Shiny New Things Meeting (November 02 2021)
Shiny New Things with Ami
Enjoy this recording of Shiny New Things with Rabbi Ami Silver.
Ami Silver: Okay. So let's begin. First of all, everybody, good afternoon and evening, and everywhere in between, depending on where you're checking if from. My name's Ami Silver. I don't know -- some of you I do know, some of you I don't know. One of the content creators and writers at Aleph Beta. I'll be learning with you here in this space, this week and next week, while Rabbi Fohrman is off doing other adventures in learning that doesn't allow him to be available for this.
What I want to explore with you is some material that I have spent quite a while developing, learning, thinking over, and I just thought this would be a great space to share some of these ideas and see what it's like to learn it together with you.
We will be focusing this week and next week on the story of Noah. On the one hand, Noah strikes me as probably one of the stories in the Torah that we are the most familiar with. It kind of has a -- it's an episode, a scene, a story that's etched in our minds from very early on. There is Noah and the flood and Noah's, you know, the righteous individual among all of the humans in his time, who God says you're the one who's going to carry on life.
The flood and the animals and then, obviously, at some point, Noah and the animals are ready to come out, and the rainbow, and it's a very beautiful story. We kind of relate to it almost as like a fairytale because on some level it's so sort of mythic and almost primordial that it just exists there in our minds as this story that the Torah tells about this man and his animals. He's almost like this Dr. Doolittle of the Universe, that he takes care of the animals and God says, you're a great guy, lets start the rollover together.
There's something about the story of Noah that I think, specifically because it's so deeply etched in our consciousness in these ways, that there're elements of the story that I think we tend to pay less attention to and that are not so easy to understand. They don't so easily fit into the, you know, the picture of Noah on the Ark with the rainbow in the background and the giraffes, and the elephants, and the bunnies, and the flamingoes all living together in harmony.
One thing I want to bring your attention to, one element in that story that doesn't quite fit that narrative is actually happens right after Noah emerges from the Ark and the rainbow covenant and when everything returns "to normal." I'm talking about the end of Noah's story.
At then end of Noah's story he plants a vineyard. He plants a vineyard, he gets drunk. He gets so drunk that he undresses himself and seems to pass out in his tent. Something happens, it's not so clear exactly what. His son Ham sees him, the Torah tells us, but something about that was so egregious that when Noah wakes up from his stupor he curses his own prodigy, the children of Ham and blesses his other children.
That's basically the end of Noah's story. It's very odd. We have this whole narrative of the righteous man who's chosen to carry on life in the world. Who goes through the flood, who comes out on the other side. There's the rainbow covenant, the sacrifices, everything is kind of back to normal. The world is ready to begin again and then right away, the very next story is this dark and disturbing episode with the vineyard and his children.
It doesn't quite seem to fit and it's a bit of a puzzle, what is that story? How do we understand it? How does Noah end up here? What are we to make of it? Part of what draws me to the story in particular is, you know I said that Noah, it's kind of like this mythic -- kind of has this mythic status in our mind because it's something that's so hard to relate to. A whole world submerged in flood and begun again with the Ark and the animals.
But it's part of the story. It's pretty human. It's ugly and it's messy for sure, but it's actually speaking about of Noah in terms that are maybe a little more familiar to us in terms of things that we, perhaps, encounter even in our world today. Of drunkenness, of people getting carried away, of damaging things happening within a family. There's something in this story where Noah ends up in a place that's very different from where he was before, but also somehow there's something about that that, like, hey. It's actually not some mythic tale from long ago, but actually perhaps something that is a little more relatable and relevant to the world that we all know today, as much as it's also disturbing and difficult.
So part of what I'd like to do with you, this week and next, is to really look into Noah's story, to try to make sense of what might be going on there in the vineyard. Was it really out of nowhere? How are we supposed to understand it? How do we make sense of it in the grand scheme of Noah's story? Perhaps, does it hold something that actually relates to us in our world today as well?
So to begin, I want us -- I'll be sharing my screen. For those of you who prefer to look on at home, we're going to be looking at Genesis Chapter 7 and Chapter 8, primarily, and a little bit into Chapter 9. So just give me a moment here, I'm going to open up Sefaria.
I just want to check in with people. Is it okay if I have the text up in Hebrew and translate as I read it? Or would anyone prefer to have the English on screen as well? I see nods. We're all good with this? Okay. Because it's definitely smoother and you get to have more text on the screen this way.
So I want us -- even just as an introduction -- to look a little bit into the beginning of Noah's story and the end of Noah's story. Because I think that we'll see it's not just, you know, us who might be kind of confused by the seeming contrast in what happens over the course of Noah's life, but I believe that a close read of the text, the Torah itself is actually showing us that there is a deep contrast or even transformation that happens here.
