As told in Genesis 6:9–11:32, this is the story of the Torah reading Noach:
Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his age, who walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
God saw that all flesh on earth had become corrupt and lawless, and God told Noah that God had decided to bring a flood to destroy all flesh. God directed Noah to make an ark of gopher wood and cover it with pitch inside and outside. The Ark was to be 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high, and have an opening for daylight near the top, an entrance on its side, and three decks. God told Noah that God would establish a covenant with Noah, and that he, his sons, his wife, his sons’ wives, and two of each kind of beast — male and female — would survive in the Ark.
Seven days before the Flood, God told Noah to go into the Ark with his household, and to take seven pairs of every clean animal and every bird, and one pair of every other animal, to keep their species alive. When Noah was 600 years old, the Flood came, and that same day, Noah, his family and the beasts went into the Ark, and God shut him in. The rains fell 40 days and 40 nights, the waters swelled 15 cubits above the highest mountains, and all flesh with the merest breath of life died, except for Noah and those with him on the Ark.
When the waters had swelled 150 days, God remembered Noah and the beasts, and God caused a wind to blow and the waters to recede steadily from the earth, and the Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. At the end of 40 days, Noah opened the window and sent out a raven, and it went to and fro. Then he sent out a dove to see if the waters had decreased from the ground, but the dove could not find a resting place, and returned to the Ark.
He waited another seven days, and again sent out the dove, and the dove came back toward evening with an olive leaf. He waited another seven days and sent out the dove, and it did not return. When Noah removed the covering of the Ark, he saw that the ground was drying. God told Noah to come out of the Ark with his family and to free the animals.
Then Noah built an altar to God and offered burnt offerings of every clean animal and of every clean bird. God smelled the pleasing odor and vowed never again to doom the earth because of man, as man’s imaginings are evil from his youth, but God would preserve the seasons so long as the earth endured.
God blessed Noah and his sons to be fertile and increase, and put the fear of them into all the beasts, which God gave into their hands to eat. God prohibited eating flesh with its life-blood in it. God would require a reckoning of every man’s and beast’s life-blood, and whoever shed the blood of man would have his blood shed by man, for in God’s image did God make man. God told them to be fertile and increase. And God made a covenant with Noah, his sons, and every living thing that never again would a flood destroy the earth. God set the rainbow in the clouds as the sign of God’s covenant with earth, so that when the bow appeared in the clouds, God would remember God’s covenant and the waters would never again flood to destroy all flesh.
The curse on Canaan
Noah was the first to plant a vineyard, and he drank himself drunk, and was uncovered within his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers. Shem and Japheth placed a cloth against both their backs and, walking backward, covered their father, without seeing their father’s nakedness. When Noah woke up and learned what Ham had done to him, he cursed Ham’s son Canaan to become the lowest of slaves to Japheth and Shem, prayed that God enlarge Japheth, and blessed the God of Shem.
Noah lived to the age of 950 and then died.
Genesis 10 sets forth the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, from whom the nations branched out over the earth after the Flood. Among Japheth’s descendants were the maritime nations. Ham’s son Cush had a son named Nimrod, who became the first man of might on earth, a mighty hunter, king in Babylon and the land of Shinar. From there Asshur went and built Nineveh. Canaan’s descendants — Sidon, Heth, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites — spread out from Sidon as far as Gerar, near Gaza, and as far as Sodom and Gomorrah. Among Shem’s descendants was Eber.
The Tower of Babel
Everyone on earth spoke the same language. As people migrated from the east, they settled in the land of Shinar. People there sought to make bricks and build a city and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for themselves, so that they not be scattered over the world. God came down to look at the city and tower, and remarked that as one people with one language, nothing that they sought would be out of their reach. God went down and confounded their speech, so that they could not understand each another, and scattered them over the face of the earth, and they stopped building the city. Thus the city was called Babel.
The line of Terah
Genesis 11 sets forth the descendants of Shem. Eight generations after Shem came Terah, who had three sons: Abram (who would become Abraham), Nahor, and Haran. Haran had a son Lot and two daughters Milcah and Iscah, and then died in Ur during the lifetime of his father Terah. Abram married Sarai (who would become Sarah), and Nahor married Haran’s daughter Milcah. Sarai was barren. Terah took Abram, Sarai, and Lot and set out together from Ur for the land of Canaan, but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there, and there Terah died.
Here are a few of the questions that the Rabbis raised about this Torah reading:
- What was the sin of the generation of the flood?
- Was Noah righteous, or merely the best of a bad lot?
- Did Noah try to save his generation?
- Why did God have to use an Ark to save Noah?
- What did Noah’s Ark have in common with the basket of Moses?
- What illuminated Noah’s Ark?
- Does the Torah sometimes speak euphemistically (as in Genesis 7:8)?
- Did the Flood kill the fish of the sea? If not, why not?
- Can animals sin? How had the animals sinned that warranted their destruction?
- As there were seven pairs of clean birds, why did Noah send out a raven — an unclean bird of which there was only one pair?
- Why did the dove bring back an olive branch?
- What was it like for Noah and his family on the Ark?
- How does drinking wine make one more like God?
- What are the seven Noahide laws?
- Why did God allow the rest of humanity to eat what it wants, but restrict Jews with the laws of kashrut?
- What can we learn from the notice in Genesis 9:6 that God created humans in God’s image?
- Does God’s promise in Genesis 9:11 never again to bring a flood of water rule out a flood of fire and brimstone?
- What did Ham do to Noah to warrant Noah’s curse of Canaan?
- Who was Nimrod?
- What was the sin of the generation of the Tower of Babel?
- Was the generation of the Tower of Babel (who were merely dispersed) more virtuous than the generation of the flood (who were wiped out)? If so, how?
- Why was the generation of the Tower of Babel afraid of becoming (in the words of Genesis 11:4) “scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth”?
- What does the Torah mean by its report (in Genesis 11:5) that “the Lord came down to see the city and the tower”?
- How can we ensure that God will not punish Israel for its sins as God did the generation of the Flood or the generation of the Dispersion?
- Why does Genesis 11:30 say both “Sarai was barren” and “she had no child”?
- Tosefta Sotah 3:6–8; Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 57a,108a; Genesis Rabbah 31:1–6.
- Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a; Genesis Rabbah 30:9–10, 31:1.
- Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a; Genesis Rabbah 30:7, 31:3.
- Rashi. The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Translated and annotated by Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, 1:68. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1995. ISBN 0-89906-026-9.
- Babylonian Talmud Sotah 12a.
- Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b; Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 2a.
- Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 123a.
- Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a, Zevachim 113b.
- Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a.
- Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b; Genesis Rabbah 33:5.
- Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b, Eruvin 18b; Genesis Rabbah 33:6.
- Genesis Rabbah 30:6, 34:1; Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b.
- Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 65a.
- Tosefta Avodah Zarah 8:4–6.
- Leviticus Rabbah 13:2.
- Mishnah Avot 3:14; Tosefta Yevamot 8:7.
- Tosefta Taanit 2:13.
- Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 70a; Genesis Rabbah 36:7; Leviticus Rabbah 17:5.
- Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 53a.
- Tosefta Sotah 3:10.
- Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a.
- Toras Chaim Bershis 63c.
- Genesis Rabbah 38:9.
- Babylonian Talmud Taanit 27b, Megillah 31b.
- Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 64b.