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Noah’s Flood: Natural or Miraculous?

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

Why The Flood? 

Why would G-d, after creating the world and all of animal and human life, destroy most of life so soon after? The Talmud teaches that G-d brought the flood because of widespread corruption, or “hashchata,” which in Hebrew, is the same word for destruction. Specifically, the sins of rape and larceny (theft) were pervasive.[1] These sins were considered worse than the rejection of G-d, which had already occurred in previous generations and did not warrant a flood. The corruption between men perverted the purpose of creation, which is kindness; men had become takers rather than givers.[2] This type of corruption warranted a flood because there is no hope left for humanity to return to G-d when “even the leaders are abusing their power.”[3] (Gulp).

Noah’s flood is not just a piece of history; it is a warning to future generations. Through the flood, G-d is showing what we discussed last week: that we are spiritually linked to the natural order. When we are corrupt and on a path of destruction, nature will reflect this reality. No one will argue that despite the advances in technology, humanity’s morals are on the downslide. This spiritual reality is being reflected in the physical world around us, with the laundry list of environmental and health issues that exist today.

What is the one species that did not get destroyed in the flood? The fish. The fish were unaffected by the corruption of the flood because they were surrounded by the source that represents life and chessed or kindness: water. (Water’s symbolism, kindness, which is the antidote to selfishness, is one reason why humanity was wiped out through the medium of water). Fish are so immersed in water, so “connected” to their source of life, that it is impossible for them to sin. We too should be so connected to our Source of life, G-d, that it is impossible for us to “sin,” or act against His will.[4]

The Jewish View: Nature and Miracles

G-d will manipulate nature to either work for us or against us, depending on what we do.

As Rav Dessler explains, there is no difference between the natural and miraculous; nature is simply G-d’s acts that are consistent, like changing seasons, whereas the miraculous is when G-d wills an occurrence in nature that is unfamiliar to us, like a massive flood that wipes out humanity.[5]

When we serve G-d, nature works for us.[6] There are countless stories demonstrating this principle. I recently heard the following stories from my teacher Sara Yoheved Rigler, who just finished writing a book about Rebbetzin Henny Machlis zt“l who lived in the Old City of Jerusalem.[7] Rebbetzin Machlis was famous for her extraordinary giving to others. The Machlis’ hosted hundreds of people in their modest home for Shabbat each week. Unfortunately, Rebbetzin Machlis passed away from cancer last year at the age of 58.

Years ago, when Rebbetzin Machlis traveled between the U.S. and Israel, she took two suitcases even though the new policy was one bag per person. She did not have the money to pay for another bag. When she got to the counter, the attendant looked up her reservation and told her, “Since you booked your ticket before the policy changed a few months ago, we will allow you to bring two bags free of charge.” Rebbetzin Machlis had only booked her ticket three days prior.

In another instance, a mentally ill woman came to Rebbetzin Machlis’ home and told her that she hadn’t eaten in days and was hungry for spicy fish, a specific Sephardic dish. Rebbetzin Machlis did not have any fish in the house, She offered the woman everything else she had, but the woman kept saying “Spicy fish! Spicy fish!” Just then, there was a knock at the door. It was a neighbor, with a plate of spicy fish! She had just made some and had extra, and did Rebbetzin Machlis want some?

There are countless stories like these in Rebbetzin Machlis’ life, many others’, and perhaps yours. Even though “naturally,” the odds of the Rebbetzin Machlis’ neighbor showing up at the door with the exact dish the woman wanted at that exact moment were so small, because Rebbetzin Machlis lived her life serving G-d, nature worked for her. This is not miraculous; it is part of the natural order that G-d created.[8]

The Rainbow’s Symbolism

After the flood, a rainbow appeared. Despite the inclination to view rainbows positively, in reality, the rainbow is a sign that even though G-d desires to destroy the world, he is refraining from doing so because he promised Noah that He would never again send a flood to destroy the human race. [9] Due to the rainbow’s bittersweet symbolism, the Jewish custom is to make a special blessing when we see a rainbow, but not to stare at it.

Even though the rainbow is a symbol that G-d ultimately desires our survival and not our destruction, “The rainbow is a half-picture, lacking a second half to complete the circle of wholeness. G-d can pledge not to destroy humanity, but since He created humanity with freedom of choice, He cannot guarantee that humanity will not destroy itself.”[10]

We must remember that our actions, spiritual and physical, can change the world around us for better or worse.


 

[3] Id.

[4] I learned these teachings when I met with a Kabbalistic Rabbi in the Old City of Jerusalem, in Fall 2014 to learn about my birthday month, Cheshvan, which began this week. The flood took place in Cheshvan.

[5] Strive for Truth, Volume 2, Nature & Miracle, p. 240.

[6] Mrs. Esther Wein, Bereishit Noach Nature and Miracles 2008. Similar classes by Mrs. Esther Wein can be found on Torah Anytime.

[7] The book about Rebbetzin Henny Machlis zt”l, Emunah with Love and Chicken Soup, will be published by Artscroll the week of November 13th. It can be preordered here.

[8] Mrs. Esther Wein

[10] Id. (Rabbi Rudman)

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