So let's start here in -- this is Genesis Chapter -- actually we're in Chapter 6 here. We're in Chapter 6 in Genesis, Verse 9, the beginning of Parashat Noach. This is where we're introduced to his story. Before this, Noah is born. He's named and it says, "Noach matza chein b'einei Hashem," that God seems to favor Noah or like Noah among all the terrible things happening on the earth. Here we get into the story of Noah.
"Eileh toldot Noach," these are the generations of Noah, "Noach ish tzaddik," Noah was a righteous man, "tamim hayah b'dorotav," he was whole or innocent in his generation, "et ha'Elokim hithalech Noach," Noah walked with God.
I just want to pause here for a moment because the Torah describes us here a few key characteristics. Noah is an ish tzaddik, he's a righteous person. He's tamim in the generation. There's something that's whole about him. Then it gives us this, "et ha'Elokim hithalech Noach," he walks with God.
If I would ask you what is it that makes Noah a righteous person? He's called a righteous man. By the way, this is no small deal. Noah is actually the only character in all of the Chumash who's referred to as a tzaddik, who's identified as a righteous person, an individual called tzaddik. We know we have a Yosef ha'Tzaddik, that only comes later in Rabbinic literature. Moses is not called a righteous person, Abraham is not called a righteous person. Noah is the only person named as a righteous person.
But if we look at the story here, it's not so clear what it means that he was a righteous person. We don't see Noah going around and let's say doing acts of charity and kindness to people. We don't see Noah baking pies for his neighbors or checking up on people to see how they're doing. It's really not so clear. We don't even see going around teaching Torah. It's not clear what makes him a righteous person.
But I think if we read here -- let's just look at what Noah does, what are his actions and that might give us some clues. We're told he's a righteous person, we're told he walks with -- yeah, David, please.
David: It's interesting. I must have read about this before, but when you said you're starting with the end, with the story in the vineyard, so that already then reminded me a little bit of the story of Lot and his daughters. So now for going back here and you say he's the only one who's called a righteous person, but the main thing when I think of righteous people, it's the righteous people that would have been spared in Sodom. So Lot by association, was one of those righteous people.
You know, there's a whole famous drashah about whether b'dorotav, was it relative to other people or not, but certainly the concept of a righteous person in Sodom is certainly relative. So maybe if you're saying compared to everybody else -- I don't think you need to talk about necessary what he did specifically, just like we didn't necessarily know what the righteous people in Sodom did, but we know that compared to everyone else, they were at least worthy of being saved.
Ami Silver: Okay. Yeah. I mean, there is definitely a -- Noah is identified to some degree by comparison, in his own generation, right, where God's basically saying in the verses above, "emcheh et ha'adam," I'm going to get rid of everybody. I'm going to wipe out all humanity. "V'Noach matza chein b'einei Hashem," but then there is this one guy. So there is something about him that it's in comparison to. It's a valid point.
I do want to say, regardless of is his righteousness spanning the generations or not, we do see certain behaviors in Noah. Because the Torah doesn't just say he was a righteous person, it says a few more things. It says he walked with God. Now, it still doesn't tell us what that means, but I think if we read on, we might get a clue as to what that means.
The next verses are basically telling about his children. God wanted to destroy the world. God saying to Noah I'm going to destroy all living flesh and then God, in these next verses, starts to give Noah instructions. I want you to build an Ark, out of this kind of wood. I want you to cover it with this material. I want you to build it to these dimensions. I want you to put a window up on top of it and a door on the side. Then I'm going to bring the flood, et cetera. God is basically giving Noah all the basic instructions.
Okay. I'm just scrolling through a lot of verses there, come to Verse 22. "Va'ya'as Noach k'chol asher tzivah oto Elokim kein asah." Noah did, he performed everything that God commanded him to do, "kein asah," thus he did. So far God gives Noah a whole lot of instructions and all we really see from Noah, okay, he does everything God tells him to do.
Keep reading into Chapter 7, when God says to Noah, okay, now it's time. I want you to come into the Ark. I want you to bring all of these kind of animals. Seven of these, seven of these. A pair of these, a pair of these. Yes, seven pairs of each of those kinds. God continues to give Noah more practical instructions of what's going to happen with the flood. Here we get into Verse 5. "Va'ya'as Noach k'chol asher tzivahu Hashem." Noah, he does everything God commands him.
So if you would ask me, what is it about Noah that makes him a righteous person who walks with God? It seems like we might have our answer here in these next verses. God tells Noah to do things. Noah follows God's command to a tee. A lot of instructions. Build it like this. Get these animals together. Do them. The Torah, it's almost a refrain here; "va'ya'as Noach k'chol asher tzivahu Hashem." It's almost like a -- it's almost overemphasized in the first time. Noah does everything God tells him to do. He does it. "Kein asah." Thus he does. Then once again, "va'ya'as Noach k'chol asher tzivahu Hashem." When we see the behaviors of Noah is he's somebody who follows God's command.
