By Jacob Isaacs
Published and copyrighted by Kehot Publication Society
The Wickedness of the People
Methuselah’s wisdom and knowledge were inherited by his grandson Noah, the son of Lemech. Noah was a righteous and pious man.
When Noah was five hundred years old, he had three sons--Shem, Ham, and Japheth. They too were good and pious men, fearing and loving G-d, and unlike all the other inhabitants of the earth, who had gradually become more and more depraved. Yet neither Noah nor Methuselah could change the evil ways of the people around them, in spite of the many warnings G-d sent through them to their fellow-men. Everyone thought only of his own welfare and recognized only the laws that were in his own favor. Mutual respect and cooperation had given way to violence and sin.
Finally G-d gave them a last chance. He ordered Noah to build an ark slowly, and to complete it in one hundred and twenty years. This was to be the last period of grace within which the people could change their evil ways. Time passed and yet the people had not repented. So fearful was the prevailing corruption that G-d determined to destroy all life by a universal Deluge; not only the men but the beasts also were to perish, so that no trace might remain of that wicked age.
Only Noah found grace in the eyes of G-d, and he was to be spared the fate of all the other living things, because he was the only pious person who had tried to arouse the conscience of the people and warn them of the punishment to come.
G-d told Noah to build his ark in public and to tell everyone its purpose: that it would save him from the coming Flood. The Ark was to be three hundred cubits in length, fifty in width, and thirty in height, and was to consist of three stories, divided into small rooms to hold people, animals, and food. Noah and his wife, their three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives were to live in it. Some animals of every kind in the world were to live in the Ark too. Noah’s family and the animals were to live in the Ark until the Flood ended. Noah did as G-d commanded. His neighbors made fun of him for his faith, and they paid no attention to his warnings of the Flood that was to come.
Noah was six hundred year old when G-d told him to go into the Ark with his whole family, and to admit the animals which G-d had selected.
The Flood commenced on the seventeenth day of the second month. The gates of heaven broke loose, and the depths of the earth opened to send forth streams of raging, boiling water, swallowing everything in its path. Rain fell for forty days and forty nights and the water which covered the earth rose higher and higher. It covered the peaks of the highest mountains. Every living thinG-died, and all growing things were destroyed. Amid this terrible scene of ruins and devastation the Ark, guided by G-d, floated securely. But the ship was fiercely tossed about and shaken at the heights of the stormy flood, so that it seemed to Noah that it was about to break apart.
The Flood Recedes
Noah and his children prayed constantly, and at last the flood quieted down. A wind blew over the earth and the Ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat, after it had been afloat for seven months.
The Raven and the Dove
Gradually the water subsided; and on the first day of the tenth month the peaks of the mountains could be seen again. Noah, still imprisoned in the Ark, looked forth upon the wide spreading though decreasing waters; and after waiting forty days longer, he sent forth a raven from the Ark. This bird, glad to regain and to enjoy its liberty, returned to the Ark only to be fed, flying to and fro, until the waters had quite abated. Yet, Noah, anxiously hoping that the floods were disappearing from the land, sent out another bird, and this time a dove. But the dove, more delicate than the raven, found no resting place, and returned to the Ark. After seven days it was again sent forth, and now it returned at evening-time with a fresh olive leaf in its mouth. Then Noah knew that the earth was almost free from the flood, although still unfit for habitation.
After another seven days, the winged messenger was sent out again and returned no more. A feeling of gladness must in truth have filled Noah’s heart, for in the beginning of the first month, the surf ace of the earth was cleared from the waters, and three hundred and sixty-five days after the beginning of the Flood, the ground was perfectly dry.
The Flood had passed, but it had changed the appearance of the earth and of the entire universe. Everything, even the light of the sun, had lost some of its original strength and power, and the earth was barren and unyielding.
Noah and his family spent a whole year in the Ark. Then G-d ordered them to leave the Ark. Noah built an altar and brought an offering which G-d accepted graciously. And G-d promised that He would never again curse the earth because of man. Seasons, heat and cold, day and night, and all the other laws of nature would never again fail altogether, as they had done in the time of the Flood.
The Seven Laws
G-d blessed Noah and his sons with the same blessing He had given Adam and Eve, giving them power over all living creatures. Before, they had been allowed to eat only herbs and plants. Now they were allowed to use meat for food, but only after the animal had been killed. To eat flesh torn from a living animal was forbidden. And stern was His decree against the shedder of human blood. Murder was to be punished by death; for could a greater crime be conceived than that of destroying a being created by G-d in His own image? Other commandments were, the establishment of Courts of justice, the prohibition of blasphemy, indecency, idolatry, and stealing.
Covenant with Noah
These rules G-d included in a treaty with Noah and Noah’s sons.
As a sign of the Covenant G-d showed them a rainbow, up in the clouds, as a permanent record for all times to come.
Noah began to plow the fields, and he planted a vineyard. One day he drank some of the wine, not knowing its strength, he became drunk. Seeing his father lyinG-drunk in his tent, Ham told his brothers about it in a very rude way. His two brothers went into the tent, where they covered their father and put him in his bed without looking at him in his shame. When Noah awoke and found out what had happened, he was angry at his son Ham, saying that Ham’s children should be slaves to the children of his brothers Shem and Japheth.
Shem and His Descendants
Then he prayed that Shem and Japheth have wisdom and beauty, and great social and cultural achievements. Shem became a prophet of G-d and lived six hundred years, serving G-d as a priest. In the time of Abraham, who was the ninth generation in direct line of descent from Shem, Shem was famous under the name of Malkitzedek, the “Just King,” who brought offerings to G-d. He lived to see the eleventh generation of his descendants (Jacob). Together with his worthy great-grandson Eber, he taught and spread faith in G-d and in His commands in a school which was known as the Academy of Shem and Eber.
During the time of Eber’s son Peleg, the lifespan of human beings dwindled down to about one half of what it was in the former generation.