Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations (6:9)

Among our sages, there are those who interpret this as being in praise of Noah: If he was righteous in his generation, then certainly he would have been even more righteous if he would have been in a generation of righteous people. And there are those who interpret this as a condemnation: In relation to his generation he was righteous, but had he been in Abraham’s generation, he wouldn’t have been regarded as anything.

(Rashi)


G‑d said to Noah: “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them” (6:13)

Why was the generation of the Flood utterly destroyed, but not the generation of the Tower? Because the generation of the Flood were consumed by robbery and violence, while amongst the generation of the Tower, love prevailed.

(Midrash Rabbah)


G‑d said to Noah . . . “Make yourself an ark” (6:13–14)

G‑d has many ways to save someone; why did he make Noah toil to build the ark? In order that the people of his generation should see him occupied with the task for 120 years, and they should ask him, “Why are you doing this?” and he would tell them that G‑d is bringing a flood upon the world. Perhaps this would cause them to repent.

(Rashi; Midrash Tanchuma)

When G‑d said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me,” Noah said: “What will You do with me?” But he did not pray for mercy for the world, as Abraham would pray for the city of Sodom. . . . This is why the Flood is called “the waters of Noah” (Isaiah 54:9)—he is culpable for them, because he did not appeal for mercy on the world’s behalf.

(Zohar)

Noah tried to save his generation by calling on them to repent. But the fact that he did not pray for them implies that, ultimately, it did not matter to him what became of them. Had he truly cared, he would not have sufficed with “doing his best,” but would have implored the Almighty to repeal His decree of destruction—just as a person whose own life is in danger would never say, “Well, I did my best to save myself” and leave it at that, but would beseech G‑d to help him.

In other words, Noah’s involvement with others was limited to his sense of what he ought to do for them, as opposed to a true concern for their wellbeing. He understood the necessity to act for the sake of another, recognizing that to fail to do so is a defect in one’s own character; but he fell short of transcending the self to care for others beyond the consideration of his own righteousness.

This also explains a curious aspect of Noah’s efforts to reach out to his generation. When the Flood came, Noah and his family entered the ark—alone. His 120-year campaign yielded not a single baal teshuvah (repentant)! Perhaps public relations was never Noah’s strong point, but how are we to explain the fact that in all this time he failed to win over a single individual?

But in order to influence others, one’s motives must be pure; in the words of our sages, “Words that come from the heart enter the heart.” Deep down, a person will always sense whether you truly have his interests at heart, or you are filling a need of your own by seeking to change him. If your work to enlighten your fellow stems from a desire to “do the right thing” but without really caring about the result, your call will be met with scant response. The echo of personal motive, be it the most laudable of personal motives, will be sensed, if only subconsciously, by the object of your efforts, and will ultimately put him off.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


G‑d said to Noah . . . “Come into the ark” (7:1)

The Hebrew word for “ark,” teivah, also means “word.” “Come into the word,” says G‑d; enter within the words of prayer and Torah study. Here you will find a sanctuary of wisdom, meaning and holiness amidst the raging floodwaters of life.

(Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)


In the six-hundredth year of Noah’s life . . . all the fountains of the great deep broke open, and the windows of heaven were opened (7:11)

[This hints that] in the sixth century of the sixth millennium [from creation—1740–1840 in the secular calendar], the gates of supernal wisdom will be opened, as will the springs of earthly wisdom, preparing the world to be elevated in the seventh millennium.

(Zohar)

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The chronology of events, as indicated by the dates and time periods given in the Torah’s account and calculated by Rashi, is as follows:

Cheshvan 17: Noah enters ark; rains begin.

Kislev 27: Forty days of rain end; 150 days of water’s swelling and churning begin, during which the water reaches a height of 15 cubits above the mountain peaks.

Sivan 1: Water calms, and begins to subside at the rate of one cubit each four days.

Sivan 17: The bottom of the ark, submerged 11 cubits beneath the surface, touches down on the top of Mount Ararat.