It seems to be that this is what it looks like for Noah to be a righteous person who walks with God. He walks with God, he does what he's told. He's God's obedient servant. For that reason he's basically God's chosen person.
Seeing the next verses. The flood starts to come. Noah and all the animals get into the Ark and here comes the rain. "B'etzem ha'yom hazeh ba Noach v'Shem v'Cham v'Yefet bnei Noach v'eishet Noach." His whole family, the children, their wives, they all get into the Ark. All the animals get into the Ark.
I want to just bring us to this verse right over here, Verse 16. Male and female of every living flesh, all creatures, they come "ka'asher tzivah oto Elokim." They all enter into the Ark with Noah, just as God had commanded him. "Va'yisgor Hashem ba'ado," and God closes the door for Noah.
In a sense, Noah and all the animals get in and the image here is God shuts the door for him. God closes the Ark. In some sense, Noah does everything God tells him to and God takes care of him. Get in, I'll close the door, I'll seal it up for you. Water's coming. The flood's begun. You're safe, you're protected. You do for me, I do for you and now the flood.
This is kind of, you know, if I were to break up Noah's story into different acts, this is basically Act 1 of Noah's story. Act 1, Noah the righteous man who walks with God. Noah who follows all of God's commands and instructions. It ends right here, where God shuts the door and Noah is safe and sound in the Ark.
Okay. I just want to just hold that narrative in our minds for a moment and I'm going to jump down now to just look inside of the text where we get into the vineyard story. This is in Genesis Chapter 9. This is again, we're fast forwarding, and don't worry, we'll get more into the meat of things, but we're fast forwarding. The flood has ended. The rainbow covenant. Noah and all the animals and all the humans are ready to emerge and continue to basically create new life and populate the earth.
We're here in Chapter 9, Verse 18. Noah's children come out of the Ark. These are the three children of Noah and from them, basically, the populations of the earth spread out.
Now, Verse 20. "Va'yachel Noach ish ha'adamah va'yita karem," and Noah the man of the earth -- "vayachel," I'm not going to translate that word quite yet. "Va'yita karem," he plants a vineyard. "Va'yachel," this is the action that we're told Noah's doing. Va'yachel comes from the word meaning to begin. What we'd say in Modern Hebrew, hitchil, to start something. "Va'yachel Noach ish ha'adamah," Noah the man of the earth, he takes initiative, he starts a project. "Va'yita karem," he plants a vineyard.
I'll just read one more line here. "Va'yeisht min ha'yayin va'yishkar," he drinks from the wine, he gets drunk, "va'yitgal b'toch oholo," and he exposes himself inside of his tent.
Just a few things here that I want us to take note of. First of all, look at what Noah's doing. He's starting. He's initiating something. Did anybody tell Noah to plant a vineyard? Did anybody instruct Noah to start, you know, getting into the agriculture business, to start a winery? Noah is beginning a process. The Torah is very specific. He's starting this process on his own initiative. That already is showing us a very stark contrast with what we saw earlier, when Noah is basically just sitting there waiting for God to tell him what to do and then acting.
In the beginning of Noah's story, in Act 1, he is the person who responds to God's command and does exactly what God tells him to. Right here, the first thing he does after the whole flood story is over and done, "vayachel Noach," he's starting on his own now. He's doing this on his own initiative. It seems that the contrast here is made even sharper when we just look at this description, "vayachel," he begins. Who begins? "Noach ish ha'adamah," Noah the man of the earth.
Remember how Noah was introduced to us up above. "Eileh toldot Noach, Noach ish tzaddik," Noah the man who is righteous, the man who walked with God. Without even giving any particular interpretation or value to what it means to be an ish ha'adamah, to what it means to be a man of the earth.
That phrase, that in a sense -- the way the Torah's qualifying him, describing Noah here, as "Noah ish ha'adamah," it is a kind of mirroring of how he was described earlier, "Noach ish tzaddik." It's almost the same words, but the description is different. In one case he is the ish tzaddik, the righteous one, in this case he's the ish ha'adamah. Without trying to make sense of what that might even mean to be a man of the earth, it seems that the Torah's indicating here that something here has changed. That something here is different.
That becomes even stronger when we add what Noah's behavior is. Here he's vayachel, here he's a self-starter. He's somebody who just begins something on his own. Over there, he walks with God. When we see what that looks like in action, he's somebody who's basically God's obedient servant, who does what he's told, who does what God commands him.
