed by the words, "Come, let us build us a city," in Genesis 11:4. And the Gemara also cited the instances of Genesis 6:1 followed by Genesis 6:5; Genesis 14:1 followed by Genesis 14:2; Joshua 5:13 followed by the rest of Joshua 5:13; Joshua 6:27 followed by Joshua 7:1; 1 Samuel 1:1 followed by 1 Samuel 1:5; 1 Samuel 8:1 followed by 1 Samuel 8:3; 1 Samuel 18:14 close after 1 Samuel 18:9; 2 Samuel 7:1 followed by 1 Kings 8:19; Ruth 1:1 followed by the rest of Ruth 1:1; and Esther 1:1 followed by Haman. But the Gemara also cited as counterexamples the words, "And there was evening and there was morning one day," in Genesis 1:5, as well as Genesis 29:10, and 1 Kings 6:1. So Rav Ashi replied that wa-yehi sometimes presages misfortune, and sometimes it does not, but the expression "and it came to pass in the days of" always presages misfortune. And for that proposition, the Gemara cited Genesis 14:1, Isaiah 7:1 Jeremiah 1:3, Ruth 1:1, and Esther 1:1. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 10b.)

The Confusion of Tongues (engraving by Gustave Doré from the 1865 La Sainte Bible)

Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai taught that the report of Genesis 11:5 that "the Lord came down to see the city and the tower" was one of ten instances when the Torah reports that God descended. (Genesis Rabbah 38:9.)

The Sages taught that the God who punished the generation of the Flood and the generation of the Dispersion would take vengeance on people who renege on their word after money has been paid. (Mishnah Bava Metzia 4:2; Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 44a.)

The Dispersion (engraving by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Bible in Pictures)

The Gemara taught that Abraham asked God if God would ever punish Israel for its sins as God did to the generation of the Flood or the generation of the Dispersion, and God replied that God would not. God told Abraham that God had provided the order of sacrifices for Israel in the Torah, and whenever Jews read these passages, God would consider it as if they had offered the sacrifices, and God would pardon them for all their iniquities. (Babylonian Talmud Taanit 27b, Megillah 31b.)

The Gemara taught that Sarah was one of seven prophetesses who prophesied to Israel and neither took away from nor added anything to what is written in the Torah. (The other prophetesses were Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther.) The Gemara derived Sarah’s status as a prophetess from the words, "Haran, the father of Milkah and the father of Yiscah," in Genesis 11:29. Rabbi Isaac taught that Yiscah was Sarah. Genesis 11:29 called her Yiscah (יִסְכָּה) because she discerned (saketah) by means of Divine inspiration, as Genesis 21:12 reports God instructing Abraham, "In all that Sarah says to you, hearken to her voice." Alternatively, Genesis 11:29 called her Yiscah because all gazed (sakin) at her beauty. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 14a.)

Rav Nahman said in the name of Rabbah bar Abbuha that the redundant report, "And Sarai was barren; she had no child," in Genesis 11:30 demonstrated that Sarah was incapable of procreation because she did not have a womb. (Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 64b.)


Maimonides cited the parshah for one positive commandment:

(Maimonides. Mishneh Torah, Positive Commandment 212. Cairo, Egypt, 1170–1180. Reprinted in Maimonides. The Commandments: Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth of Maimonides. Translated by Charles B. Chavel, 1:228. London: Soncino Press, 1967. ISBN 0-900689-71-4.)

The Sefer ha-Chinuch, however, attributed the commandment to Genesis 1:28. (Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 1:82–85. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1991. ISBN 0-87306-515-8.)

Isaiah (1509 fresco by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel)


The haftarah for the parshah is:

Connection to the Parshah

The parshah and haftarah both tell the power of God’s covenant. The parshah (in Genesis  6:18 and 9:8–11) and the haftarah (in Isaiah  54:9–10) both report God’s covenant with Noah never again to destroy the earth by flood. In the parshah (in Genesis  6:13) and the haftarah (in Isaiah  54:7–8), God confesses to anger at human transgression. In the wake of God’s punishment, Genesis  9:11,15 and Isaiah  54:10 and 55:3 all use the words "no . . . more" (lo’ ‘od). The "righteousness" of Israel’s children in Isaiah  54:14 echoes that Noah is "righteous" in his age in Genesis  6:9.

