Noach 5778

Issues of faith[1]

ויאמר יקוק לנח בא-אתה וכל-ביתך אל-התבה כי-אתך ראיתי צדיק לפני בדור הזה: ויעש נח ככל אשר-צוהו יקוק: ויבא נח ובניו ואשתו ונשי-בניו אתו אל-התבה מפני מי המבול
Hashem said to Noach: “Come to the ark, you and your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation”. Noach did according to all that he was commanded by Hashem. And Noach went, along with his sons, his wife, and his son’s wives, into the ark, due to[2] the flood[3]

Noach was told by Hashem to build an ark for himself and his family. That generation had proven itself to be entirely wicked, so Hashem was going to bring a flood to destroy the world. Noach and his family were the ones chosen to rebuild civilization. When the time finally came to enter the ark, Hashem commanded Noach to do so. The verse then testifies that Noach did all that Hashem had commanded him. Rashi explains[4] that this refers to his coming to the ark. The Torah then says that Noach and his family entered the ark because of the flood. Rashi points out[5] that this teaches us that Noach was of little faith. He believed and he didn’t believe that the flood would occur. He only brought his family into the Ark when the waters forced them inside. How can this be reconciled with the earlier verse, which praised Noach for following Hashem’s command to enter the ark[6]?

The Maharal[7] explains that Rashi was careful with his choice of words. Noach and his family simply came to the ark; they had not yet entered it[8]. Therefore, once the flood came, they were forced to go inside. The Levush HaOrah[9] has a problem with this approach. The verse explicitly says that Noach did everything that Hashem had commanded him. Hashem didn’t command him to go next to the Ark; He told him to enter it! The wicked people also approached the Ark; what kind of praise of Noach could this this be?

Due to these issues, the Ohr HaChaim[10] gives a different explanation of the verse that says Noach did all that he was commanded. What the Torah means is Noach brought seven from all the pure beasts and birds to the ark, as Hashem had commanded him[11]. When the Torah describes the coming of the animals to the ark, there is no mention of these groups of seven, only the groups of two from every species. So that no one would think that Noach deviated from his command, the verse testifies to his loyalty[12].

Rashi’s explanation that Noach was of little faith is coming from the seemingly superfluous words “because of the water of the flood” [13]. However, this explanation is surprising. Where was there room for doubt? Hashem Himself told Noach that there would be a flood[14]. That should have given him one-hundred percent confidence it would happen. Besides, an earlier verse[15] described Noach’s faithful construction of the ark, a process which took one-hundred and twenty years to complete[16]. If Noach didn’t think the flood would happen, why would he go through all that bother? Hashem also described Noach as the most righteous individual in the generation, a title not befitting one of little faith[17].

One explanation is that Noach indeed had absolute faith in Hashem. He knew that Hashem was gracious and completely merciful. He hoped that Hashem would reconsider His decree and spare mankind. Noach wished that the people would repent from their evil ways, and the decree would no longer be necessary. In fact, the Torah says that Hashem waited seven extra days before bringing the flood[18]. Some say[19] that the reason was because Hashem was giving mankind an extra opportunity to repent. This is what Noach was thinking, and was the source of his doubts if the flood would come in the end. If so, why is Noach criticized? Describing him as someone with little faith does not sound so complimentary. In fact, it sounds like Noach’s attitude was inappropriate. Why should this be[20]?

The truth is, that since Noach was explicitly commanded by Hashem to enter the Ark, he should have immediately obeyed. He should have gone in the Ark, despite his hopes that the flood wouldn’t happen in the end. Not obeying Hashem can in fact be described as a lack of faith. We see an example of this in the story of Moshe hitting the rock instead of speaking to it[21]. Hashem’s response was that Moshe was lacking in faith[22]. This is what Rashi meant when he wrote that Noach believed and didn’t believe that the flood would happen. He believed in the mercy of Hashem, but he didn’t follow His command[23]. We learn from here that not only does our level of faith reflect on our mitzvah observance, but our mitzvah observance can also reflect on our faith.

Good Shabbos.


[1] Based on Peshuto Shel Mikrah by Rav W. Rozenblum, found in He’aros UBiurim Oholei Torah #824 ( and Be’er Yosef to Genesis 7:7

[2] Rashi to Genesis 7:7; cf. note 13

[3] Genesis 7:1, 5, 7

[4] to ibid verse 5

[5] to ibid verse 7, quoting Bereishis Rabbah 32:6

[6] The way the Ohr HaChaim (to ibid verse 5) phrases the question, is that there’s no need for the verse to tell me Noach listened to Hashem if it means going to the ark, since it says explicitly in verse 7 and again in verse 13 that he did so

[7] Gur Aryeh to verse 5

[8] Ibn Ezra ad. loc., Be’er Heitev and Yeriyos Shlomo to Rashi loc. cit., and Devek Tov say the same

[9] ad. loc.

[10] loc. cit.

[11] Genesis 7:2-3

[12] This explanation fits very closely with the simple reading of the verses. It’s curious why Rashi didn’t explain similarly, especially with the issues presented with his commentary

[13] Cf. Targum Onkelos ad. loc. who translates מפני as “from before” the waters of the flood. According to this translation, there’s no need to say Noach lacked emunah. Radak ad. loc. as well explains different than Rashi. He says that Noach in fact entered the Ark when he was first commanded to, seven days before the flood happened. The verse is simply telling us the reason he had to enter the ark, which was to avoid the flood. Torah Sheleimah Chapter 7 § 30 cites Midrash Alpha Beta of Ben Sira § Samech as giving the same explanation. However, both explanations don’t address why the Torah is saying this seemingly unnecessary detail, which must be why Rashi chose the explanation he did

[14] Genesis 6:13

[15] ibid verse 22 with Rashi

[16] See Rashi to ibid verse 14

[17] The Be’er Yosef presents this as a known difficulty with this Rashi. The Radak loc. cit. was bothered by this, and this was his motivation not to say like Rashi. See Torah Sheleimah loc. cit. who cites various sources who have their own answer to this question. The Torah Sheleimah points out that this commentary must be going with the opinion that Rashi to 6:9 cited that Noach was only considered righteous in his generation. This works well since Rashi’s source from Bereishis Rabbah loc. cit. is stated by Rabbi Yochanan, who is the opinion Rashi to 6:9 is quoting from Sanhedrin 108a. However, see note 23. Another explanation is brought in Peshuto Shel Mikrah loc. cit. citing Ohev Yisroel in the name of the Zelochuve Rebbe that Noach was afraid if he had absolute faith in the flood, it would ensure that it came. He didn’t want to be the cause of the flood, so he ensured his faith was not absolute. It’s not clear to me how this explains Rashi saying he was of little faith, but they say it does

[18] Genesis 7:4

[19] Sanhedrin 108b

[20] Especially given Rashi’s commentary to verse 12, that the rain fell with the attribute of mercy, that Hashem hoped they would repent and the rain water would turn into a blessing

[21] Numbers Chapter 20

[22] ibid verse 12; see for an elaboration on what exactly was the sin of Moshe and Aharon

[23] The Midrash Rashi is quoting didn’t have these words. It simply says Noach had little faith. The Midrash alone sounds like the opinion that Noach wasn’t such a righteous person. However, this explanation of Rashi fits even with the opinion that Noach was a very righteous individual