Noah doesn't build an Ark because he has some grand idea. He doesn't pull out, you know, the blueprints. He sits there and waits for God's command and only then does he act. We see that seemed to be transformed here. A self-starter and called by a different title. Of course, we know where the story leads to. This story ends in this strange, messy, and kind of disturbing place. So even to just look at the beginning of Noah's story and the end of Noah's story, it begs the question, what happened here? What exactly caused this change in Noah's character and his behavior?
The last thing we read about, he and God, they seemed to be on good terms. The flood was over. There was a rainbow. There were sacrifices. God says, great, Noah, go populate the earth. We're ready to roll. This is what we've been waiting for. And then this is the story that we get. So something changed. What I want to try to understand is, what changed and how do we understand what may have caused this transformation in Noah.
I'm going to take a second and just look. I see a few people have written in the chat. Both Miriam and David, you wrote in the chat and I'm curious if there's something you want to say a bit more about what you wrote there? Miriam, you wrote something about reminding you of the behavior of Abraham?
Miriam: Yes, because Abraham did exactly what God told him to do when he was bringing Isaac up.
Ami Silver: Okay. Yes, I hear the parallel there. David, what did you mean by the foreshadowing?
David: Well, you mentioned briefly when he was named. When he was named, it says that "zeh yenachameinu mima'aseinu u'mei'itzvon yadeinu min ha'adamah asher eirerah Hashem." So it's a prediction that he would become somehow an ish adamah, you know, whether he did that before or only after, I guess that's a question. But certainly his connection to adamah goes to the beginning.
Ami Silver: His connection to the adamah definitely goes to the beginning. There is a wrinkle here that connects back to the name that we may or may not have time for. I do want to say that that prediction either means he will be somebody who is an ish adamah, or will be somebody who is specifically not an ish adamah. If they want to be saved min ha'adamah asher eirerah Hashem, save us from this cursed earth, then perhaps the mission there was for Noah not to be somebody who was devoted to the earth. It's really not clear.
I know in the background here, the Rabbis' famous Midrash that he created the plow, and the meaning of that according to the Sages that working the earth became more manageable. It's not necessarily the only meaning there. But I do hear what you're saying. The link to adamah for sure goes back to his naming. For sure there is something in his destiny that links him to the adamah in one way or another. Perhaps we'll get back into that at some point.
So we have the beginning and the end of Noah's story seem to be in this real contrast to one another. It seems like Noah underwent some dramatic change. It's not so clear to us how to explain that. So part of what I want to do, and really the focus of our learning here today, I want us to actually look at something that does happen in the middle there. It's something that I think may help clue us in to what may have been responsible for some of the change in Noah, and maybe even where that change may have begun.
For that, I want us to look into Genesis Chapter 8, because again, if we think of Noah's story in acts, and Act I is the beginning of the story until he gets in the ark, and then the flood takes hold. The last act, the final act is the vineyard story. Right before the vineyard story, we have the rainbow covenant and we have Noah emerging from the ark. There's actually another story that takes place there in the middle, that takes place there in the midst of the flood. That's what I want us to look at together.
To just bring us into the text and give us some context what's happening here, Noah has gotten into the ark. The flood is raging, and all living creatures are dying and being wiped off the face of the earth. The end of Chapter 7, "Vayigberu hamayim al ha'aretz chamishim u'me'at yom," for 150 days the water is just overwhelming the entire earth. Come read Chapter 8 together.
"Vayizkor Elokim et Noach," God remembers Noah and all of the animals and all of the beasts with him in the ark. God causes this wind to start to blow upon the earth, "vayashoku hamayim," the waters are calmed. Then it says that God basically seals up the sources of water, all of the wellsprings of the deep and all of the water channels from the heavens are stopped up. "Vayikalei hageshem min hashamayim," the water stops falling from the heavens. So God causes the water to calm, God stops -- in a sense, turns off the faucets from above and below, stopping the sources of water from flowing.
Then the water starts to, in a sense, blow and waves flowing back and forth. "Vayachseru hamayim miketzei chamishim u'me'at yom," at the end of this 150-day period, the water is gently, slowly beginning to drain from the earth. "Vatanach hateivah bachodesh hashevi'i b'shivah asar yom lachodesh al harei Ararat," in the seventh month, the 17th day of that month, the ark finally comes to rest on the mountains of Ararat.
This, by the way, when the Torah speaks about this 150 days, earlier we get a date for when the flood began. The flood began in the second month, on the 17th of that month. So we're 150 days exactly from the beginning of the flood until now, five months have passed. The water stops. God causes it to calm down. The ark comes to rest, in a sense parks itself in this mountain range.