Av 1: The mountain peaks break the water’s surface.

Elul 10: Noah open the ark’s window and dispatches the raven.

Elul 17: Noah sends the dove for the first time.

Elul 23: The dove is sent a second time, and returns with an olive branch in its beak.

Tishrei 1: Dove’s third mission. Water completely drained.

Cheshvan 27: Ground fully dried. Noah exits the ark.

Total time in ark: 365 days (one solar year; one year and 11 days on the lunar calendar).


G‑d spoke to Noah, saying: “Go out of the ark . . .” (8:16)

This, too, is a divine command. G‑d commands us to “enter into the ark,” into the sanctums of spirituality we are to create in the material world. But then we must “go out of the ark” to carry forth its sanctity to the ends of the earth.

(The Chassidic Masters)


And Noah built an altar to G‑d (8:20)

The location of the altar [in the Holy Temple] is very exactly defined, and is never to be changed. . . . It is a commonly held tradition that the place where David and Solomon built the altar, on the threshing floor of Aravnah, is the very place where Abraham built an altar and bound Isaac upon it; this is where Noah built [an altar] when he came out from the ark; this is where Cain and Abel brought their offerings; this is where Adam the First Man offered a korban when he was created—and it is from [the earth of] this place that he was created. Thus the sages have said: Man was formed from the place of his atonement.

(Maimonides)


I will demand the life of man . . . for in the image of G‑d made He man (9:5–6)

How were the Ten Commandments given? Five on one tablet and five on a second tablet. This means that “Do not murder” corresponds to “I am the L‑rd your G‑d.” The Torah is telling us that one who sheds blood, it is as if he has reduced the image of the King.

To what is this analogous? To a king of flesh and blood who entered a country and put up portraits of himself, made statues of himself, and minted coins with his image. After a while the people of the country overturned his portraits, broke his statues and invalidated his coins, thereby reducing the image of the king. So too, one who sheds blood reduces the image of the King, as it is written (Genesis 9:6): “One who spills a man’s blood . . . for in the image of G‑d He made man.”

(Mechilta)


Noah began to be a man of the earth, and he planted a vineyard (9:20)

When Noah took to planting, Satan came and stood before him and said to him: “What are you planting?” Said he: “A vineyard.” Said Satan to him: “What is its nature?” Said he: “Its fruits are sweet, whether moist or dry, and one makes from them wine, which brings joy to the heart.” Said Satan to Noah: “Do you desire that we should plant it together, you and I?” Said Noah: “Yes.”

What did Satan do? He brought a lamb and slaughtered it over the vine; then he brought a lion and slaughtered it over it; then he brought a monkey and slaughtered it over it; then he brought a swine and slaughtered it over it; and he watered the vine with their blood. Thus he alluded to Noah: When a person drinks one cup, he is like a lamb, modest and meek. When he drinks two cups, he becomes mighty as a lion and begins to speak with pride, saying: Who compares with me! As soon as he drinks three or four cups he becomes a monkey, dancing and frolicking and profaning his mouth, and not knowing what he does. When he becomes drunk, he becomes a pig, dirtied by mud and wallowing in filth.

(Midrash Tanchuma)


Ham saw the nakedness of their father, and told his two brothers outside. Shem and Japheth took the garment . . . and covered the nakedness of their father, and they did not see their father’s shame (9:22-23)

One of the cornerstones of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov’s teaching is the doctrine of hashgachah peratit, “specific divine providence.” Hashgachah peratit means that nothing is by chance—every event in a person’s life is purposeful, an integral part of his divinely ordained mission in life.

From this principle arises another of the Baal Shem Tov’s famous teachings. “Your fellow is your mirror,” the Besht would say to his disciples. “If your own face is clean, the image you perceive will also be flawless. But should you look upon your fellow man and see a blemish, it is your own imperfection that you are encountering—you are being shown what it is that you must correct within yourself.” Otherwise, to what purpose would G‑d cause you to see your fellow’s degradation?

