The Torah portion of Noach consists primarily of the story of the flood of Noach and its aftermath.
Celibacy During the Flood
According to our sages, Noach and his family members were instructed to remain celibate while in the ark. This is alluded to in the verse (Gen. 7:6
) which says, “And Noach and his sons and his wife and the wives of his sons came into the ark…”
This wording can be contrasted with the command regarding their departure from the ark where it says (ibid 8:16), “Leave the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives with you.” Since on the way into the ark the males and females are listed separately and on the way out the men are listed with their wives, we can deduce that in the ark the males and females were to separate from each other.
- No Pleasure in a Time of Distress
Rashi says that the reason for this separation was that the world was in distress. As Rashi on Gen. 41:50
says (concerning the famine in Egypt), one may not be intimate with one’s spouse during a famine.
- No Building at a Time of Destruction
The Midrash Tanchumah (Noach 11)
adds that it is inappropriate for people to be building up the world while G-d is destroying it. This would explain why intimacy was forbidden in the ark for Noach’s children who were as of yet childless, whereas during an famine it is permissible for a couple who as yet have no children to be intimate. See Ta’anit 11a
The Maharal (Chidushei Aggadot on Sanhedrin 108b) relates this prohibition to the fact that one who is in mourning must remain celibate (during the shiva). This is because it is inappropriate to “build” at a time when G-d has chosen to “destroy.”
- No Intimacy in a Holy Space
According to the Zohar (quoted in the Etz Yosef on the Ein Yakov on Sanhedrin ibid), the reason for the prohibition on intimacy was because the ark was imbued with holiness. As such, it was considered improper to have marital relations there.
This would explain why the prohibition remained in force for as long as they were still in the ark, even after the flood was over, [see Gen. 8:17
and Rashi there]. The Drashot Ibn Shuaib (By Rabbi Yehoshua ibn Shuaib
of 13th-century Spain) explains how the dimensions of the ark allude to deep mystical levels, specifically:
- The ark was 300 amot long. This alludes to the shin (ש)of the name Shakai (ש-די) which is the numerical value of 300.
- The ark was 50 amot wide. This alludes to the nun (נ) of the name Adnai (א-דני) and to the 50 gates of Binah (knowledge).
- The ark was 30 amot tall which means that each floor was 10 amot tall. This alludes to the yud (י) which is the first letter of G-d’s holy name Havaya (יקוק).
- The three floors (and three yuds) correspond to the three spiritual realms of Briyah, Yetzirah and Asiyah.
Even for Animals
The verse also alludes to the fact that the rule of celibacy also applied to the animals in the ark, as when the time came for Noach to take out the animals from the ark G-d told him (ibid 8:17
), “All of the beasts of all flesh that are with you, whether birds, animals, or creatures that crawl on the earth, take out with yourself, and they shall increase on the land and be fruitful and multiply within it.” The Midrash (Gen. Rabbah 34:8
quoted in Rashi on the verse) writes that the fact that G-d instructed them to increase and multiply on the earth indicates that they were prohibited to do so in the ark.
The Kli Yakar
(on verse 16) gives a practical reason why the animals were prohibited to propagate: That the ark would be overwhelmed with too many animals. One may add that the increased number of animals might use up their food supply too quickly. Although the fact that the ark held so many animals was in itself miraculous, it was still not proper to cause G-d to make “extra” miracles. Especially if the miracles became necessary as a result of not refraining from pleasure during a time of distress.
It is noteworthy that some say that the animals did procreate in the ark:
Specifically, the Ibn Ezra writes that the verse (8:18
) “All the animals… left the ark with their families” indicates that they had offspring in the ark but that they had only mated with their own kind. This is in contrast to the people and animals before the flood who mated indiscriminately. The Ralbag (in his explanation to the parsha
) adds that the animals mated, as this is natural for them and it is not possible to command them to behave otherwise. (But see below in the name of the Chatam Sofer.)