But it doesn't end there. The water continues to slowly drain, "Ad hachodesh ha'asiri," until the 10th month. The water is "haloch v'chasor," slowly, slowly it's beginning to lessen until the 10th month. Then on the first of the 10th month, we're talking another two-and-a-half months after the ark has come to stop, another two-and-a-half months passed and what happens next? "Nir'u roshei heharim," the mountain peaks become visible. So a gradual process of the water lessening on the earth.
"Vayehi mikeitz arba'im yom," and then 40 days after that, and this is where I'd say Noah Act II begins, because Noah comes back onto the scene here. "Vayehi mikeitz arba'im yom, vayiftach Noach et chalon hateivah asher asah." At the end of 40 days, Noah opened up the window to the ark that he had made.
Now, I just want to pause here for a moment. What's Noah doing? Why is Noah opening a window? Without reading on, give me your best answer.
Miriam: He was not told to do that.
Ami Silver: He was definitely not told to do this.
Miriam: The first thing he was not told to do.
Ami Silver: Exactly. This is the very first -- beautiful, Miriam. This is the very first thing Noah does in the entire story that he's not commanded to do. To make the point here even sharper, let's go back to the very last time we saw Noah. The very last time we saw Noah, he climbed into the ark with all of the animals, "Vayisgor Hashem ba'ado." God closed the ark for him. The last thing that happened, God is closing the ark for Noah. The next time Noah shows up, Noah is opening up the window of the ark. So he's not only doing something that God didn't command him to do, he's actually, in a sense, doing the opposite of the last thing God had done. The last thing God had done was shut the ark. Here, for some inexplicable reason, Noah is opening up the window.
Let's just follow, for a moment, the next actions that Noah takes. He opens the window, he sends out a raven, and then he sends out a dove. He sends out the dove because the Torah is telling us now what Noah is up to. "Lir'ot hakalu hamayim mei'al pnei ha'adamah," Noah wants to see, has the water lessened, has the water let up from the earth.
The dove comes back, Noah brings it back into the ark, and now come here to Verse 10. "Vayachel od shiv'at yamim acheirim vayosef shilach et hayonah min hateivah." I'm hesitant to translate here, but look at that first word. "Vayachel od shiv'at yamim acheirim." We saw that word, vayachel, before. That word, vayachel, is exactly the action Noah is taking later on in the vineyard when he is initiating his own process, when he's acting on his own initiative and doing something just as a self-started.
Now, sidebar here, I will say the commentators are split on what vayachel means. Some say that it means that he's waiting, because that root can be used for waiting, that he's waiting a period of seven days. Some say no, it's the very same word that we see later in the vineyard, he's beginning. He's vayachel. He's doing something on his own. He's beginning some kind of process. That is what he's doing. He's initiating a process here of okay, send out the dove. I didn't get what I wanted the first time around; I'm going to -- from now starts a new seven-day process. Counting from today we're going to let seven days pass, and then once again he sends the dove out from the ark.
This time, the dove comes back with an olive branch in its mouth and Noah knows, okay, the water's let up a little bit. But he doesn't stop there. "Vayiyachel od shiv'at yamim acheirim." Once again, he's beginning again. Another seven days have to pass now. Noah says, okay. Let's start another seven-day process here. He sends out the dove once more. This last time, the dove doesn't come back. Soon after, Noah uncovers the cover and he waits until the earth dries.
There are a few things here that are very odd in Noah's behavior. Number one, as we've seen, he's opening the window. He's acting completely on his own accord. He's doing the exact opposite action that God had done last. Then we see the appearance of this language, vayachel, vayiyachel, Noah acting on his own, Noah acting on his own, Noah doing his own thing. It really seems like, well, the vineyard is a very dramatic and stark contrast from what we see in the beginning of Noah's story of the obedient man who walks with God. This episode is actually where Noah begins to shift character. This is where he begins to act --
Miriam: Where is God?
Ami Silver: Oh, you asked the million-dollar question. Noah is acting alone, and where is God? God is absent in this story. God isn't commanding or communicating with Noah. So maybe that's already beginning to get to helping understand here, because the obvious question is, why is Noah acting this way? Why is Noah doing all these things? The Noah we know is told what to do. Why is Noah just sitting around, waiting for the next instructions? Why can't he just wait until God says, hey Noah, the flood's over, time to come out.
By the way, we skip ahead to after the whole bird scenes are over, Verse 14. "Bachodesh hasheini b'shivah v'esrim yom lachodesh yavshah ha'aretz." There's a point at which the earth's crust actually dries. You know what happens when the earth dries up? "Vayedaber ha'Elokim el Noach laymor, tzei min hateivah." God comes and says, hey Noah, come out of the ark. You, your wife, your children and their wives, all the animals. God is right on time. The second the earth is dry, God comes knocking on the door and says, Noah, it's time to come out.
