The second day of creation is the only day that doesn’t get a “good” (or “very good”) grade. Ten generations later, we find out why, when the flood covers the earth. It is as if G-d blew air into the water, creating a little bubble for us to live in, but once we misuse it, the water from above and below start mixing as this bubble threatens to close.
It is strange to read this story this week, along images of areas, impacted by hurricane “Michael”. Back then too, it’s clear there was a very serious flood, as flood stories exist in other near eastern cultures. But our story, long before environmental studies and research, spoke to the deep connection between human behavior and the world around, in ways we can – and cannot – quite fathom. So much so that while the first human is called “Adam”, “Adama” which would be the female grammatical form of this name, is not the word for his spouse, but for his “real” partner – the earth.
Everybody knows Noah, the kind old man who, in most kids’ books, is bigger than the ark itself. Noah was both “righteous” and “wholehearted”. 19 century Rav Hirsch says that “righteousness” refers to his ways in the outside world, doing justice, being public, working with the world, while “wholehearted” describes Noah’s own-self, and what he does to complete himself. Noah walks with G-d. By contrast next week (and we compare them often), we’ll see that we know close to nothing about Abraham: G-d tells him “go”, and doesn’t tell us any of his qualities, and why he was chosen for this monumental task. Because Abraham we know; he’s ‘ours’ and needs no intros; it would be like introducing a grandfather to his own grandchildren. In addition, any intro’s would also just limit him, saying he’s this way or that, and the Torah sees no reason to shrink him.
So Noah is a good guy, at least compare to when and where he lived. And he has 3 sons: Shem, Cham & Yefet, each representing another mega-culture or way of being in the world. Shem, who is our forefather, literally means “name”, but also as in לשם – le-shem – “for the sake of”, indicating purpose and direction, as a name should be, nd therefore also used for G-d, Hashem, “The Name”, the ultimate goal.
The word for ark in this story, teiva, appears in the whole Bible only in two contexts; here and in the story of “baby Moses”. In both cases, a teiva is a life saving vessel, floating on the water (not a boat or basket-) and its purpose is survival rather than arrival somewhere. The root of the word is unclear and we can only learn about it from itself. Interestingly, it can also be used for a “word” or syllable, as if G-d invites Noah to come into the “word”.
G-d doesn’t leave anything for Noah’s imagination regarding the measurements and material of which the teiva should be built. The last piece is the window. Well, not quite a window, but a tzohar, צהר another unusual word that appears only here (and from which in modern Hebrew we get tzohorayim, noon, the time of extra or double light). Rav Hirsch connects tzohar to zohar, זהר to illuminate, and Rashi, based on the midrash, says about the tzohar that is can mean both “window” or “a good gem”, both being a source of light for those in the ark: The good gem would light for those inside the closed ark from within, while, in contrast, the window would allow light from the outside, leaving us to wonder, where does light comes from? Is it something we have within us, and by the nature of who we are, emanate and share it with those around us – or – is it something far away, incomprehensible, we look for outside of ourselves, and get only a glimpse of?