The yahrzeit for the Abravanel was this past week, so I offer some of his commentary on this week’s Parsha:
Hashem directed Noach to build an Ark. The text says that it was made out of gopher wood. This wood had to have been very strong and water resistant. The Abravanel felt that it was balsa wood, which is very light and buoyant. ( as anyone who ever had a model airplane from a plastic bag could attest!) The Ark itself had to be divided into compartments. It would be separated into different levels and sections. These in turn would be divided into smaller rooms. In this manner all the animals would be able to be kept separate. A ship is usually built wide on top and narrow on the bottom. This Ark however was built just the opposite; 50 cubits wide on the bottom and just 1 cubit wide on top. The top of the Ark therefore was very much like a pitched roof so that the waters of the Flood would run off easily.
Some say that Noach himself took care of the wild beasts. Shem was in charge of domestic animals; Cham over the birds; and Yephet over reptiles. All of them shared in caring for the other creatures. For twelve months they had to remain among wild beasts and snakes. One may logically ask what carnivorous beasts such as lions ate while they were in the Ark. But when no meat is available, even carnivores can be induced to eat specially prepared vegetarian foods. The Abravanel points out that there was a decree from God that even carnivores be vegetarians in order to make them less ferocious. There is a different opinion stating that carnivorous animals were sustained by a special radiation that God had prepared for this purpose. This is a Midrashic interpretation brought down in the Talmud. The story was related that Avraham’s servant Eliezer met Shem, the son of Noach, and asked him about life in the Ark. Shem had replied: “It was very, very hard. Some animals would eat only by day, while others would feed in the middle of the night, and in all twelve months that we were in the Ark we never got to close our eyes.”
God made promises to Noach when he left the Ark, and these promises were for a good reason. When Noach and his children left the Ark they looked out and saw the entire world destroyed. It was desolate and empty with nothing left standing. They began to weep as they gazed on this cataclysm. They had themselves suffered during the Flood and had lost many friends and relatives. They had three major concerns. First, since only Noach and his family had survived they were very much afraid of the wild animals. They were vastly outnumbered by the animals and susceptible to the pack. Second, they were afraid that they would not have food to eat. The earth was completely desolate. Not a single plant or tree had survived the Flood. Even though Noach had taken along all kinds of seeds in the Ark to replenish the world, they would require time to grow. They were therefore in great danger of starvation. The Abravanel points out that the divine permission to eat meat was a necessity in order to avoid starvation since there was no vegetation to feed from. The third concern that Noach and his family had was about strife among the brothers. There was fear that one might kill another like Cain killed Abel, since there were no authorities to instill respect for law and order. Therefore, all the survivors decided not to have any children. God told them not to worry about these three things, that all had been taken care of. Now they would be able to have children, forget about the past, and develop the future. The first Mitzvah of the Torah was reiterated to this generation: Be fruitful and multiply!
Rabbi David Grossman