But this whole story in between, Noah is operating without any communication. The question is, what makes him start to do this? What might be going on in Noah's mind that he feels that he needs to start opening the window, sending out birds and seeing what's happening?
So to begin to explore that question, I want to just come back to the context of what's happening when Noah opens the window. We heard about the flood for 150 days. We hear that God remembers Noah, that God is cooling the waters down. The ark has come to rest. The water is slowly waving back and forth, the ebbs and flows, but the water is gradually draining. We even hear that the mountaintops are uncovered. The water is actually lowering. Why does Noah open the window when he does? Why isn't he satisfied with what's happening?
Here I want to ask a question that's maybe so obvious that we never even ask it. We're reading this story of God bringing the flood to an end. Remembering Noah, bringing the wind, draining the earth, the mountaintops. You and I, the readers, we know this is happening. What does Noah know? Noah knows very little. All Noah knows is that at some point, after many months in the ark, the water is maybe a little quieter. The pitter-patter of the rain has stopped. There's some kind of bump and the ark isn't moving anymore. Then he's just sitting there waiting and waiting and waiting, in silence.
Now, the Torah tells us the mountaintops are visible. You and I know that, but Noah does not know what. The reason I know that Noah doesn't know that is because he sends out a dove to see outside of the ark. Noah can't see what's happening outside the ark. Well, you might say, what do you mean? He has a window. He does have a window, and he does open that window, but if we go back to when God explicitly commands Noah to make a window, God says "Tzohar ta'aseh lateivah," make a skylight in the ark. "V'el amah techalenah milemalah," let it be an arm's length from the roof. Noah put a window in the ark at God's command, but it's all the way up on the roof.
So the Torah has this whole narrative of the earth, in a sense, coming back to normalcy. Slowly and gradually, but Noah is actually just sitting there in a dark ark, not knowing what's going on out there. As you said, Miriam, not getting any communication from God about what's happening. This is months and months that are going by where the ark's just motionless. There's no more flood, and nobody's talking to him. It's complete radio silence there.
So it seems that what drives Noah to start acting on his own, to start taking initiative here, opening up the window, let me send out a bird to see what in the world is going on there. Something here is missing for him. He doesn't have clarity about what's happening.
We actually see, I think, if we read the purpose of Noah sending out the dove time and time again, the Torah tells us some very specific things. Number one, "Vayeshalach et hayonah mei'ito lir'ot hakalu hamayim mei'al pnei ha'adamah." Noah needs the dove because he needs to be able to see outside of the ark. The dove is Noah's eyes out there on the earth. Noah can't see outside the ark, so he needs the dove to fulfill that mission for him, be his eyes out there, what's happening.
"V'lo matz'ah hayonah mano'ach l'chaf raglah," and the dove doesn't find rest for its foot, doesn't find a resting place for its foot. Look at that word, mano'ach, a place to rest. "V'lo matz'ah hayonah mano'ach l'chaf raglah." The dove goes out and doesn't find any mano'ach for its foot. What does that sound like, mano'ach? It's Noah's name. It's Noah's own name. The dove is going out there and doesn't find any mano'ach for its foot.
Miriam: That's what his father said about him.
Ami Silver: Zeh yenachameinu, his father says this one will bring us nechama, will bring us comfort. In a sense, it seems that the dove is -- the thing that Noah wants the dove to do for him -- there are two things that Noah is missing here that he wants the dove to fulfill for him. Number one, he can't see, so he needs the dove to go see what's happening outside.
Number two, which might be a related and maybe even deeper element of what Noah is truly missing in this moment, "lo matzah mano'ach l'chaf raglah." There's nowhere to stand. There's nowhere to put down his foot. Noah is literally suspended in kind of nowhere land. He's in this dark ark. He doesn't know where on earth he is. He doesn't even know, is there an earth out there. He's literally missing the ground beneath his feet, and he's also figuratively missing the ground beneath his feet. He has no stability anymore.
Until this point, God's been right there with him. Do this, Noah. Okay. Do this, Noah. Okay. I'll take care of you, Noah. Okay. Time has passed. Months have gone by, and there's zero communication. "Lo matzah mano'ach l'chaf raglah," in some sense it's as if Noah is saying, I want to know, is there any stable ground for me to stand on anymore? Is there some earth, some stable place for me to exist within? Because right now, he's lost it. Right now, he has no stability.
Look at how he's acting. He is truly acting like God isn't with him anymore. He's doing, like we said, the things that God did not command him to do. He's doing the opposite of what God had done the last time they interacted, he's opening when God closed. He's doing this vayachel, vayiyachel actions. I need to act on my own. I'm starting this all by myself. It's my initiative. It's as if Noah, in these moments, is fighting for his life. He's doing it all by himself.