Three Who Didn’t Listen
According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 108b
), even the animals were supposed to refrain from propagating in the ark. The Talmud adds that there were three that did not follow this rule and did have relations in the ark. They were Cham, son of Noach, the dog, and the raven. The Talmud states that they all received a punishment, as follows:
- Cham had descendants who were dark skinned. Some say his own skin darkened as a result of his improper behavior. This was a punishment for engaging in relations, which is a nighttime activity, at the wrong time.
- The male dog gets “attached” to the female when mating and has difficulty separating itself. This unusual manner of mating is a result of the dog’s improper mating in the ark.
- The male raven spits (while mating). Rashi says that its seed is expelled through its mouth. This unusual manner of mating is also a result of improper mating in the ark.
Why Did They Not Listen?
The Chatam Sofer (on Sanhedrin ibid) explains that all of the other animals sensed that the world was in distress and as such withheld themselves from mating. But the raven, whose character is particularly cruel (see Eiruvin 22a
there), did not sense the distress of the world (or did not care) and thus did not refrain from mating. It is noteworthy that in the English language, a group of ravens is called an “unkindness
A similar thing can be said about the dog. As the verse says, Isaiah 56:11
וְהַכְּלָבִ֣ים עַזֵּי־נֶ֗פֶשׁ – And the dogs are brazen…”) As far as Cham, some say that he saw the raven mating and was aroused by this sight. In order to not lose his seed, he had relations with his wife (Ben Yehoyadah).
How Could They Be Punished?
It is well known that animals are ruled by their instinct and do not have free choice. It is therefore difficult to understand why the dog and raven were punished. The Me’orei Ohr (on Sanhedrin ibid) explains that although they acted instinctively, they were punished so that mankind could learn a lesson that negative behavior begets negative results.
First Command – To Rebuild after a Destruction
The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out (Likutei Sichot 25:33) that the first thing Noa’ch and the animals were commanded by G-d to do after departing from the ark was to have children. The reason for this is simple: since the world was destroyed by the flood, the first order of importance was to rebuild it.
This is a lesson for the generation(s) after the holocaust of European Jewry. As a nation, we experienced a terrible devastation that destroyed a large portion of the Jewish people. Those who merited to be saved as well as their descendants have the responsibility and merit, first and foremost, to physically rebuild the Jewish nation by marrying and having children and then to contribute spiritually.
Worries about Having Children
It is noteworthy that, despite G-d’s command to procreate, No’ach hesitated to do so as he was worried that his descendants might be destroyed by another flood. This is alluded to in the verse (8:18
) where it says “Noach went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him.” The wording implies that even after he went out, the males and females were separate (see above).
The Kli Yakar (on verse 16) explains that it was only after G-d promised not to destroy the world that Noach finally was willing to procreate.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out (Likutei Sichot 25:35) that Noach did not hesitate to have children despite the possibility that some of them might be as wicked as the generation of the flood.
The reason for this is that one may not refrain from having children due to such a concern. We find this regarding King Chizkiyahu (see Brachot 10a
) who did not want to have children because he foresaw that they would be wicked. (And indeed, his son was the wicked King Menashe.)
Yet the prophet Isaiah told him that for this behaviour, he was deserving of death. The decree was only removed when he agreed to marry and have children. And, although his son was wicked, many righteous people descended from him, for example, King Yoshiyahu (see Kings II 23:25), Yehoyachaz (see Horayot 11b
) and Tzidkiyahu (see Shabbat 149b
One should certainly not refrain from having children for financial reasons, as the Talmud says that one who does so is lacking in faith. See Sotah 48b
that whoever has bread in his basket to eat today and says, “What shall I eat tomorrow?” Is among those who have little faith.
Similarly, the Sefer Chassidim (519) writes “A righteous poor person should not say [to himself] ‘If my wife gets pregnant how will I support the baby?’ Anyone who thinks this is lacking in their faith. Just like G-d prepares milk in the mother’s breasts for the baby to eat… [so too He prepares continued sustenance for the child as he or she grows older].
One should also not refrain from having children out of concern that they will not have the energy to care for them. As G-d only expects us to do the best we can (See Bamidbar Rabbah 12:3
“G-d says, I don’t ask according to My strength but according to your strength”).
May we merit to have many righteous children and descendants!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!