One may ask: Perhaps I am being shown my fellow’s deficiency not as a message concerning my own state, but so that I may assist him in its correction?

To answer this question, we must first take a closer look at the principle of “particular divine providence.” Particular divine providence means that not only is every event purposeful, but also its every aspect and nuance.

For example, the same event can imply different things to different observers, depending on how much they know about the people involved and the events that led up to it. Divine providence is “particular” in that it shows each observer precisely what is applicable to him. If you witness an event, everything about it, including the particular way in which it has affected you, serves a purpose crucial to your mission in life.

When you are confronted with a fellow’s deficiency, there are two distinct elements in your awareness: (a) the fact of that person’s wrongdoing; (b) his guilt, culpability and decadence. The former does not necessarily imply the latter. You may be aware of the fact that a fellow has done wrong, yet such knowledge can be accompanied with understanding, compassion and vindication.

In order to correct your fellow’s wrongdoing, it is enough to know that the action is wrong. To also sense his guilt and lowliness is completely unnecessary; on the contrary, it only hinders your ability to reach out to him in a loving and tolerant manner. The only possible purpose that it can serve is to impress upon you how despicable that thing—or something similar to it, if only in a most subtle way—is in yourself, and thereby compel you to correct it.

This is what the Torah is telling us when it says, “And they did not see their father’s shame.” Not only did Shem and Japheth not physically see their father’s shameful state—this we already know from the (twice-repeated) fact that “their faces were backward”; they also did not perceive his guilt or disgrace. Unlike Ham, whose own debasement was reflected in his vision of his father, their entire reaction to their knowledge of what had transpired lay in what they must now do to correct it. The shame of their father, however, they simply did not see.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


They said to one another: “. . . Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name” (11:4)

What was their sin? Their motives for building a city with a tower whose top shall reach the heavens seem quite understandable. Mankind was only just reconstructing itself after the flood that had wiped out the entire human race save for Noah and his family. If fledgling humanity was to survive, unity and cooperation were of critical importance. So they set out to build a common city to knit them into a single community. At its heart they planned a tower which would be visible for miles, a landmark to beckon to those who had strayed from the city, and a monument to inspire commitment to their common goal—survival. All they wanted was to “make for ourselves a name”—to ensure the continuity of the human race.

And yet, their project to preserve humanity deteriorated into a rejection of all that humanity stands for, and an open rebellion against their Creator and purpose. Their quest for unity resulted in the breakup of mankind into clans and factions, and the onset of close to four thousand years of misunderstanding, xenophobia and bloodletting across the divisions of race, language and culture. Where did they go wrong?

But precisely that was their error: they saw survival as an end in itself. Let us make a name for ourselves, they said; let us ensure that there will be future generations who will read of us in their history books. But why survive? For what purpose should humanity inhabit the earth? What is the content of the name and legacy they are laboring to preserve? Of this they said, thought and did nothing. To them, life itself was an ideal, survival itself a virtue.

This was the beginning of the end. No physical system will long tolerate a vacuum, and this is true of spiritual realities as well: unless a soul or cause is filled with positive content, corruption will ultimately seep in. A hollow name and shrine soon becomes a Tower of Babel.

Never has the lesson of the Tower of Babel been more pertinent to our people than it is today. We, too, are a generation struggling to recoup after a holocaust of destruction that threatened to erase us from the face of the earth. Reconstruction and survival are uppermost in our minds, and together, with G‑d’s help, we are succeeding.

At a time like this, it is extremely important that we not repeat the error of the builders of Babel. Rebuild we must, but the objective must be more than a more enduring name, a greater city, a taller tower. If we are to survive, we must give import to our survival, reiterate the why of our existence. We must fill our name with value, our city with significance, and crown the tower of our resurgence with the higher purpose for which we were created.

(Based on an address by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1959)


G‑d descended to see the city and the tower which the sons of man had built (11:5)

Obviously, G‑d did not need to “come down” in order to see their crime; but He wished to teach all future judges not to judge a defendant until they see [the case] and understand [it].

(Rashi)