I'm going to take a moment and see in the chat. It's a play on words, vayachel and chalon (window). So David, you were noticing the Chet-Lamed root there, yeah?
David: Yeah. Because it doesn't say he opened a tzohar, it says he opened a chalon, to specifically use that word when it was his initiative. That seems to be an interesting choice of words.
Ami Silver: Yeah. I mean, we can play Scrabble with the Torah and find a lot of great things. I'll Scrabble it even more and notice that chalon has a Nun in it as well. It even brings Noah into there, also. There's chal, there's Noah. Let's see, one more here. Noah seems like somebody who may have suffered from PTSD. His past is consumed. Granted, it wasn't great, but it was familiar. (Inaudible 00:45:33) but to what?
Brenda, I can't see you on screen there, but yes. I would say it seems that what Noah is experiencing here, it's not just impatience. This isn't just impatience. If we just kind of take a step back and think about, you know, I kind of opened by talking about how we have a very, sort of, fairytale image of the Noah story in our minds, just because that's how we learned it. This great guy took care of the animals, came out on the other side and got the rainbow and started the world again.
There's actually a very dark side to this story which is, what's happening this whole time? What's happening right now is that every other living creature is being killed by the flood. There is a devastating, global devastation that Noah is living through these last months. It's one thing if you're living through that devastation and you know that God is right with you every step of the way, that God is the one who is commanding you to build the ark, He's commanding you to bring in the animals and closing the ark for you. I'm here with you, Noah, you're My guy, we're in this together.
But all of that seems to have just entered into this very strange standstill where nothing is happening anymore, as far as Noah knows. His one source of ongoing stability and comfort and protection, which is God, is absent. God is not in communication with him anymore. So where does that leave him? When we see Noah's behavior, it leaves him fighting for his survival. He's trying to do everything he can to figure out, how am I going to survive this?
I'll share something kind of disturbing with you, also. If we look back at God's instructions to Noah about the flood that was going to come, God tells Noah, I'm going to make a flood and everyone is going to die except for you and the animals in the ark. You know what God doesn't say to Noah? God never says to Noah, you're going to leave the ark at the end of it. Here Noah is. Nothing is changing. Nothing is moving. No one is talking to him. Maybe this is it.
When we get inside the mind of Noah and we come and look at what he's asking, what he wants these birds to accomplish for him, I need to see what's happening out there and I need to know, is there anywhere to put my foot down in this earth? Is there any ground to stand on anymore? Is there going to be another world for me, or does it just kind of end here? Whatever it is, he's not willing and not able to just stay in this kind of suspended animation where he has nothing to stand on.
Here's where Noah truly begins, vayachel, to act like he's by himself and to take his own steps towards finding his way.
I'm going to take a moment to look at the chats here. Okay, yeah, implications for faith and trust. Complicated. A question here, what's the contrast between the raven and the dove? I think on a simple level, it seems like the raven isn't a great messenger for this mission. I'm not enough of a bird expert to know, but I do know that ravens are bigger birds than doves are. I wonder if the raven couldn't -- right, the raven was going yatza vashov, the raven would just fly out and back, fly out and back. It could be that while the floodwaters were still there, the raven really couldn't take flight for long enough to really fulfill the mission that Noah needed. Noah needs a bird that's going to be able to take a broad view of the situation. It seems like the dove was more capable of doing that. That's just my layman's guess as to why one bird was better than the other. I don't know if anybody else has thoughts about the raven versus the dove. There's symbolism that the Sages and later commentators read into that, but on a simple level it seems like he has a mission here, and a dove is better suited.
Again, by the way, if we're thinking about somebody who's struggling for survival, we see he has to try a whole lot of different things to find what works. That's what happens when you're tested and stuck with figuring out on your own, how am I going to get through this. He's not given tools, so he's trying different things. Even with the dove, he tries time and time and time and time again. There's a persistence and a desperation to Noah's activities here.
He sends the dove, okay, let's try once again. I get it, the first time the dove just went out and came right back. So Noah says, let's wait seven days, I'm going to try it once again. The second time, the dove comes back with an olive branch. But Noah, he wants to be more secure than that so he's going to wait again. The last time, the dove doesn't come back, "Vayeida Noach ki kalu hamayim mei'al ha'aretz," now Noah figures it out. Okay, there must be dry land out there. He waits again and then the dove never comes back.
Interestingly, Noah doesn't leave the ark on his own. When the dove never comes back, it says "charvu hamayim mei'al ha'aretz," this is a point where the earth basically is no longer covered in water. "Vayaser Noach et michseh hateivah," he uncovers the covering of the ark. Architecturally, I'm not quite sure what that means, but it seems that the ark had a kind of covering on it that Noah uncovers it. "Vayar v'hinei charvu pnei ha'adamah," this is the moment when Noah finally, after weeks and months, with his own eyes, not just inferring from the dove's eyes, but with his own eyes he can see, charvu pnei ha'adamah, the earth is visible once again.
