Rabbi Michael Rosensweig
Rabbi Michael Rosensweig

Parshas Noach: A New Creation?

In the aftermath of the mabul that refashioned the world, the Torah (Bereshis 9:1) records that Hashem blessed Noah and his children in a manner that is reminiscent of his original charge to man: " peru u-revu u-milu et ha-aretz". In fact, the Radak (9:1) is troubled by the apparent repetition, and is forced to conclude that the mabul was not merely a catastrophic historical event, but constituted a second act of creation, as it left the world again in a state of "tohu va-vohu". Hence, the need to reiterate the initial berakhah. Notwithstanding this radical conclusion, Radak (9:2) views this berakhah and the pesukim that follow it as a reaffirmation of the basic principles established at the time of the original creation that govern man's conduct, regulate his interaction with the world around him, and define his very purpose. Even the most salient change brought about by the mabul, the license for man to eat meat (9:3), is not perceived by the Radak as a fundamental shift in the natural order. He (9:4) asserts that while man was prevented from consuming meat until Noah invested effort in securing the future of animal life, the original scheme of creation already incorporated the notion that animals would serve man both in his work and as a source of food.

An examination of these pesukim, however, reveals that another perspective is possible. The strong parallels between the aftermath of the mabul and the creation of the world also serve to accent the subtle differences in the Torah's formulation of the new series of berakhot and commandments.

In Bereshis (1:26), when man's creation is contemplated, he is presented with a challenge and charge not only to procreate and populate the world, but to master his environment and assert his authority in the hierarchy of living things- "ve-yirdu be-degat ha-yam u-beof ha-shamayim u-bekol remes haromes al ha-aretz". Upon man's actual creation, Hashem bestows a berakhah upon him which again emphasizes his intended mastery(1:28):"peru u-revu u-milu et ha-aretz ve-kivshuhah, u-redu be-degat ha-yam u-beof hashamayim u-bekol hayah ha-romeset al ha-aretz". This berakah contrasts sharply with that given to the birds and fish (1:22)- " peru u-revu u-milu et ha-mayim ba-yamim ve-haof yirev ba-aretz"- which focuses exclusively on populating their respective environments. It is noteworthy, that the pesukim that immediately follow the articulation of man's destiny (1:29-30) are devoted to man's and animals' diet. Perhaps this indicates that the different roles and respective destinies in the creation hierarchy are reflected in this issue. The Ramban and other mefarshim (1:29. see, also, Rashi, Ibn Ezra etc.) conclude from a close reading of the text that not only could man not eat meat, but that the Torah also intended to differentiate between the vegetarian diets of man and animal. Man was to consume "esev zorea zera" and "eitz asher bo peri eitz zorea zera" products, while animals were restricted to "kol yerek esev".

After the mabul, man's aspirations appear to have been significantly scaled back. Here, too, his destiny is twice addressed. While the first formulation is certainly just a berakah, it is possible that the second expression is intended as a command. [ Rashi and Ramban (9:7) briefly address the issue of the relationship between these two pesukim and the pesukim in Bereshis.] In any event, even if both components register in the post-mabul era, the change in order relative to the Bereishis account is intriguing. Of greater significance is the nature and scope of the berakhah/challenge/zivui. Man's post-mabul agenda does not include any reference to mastery of his environment or the hierarchy of created beings. Indeed, Noah's berakhah/zivui really parallels the initial berakhah to the birds and fish, articulated in Bereishis! Noah is given instructions regarding man's interaction with other species, but these, too, reflect a change at least in tone. The focus is no longer on the ambition of conquest and domination, but on a mechanism for survival and self-defense- " u-morakhem ve-hitkhem yihiyeh al kol hayat ha-aretz ve'al kol of ha-shamayim..." Perhaps for this reason, the initial focus is on wild animals, as they pose the greatest security threat. The world of the sea, which constitutes a completely distinct domain and poses no real hazard if man remains in his own environment is treated differently in this context- "u-bekol degai ha-yam be-yedkhem nitanu." This order and emphasis contrasts sharply with the Bereishis parallel (1:26,28) in which the more distant and challenging domains- the sea and air- are underscored first.

Moreover, the Ramban(9:5) and others perceive that the post-mabul allowance to consume meat constitutes a fundamental change in man's very nature, and perhaps in the whole dynamic of creature interaction. The Ramban argues that it was necessary to reiterate the prohibition against murder in this context precisely because significant changes had occurred. The Abudraham explains that the proper berakah for eating meat is birkhat she-hakol and not "boreih hayat ha-aretz" precisely because the original creation scheme did not entail the consumption of animals. Evidently, a significant transformation took place in Noah's time. The link between destiny and diet in both contexts certainly points to a broad refashioning of the world order in the aftermath of the mabul.

While some mefarshim (Akedat Yitzhak) see this watershed transition as an evolution in man's status, a symbol of his progress in distancing himself from the animal kingdom, justifying the eating of meat, the cumulative evidence makes a compelling case for the view that this second creation reflects man's limitations and Hashem's disappointment. Coming on the heals of the need for such a radical restructuring and the Divine assessment- (8:21)" ki yezer lev ha-adam ra mi-neurav"-, it is likely that the new world order constituted a concession to man's inability to sufficiently distinguish himself from the rest of creation. According to Abarbanel, he was permitted meat as a concession to ensure his survival. According to other perspectives, man's lower ambitions and aspirations no longer justified such dietary restrictions. The world was, indeed, reconstituted, but on a different basis. The need to reiterate the theme of zelem elokim and the prohibitions against murder in this context of lowered expectations is paramount.

This perspective is consistent with the view that we have developed elsewhere (TorahWeb, parshas Noah, 5760, 5761) according to which Noah, himself, especially in contrast to both Avraham and Moshe, personifies the values of compromise and survival, not those of spiritual excellence and idealism. His association with the 7 Noachide commands, and especially his personal link with every min hachai, which simultaneously accents the allowance of meat and its restriction, contrast dramatically with the loftier spiritual idealism embodied by taryag mizvot and the total corpus of Torah and halakhah.

The impact of the mabul on human nature and world order may have been profound. However, the ideal challenges presented to Adam continue to inspire mankind in general, and especially Am Yisrael. Notwithstanding the second act of creation following the "tohu vavohoo" after the mabul, it is the initial creation of Bereishis that we continue to commemorate on Rosh Hashanah ("hayom harat olam") and every Shabbat. As the Ramban notes the fact that we designate days of the week by their distance from Shabbat conveys a powerful message that the entire week revolves around Shabbat. In this way, Jews continue to underscore their ideal commitment to Hashem in the post-mabul world.

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