In the liturgy

God’s dominion over the Flood in Genesis 7:6–8:14 is reflected in Psalm 29:10, which is in turn one of the six Psalms recited at the beginning of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service and again as the Torah is returned to the Torah ark at the end of the Shabbat morning Torah service. (Reuven Hammer. Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, 20, 153. New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2003. ISBN 0-916219-20-8. Menachem Davis. The Schottenstein Edition Siddur for the Sabbath and Festivals with an Interlinear Translation, 69, 399. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2002. ISBN 1-57819-697-3.)

Some Jews read the words "for in the image of God made He man" from Genesis 9:6 as they study chapter 3 of Pirkei Avot on a Sabbath between Passover and Rosh Hashanah. (Davis. Siddur for the Sabbath and Festivals, at 553.) And then they encounter the discussion of the ten generations from Adam to the Flood and then the ten generations from Noah to Abraham (enumerated in Genesis 11:10–26) as they study chapter 5 of Pirkei Avot thereafter. (Davis, Siddur for the Sabbath and Festivals, at 568.)

Further reading

The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:


Gilgamesh tablet


Early nonrabbinic


Classical rabbinic

  • Mishnah: Sanhedrin 10:3; Avot 3:14, 5:6. Land of Israel, circa 200 CE. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
  • Tosefta: Demai 2:24; Shabbat 17:19; Rosh Hashanah 1:3, 2:14; Taanit 2:13; Yevamot 8:7; Sotah 3:6–10, 4:11, 10:3; Bava Kamma 9:31; Sanhedrin 13:6–7; Avodah Zarah 8:4–6. Land of Israel, circa 300 CE. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
  • Sifra 34:1, 4; 35:2; 93:1; 99:5; 108:2; 109:3; 243:1. Land of Israel, 4th century CE. Reprinted in, e.g., Sifra: An Analytical Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 1:211, 214–15, 219; 2:87, 134, 173, 178; 3:286. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988. Vol. 1 ISBN 1-55540-205-4. Vol. 2 ISBN 1-55540-206-2. Vol. 3 ISBN 1-55540-207-0.


  • Rashi. Commentary. Genesis 6–11. Troyes, France, late 11th century. Reprinted in, e.g., Rashi. The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Translated and annotated by Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, 1:65–114. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1995. ISBN 0-89906-026-9.
  • Zohar 59b–76b. Spain, late 13th century. Reprinted in, e.g., The Zohar. Translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. 5 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1934.


  • Robert A. Di Vito. "The Demarcation of Divine and Human Realms in Genesis 2–11." In Creation in the Biblical Traditions. Edited by Richard J. Clifford and John J. Collins, 39–56. Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1992. ISBN 0-915170-23-X.
  • Neal Stephenson. Snow Crash. New York: Bantam Spectra, 1992. ISBN 0-553-08853-X.
  • Aaron Wildavsky. Assimilation versus Separation: Joseph the Administrator and the Politics of Religion in Biblical Israel, 5. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1993. ISBN 1-56000-081-3.
  • Jacob Milgrom. "Bible Versus Babel: Why did God tell Abraham to leave Mesopotamia, the most advanced civilization of its time, for the backwater region of Canaan?" Bible Review. 11 (2) (Apr. 1995).
  • Karen Armstrong. In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis, 39–53. New York: Knopf, 1996. ISBN 0-679-45089-0.
  • Norman Cohn. Noah's Flood: The Genesis Story in Western Thought. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1996. ISBN 0-300-06823-9.
  • Marc Gellman. God’s Mailbox: More Stories About Stories in the Bible, 24–29, 107–11. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1996. ISBN 0-688-13169-7.
  • Jacob Migrom. "The Blood Taboo: Blood should not be ingested because it contains life. Whoever does so is guilty of murder." Bible Review. 13 (4) (Aug. 1997).

See also

External links



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