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And the ark came to rest in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month upon the mountains of Ararat. The waters were continuously diminishing until the tenth month. In the tenth month on the first of the month the tops of the mountains became visible. (Bereishis 8:4,5)
The Flood may be divided into three periods. The first period was the actual flood that lasted for exactly forty days. The second period was the one hundred and fifty days in which the waters strengthened themselves. The final period was when the waters diminished and the earth dried up. During the period of time when the waters diminished the Torah mentions two critical events. First, the time the ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat and second the time when the tops of the mountains became visible. These events represent moments of relief, survival and hope that the world would return to a complete state of normalcy.
Rashi explains that although these two events are mentioned together they are not calculated the same way. When the posuk says that the ark came to rest in the seventh month this calculation begins from the end of the forty days of Flood. When the next two posukim mention that the waters subsided and the tops of mountains became visible in the tenth month, it makes this calculation from the beginning of the forty days. Rashi provides a detailed calculation as to how we know that this must be so. However, we may ask why did the Torah change the starting point for calculating the resting of the ark to the appearance of the tops of the mountains? We would expect the Torah to be consistent and calculate both events either from the beginning of the forty days or from the end of the forty day.
Chazal teach us that time between conception and the formation of a fetus is exactly forty days. Indeed, Rashi tells us that the reason the flood lasted exactly forty days was because it served as a punishment measure for measure. The generation leading up to the time of the mabul committed adultery and produced many mamzeirim. Hashem said that these people troubled Him to form mamzeirim in forty days; therefore He will punish them with a Flood that will also last for forty days.
With regard to the period of forty days, it is noteworthy that in addition to it being the time of beginning of life, it also represents the end of life. The Or HaChaim (beginning of parshas Vayeilech) writes that forty days before a person dies his soul senses its departure. At this time it begins to seek for itself an eternal resting place in heaven. (See sefer Tuuv Ni’hor’chah by Rav Naor Aryeh Auerbach for an elaboration of this idea.)
It emerges that forty days are symbolic of both the beginning of life and the end of life. We may suggest the when counting each forty day period there is a difference as to which point has more significance, the beginning or the end. With regard to the formation of life the significant day is the last day of the forty days. Indeed chazal say the first forty days the fetus is just considered water. Only on day forty does the fetus have significance of being a viable child. There are many ramifications of this concept. For example, the gender of the child is not determined until day forty. One may pray for the gender of a fetus for the first forty days but afterwards is futile prayer in vain for the gender has already been determined. Women who are pregnant have many special laws. However these laws only begin forty days after conception. According to some opinions the soul enters the fetus on the fortieth day. Thus, the most significant day of the forty days of formation is the last of the forty days.
However with regard to death we may suggest that the first day is the most significant. It is here where death begins. Likewise it is here were the soul begins its search and quest for its eternal resting place.
The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 30:8) says that when Noach left the ark he saw a “New World.” Indeed, some of the commentators (Tzror Hamor Noach 7:17) explain the events of the Flood parallel the creation of the world. These ideas indicate the mabul brought new life to the world. On the other hand the Flood certainly brought death to the world. All living creatures perished. Furthermore, the commentators (Ramban, Sforno, etc.) teach us the quality of life on earth was greatly diminished due to the Flood. Before the mabul the entire year consisted of only the spring season. After the mabul the four yearly seasons were introduced. Before the mabul fruit and vegetables did not rot. It was only after the mabul that this phenomenon came to be. Before the mabul the environment was pure and man was able to live hundreds of years. After the mabul the environment was contaminated and man’s life expectancy was greatly diminished and became similar to what it is now.
The forty days of the mabul were both a process of death and the formation of new life. The world of pre-mabul died but the world of the post-mabul was created and formed.
The Torah mentions two critical points concerning the end of the Flood; the resting of the ark and the appearance of the tops of the mountains. With regard to the resting of the ark the posuk calculates the event from the end of the forty days. The focus of the end of the forty days is symbolic of the formation of new life. From the perspective of the surviving living creatures in the ark a new world was being formed. This was their future. However, when the Torah mentions the appearance of the tops of the mountains the posuk calculates the event from the beginning of the forty days. The beginning of the forty day period is symbolic of death. Here the Torah focuses on the perspective of the earth. The earth suffered greatly. Many had died, much had been destroyed and lost.
Thus, the Torah calculates the forty days of the mabul from both the end and the beginning to emphasize that simultaneously two events occurred, the death of the old world and the creation of the new world. The posuk says “The sun will rise and the sun will set.” Chazal explain this to mean that before the sun of one generation sets Hashem prepares the sun of the next generation.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2003