Friday, October 20, 2017

The World's First Boat?

For 100 years Noach toiled and endured much ridicule from his neighbours as he built the ark. Sure enough, Noach had the last laugh when the flood finally came and wiped out everyone else on the planet. Having completely denigrated Noach and ignored his warnings, the people were completely unprepared. However, the ark was nothing more than a large boat. Didn’t anyone have a boat of their own to escape the destruction of the flood?

This fascinating question was asked of me by R’ Sander Goldberg of Baltimore and he followed it up with a fascinating answer from his sefer נחל חיים (Page 30.) There is some discussion regarding the general climate and environmental conditions before the flood and how they were changed forever by the flood. One of the principal catalysts for these theories is the first reference to seasons after the flood (8:22) which seems to imply that there were no seasons beforehand.


מלבי"ם writes that before the flood planet Earth was not on the 23.5 degree tilt on which it finds itself currently. The tilt was as direct consequence of the environmental havoc wreaked by the flood. When the earth is not tilted the climate conditions throughtout the world are at complete equilibrium. That is to say that weather conditions are completely uniform throughout the world and throughout the year. There is simply no reason for conditions to be any different in one place from another. Cloud cover as we know it did not exist either. After all, a partially cloudy sky means that there are clouds over one part of the land and not over the other. Rather, the skies slowly became saturated with moisture uniformly and once every forty years, writes מלבי"ם, the entire earth would be drenched with rain and the process would begin anew. (This explains why the people were not overly taken aback by the flood when it began.) מלבי"ם also attributes the longer lives lived before the flood to the consistency of the climate.

(Now THAT's climate change!)

Another condition that would result from a world climate in equilibrium is uniform atmospheric pressure. Without varying pressure, there can be no wind. Wind is a result of air moving from a high pressure area to a lower pressure area like the air flowing out of a balloon. Before the age of the motor, all large boats relied on wind to move. If there were no wind, there would have been no boats. This explains why Noach’s project appeared so strange and also explains why no one else had any means to survive the flood.

(He goes on to explain that due to this extreme difference in global climate fermentation was something that did not happen before the flood and that explains how Noach could go so terribly wrong afterwards getting drunk - alcohol hadn't existed either.)

4 comments:

Ari S. said...

I have always had difficulty with this S'forno. I understand that his commentary does not have to conform with the many ideas expressed by Chazal that discuss the concept of seasons prior to Noach (such as the sun being lower in the sky every day after Creation until the winter solstice), but I would think that he has to conform to the actual pesukim in the Chumash itself. In Bereishis 1:14 we are told that one of the functions of the luminaries was to have years (Shanim). A shana is a shana because the sun has visibly returned to its place that in the sky that it had not occupied since last year. This cannot happen unless the world has a tilt!!! Therefore, there must have been a tilt even at the beginning of time!!!

Ari S. said...

Upon further review, I do not think my earlier question was valid. The year could be the sun's position relative to the background constellations. However, this theory of the S'forno would mean that the sun did not travel through the zodiacal constellations, instead it traveled through the equatorial ones. I don't know what astrological associations this would have. of course, it still does not conform to Chazal's understanding.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't they row their boats gently down the stream?

yehoshea mier said...

this was already said by rav yosef chaim zonnenfeld...vand printed)