The Wickedness of the People
Methuselah’s wisdom and knowledge were inherited by
his grandson Noah, the son of Lemech. Noah was a righteous and pious man.
When Noah was five hundred years old, he had three
sons--Shem, Ham, and Japheth. They too were good and pious men, fearing and
loving G‑d, and unlike all the other inhabitants of the earth, who had gradually
become more and more depraved. Yet neither Noah nor Methuselah could change the
evil ways of the people around them, in spite of the many warnings G‑d sent
through them to their fellow-men. Everyone thought only of his own welfare and
recognized only the laws that were in his own favor. Mutual respect and
cooperation had given way to violence and sin.
Finally G‑d gave them a last chance. He ordered Noah to
build an ark slowly, and to complete it in one hundred and twenty years. This
was to be the last period of grace within which the people could change their
evil ways. Time passed and yet the people had not repented. So fearful was the
prevailing corruption that G‑d determined to destroy all life by a universal
Deluge; not only the men but the beasts also were to perish, so that no trace
might remain of that wicked age.
Only Noah found grace in the eyes of G‑d, and he was to be
spared the fate of all the other living things, because he was the only pious
person who had tried to arouse the conscience of the people and warn them of the
punishment to come.
G‑d told Noah to build his ark in public and to tell
everyone its purpose: that it would save him from the coming Flood. The Ark was
to be three hundred cubits in length, fifty in width, and thirty in height, and
was to consist of three stories, divided into small rooms to hold people,
animals, and food. Noah and his wife, their three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth,
and their wives were to live in it. Some animals of every kind in the world were
to live in the Ark too. Noah’s family and the animals were to live in the Ark
until the Flood ended. Noah did as G‑d commanded. His neighbors made fun of him
for his faith, and they paid no attention to his warnings of the Flood that was
Noah was six hundred year old when G‑d told him to go into
the Ark with his whole family, and to admit the animals which G‑d had selected.
The Flood commenced on the seventeenth day of the second
month. The gates of heaven broke loose, and the depths of the earth opened to
send forth streams of raging, boiling water, swallowing everything in its path.
Rain fell for forty days and forty nights and the water which covered the earth
rose higher and higher. It covered the peaks of the highest mountains. Every
living thing died, and all growing things were destroyed. Amid this terrible
scene of ruins and devastation the Ark, guided by G‑d, floated securely. But the
ship was fiercely tossed about and shaken at the heights of the stormy flood, so
that it seemed to Noah that it was about to break apart.
The Flood Recedes
Noah and his children prayed constantly, and at last the
flood quieted down. A wind blew over the earth and the Ark came to rest upon the
mountains of Ararat, after it had been afloat for seven months.
The Raven and the Dove
Gradually the water subsided; and on the first day of the
tenth month the peaks of the mountains could be seen again. Noah, still
imprisoned in the Ark, looked forth upon the wide spreading though decreasing
waters; and after waiting forty days longer, he sent forth a raven from the Ark.
This bird, glad to regain and to enjoy its liberty, returned to the Ark only to
be fed, flying to and fro, until the waters had quite abated. Yet, Noah,
anxiously hoping that the floods were disappearing from the land, sent out
another bird, and this time a dove. But the dove, more delicate than the raven,
found no resting place, and returned to the Ark. After seven days it was again
sent forth, and now it returned at evening-time with a fresh olive leaf in its
mouth. Then Noah knew that the earth was almost free from the flood, although
still unfit for habitation.
After another seven days, the winged messenger was sent out
again and returned no more. A feeling of gladness must in truth have filled
Noah’s heart, for in the beginning of the first month, the surf ace of the earth
was cleared from the waters, and three hundred and sixty-five days after the
beginning of the Flood, the ground was perfectly dry.
The Flood had passed, but it had changed the appearance of
the earth and of the entire universe. Everything, even the light of the sun, had
lost some of its original strength and power, and the earth was barren and
Noah and his family spent a whole year in the Ark. Then G‑d
ordered them to leave the Ark. Noah built an altar and brought an offering which
G‑d accepted graciously. And G‑d promised that He would never again curse the
earth because of man. Seasons, heat and cold, day and night, and all the other
laws of nature would never again fail altogether, as they had done in the time
of the Flood.
The Seven Laws
G‑d blessed Noah and his sons with the same blessing He had
given Adam and Eve, giving them power over all living creatures. Before, they
had been allowed to eat only herbs and plants. Now they were allowed to use meat
for food, but only after the animal had been killed. To eat flesh torn from a
living animal was forbidden. And stern was His decree against the shedder of
human blood. Murder was to be punished by death; for could a greater
crime be conceived than that of destroying a being created by G‑d in His own
image? Other commandments were, the establishment of Courts of justice, the
prohibition of blasphemy, indecency, idolatry, and stealing.
Covenant with Noah
These rules G‑d included in a treaty with Noah and Noah’s
As a sign of the Covenant G‑d showed them a rainbow, up in
the clouds, as a permanent record for all times to come.