He doesn't leave the ark at that point, because it takes another couple months after that until yavshah ha'aretz. I believe the difference here is that it's one thing for the earth to no longer be covered in water. You could see the earth. But the earth isn't dry yet. It's not something you could stand on. It seems like it's still swampy or muddy or not yet completely dry. It takes a little more time for the earth's crust to be completely dried, and that's immediately, the very next verse, God comes and talks. "Vayedaber Elokim el Noach." Once the earth is dry, God is talking once again. Hi, Noah. Time to come out of the ark. You, the children, and all the animals. We're ready to go.
So I want to ask you something. We're noticing that Noah maybe went through a bit of a crisis there in the ark. He had a few months -- it was intense. He didn't know what was happening with him. As far as he knew, he had to figure out his own means for survival. The earth did go back to normal. Not only that, but God came back into the picture. So on one level, okay. Noah, you had a freak-out there, but you just didn't understand what was happening. The moment the earth was ready, God was right back talking to you. God didn't leave you. This whole time, God remembered you and was taking care of the earth, was actually preparing it just for you. Don't you know that now? You came out of the ark. God's back.
It's this beautiful image here, too. He comes out and gives God sacrifices, and there's a rainbow. The earth's all ready. God says, I'm never going to destroy the earth again. Things seem ready to really flourish. God blesses Noah and his children. Go, populate the earth. It's really a new beginning. All of that fear, all of that anxiety, it's behind him. This is where things get very strange, because the very next story after this whole hugs, kisses, rainbows and revival of the earth, and the promise to protect and sustain life, the very next thing Noah does is "Vayachel Noach ish ha'adamah." Noah is vayachel once again. Noah is acting on his own once again, doing without being commanded. Being a self-started, acting without God's commands or consent. He's called Noach ish ha'adamah now. He's not called or described the same way he was before.
It seems like he should be walking with God again, right? He should be doing what God commands him to do once again. Strangely, he's still acting similarly to how he was back in the ark when he felt that God had abandoned him and left the scene. The question that I have is, why. Why didn't Noah get the message and go back to being the ish tzaddik who walks with God, who does what God tells him? Why is Noah, after all that he's been through, still, once again, acting in this way of vayachel, acting like he's all alone? Doesn't he know that he's back with God?
Beyond that, why does he do the next things that he does? Why does he plant the vineyard, get drunk, end up in this messy scene with his family? Like, what happens here? I understand if, you know, he had an unraveling when he was back in the ark. But that's over. He's been reassured. The earth is back to normal. The earth is ready to start again. He has God's protection and promise. Why is he acting this way at this point?
I want to pause here for a moment. I'm going to look at the chat once again. Some people had to go. I'm going to stop the share for a moment so I can just see the screen. We're going to address the question of what's happening in the vineyard, we're going to get into that in next week's session. We're going to go deeper into the text of that story to try to uncover some of the things that are happening there that maybe we don't notice when we just read it kind of in a vacuum.
I just want to give some space here, if people have thoughts or questions or things you want to say or share from what we've seen together today. If you do want to talk, just unmute yourself. Well, I'll ask a question if nobody --
Miriam: This is the ultimate question.
Ami Silver: This is the ultimate question. This is the question we started with, right. It just becomes a bigger question as we read more of the story.
I have a question for you. Did you ever think of the bird story and the doves as anything strange? Right, the dove and the raven, it's part of that really sweet story, oh, the dove and the olive branch. Right, it's a beautiful image, the sweet dove. Then we read the story and it's like, wait a minute. What is going on here? Why is he sending out doves? Why is he opening windows? This isn't what Noah is supposed to be doing. This isn't the guy we know.
There's something, even in that very, seemingly innocent and beloved part of the Noah story that all of a sudden takes on a very different tone. We see it in the context of how Noah begins, and what seems to be really changing at that time in the ark.
If nobody has any questions or comments, I'm happy for us to stop here. We will meet again next Tuesday at the same time. For those of us in Israel, we'll actually be starting an hour later because we changed our clocks last week. For those of you who are not in Israel or who haven't changed your clocks yet, you'll be at the same time next week. That's 1:30 Eastern, and however that translates into your own local time zones.
So thank you. Thanks for learning together. Keep thinking about this. If you want to take time to look into the story, you're more than welcome to. Next week, we'll go deep into the vineyard. Okay.
Miriam: Thank you, Ami. Thank you so much.
Ami Silver: Yeah. Thank you. I appreciated the opportunity.