By Rabbi Yitzchok D. Frankel
Agudath Israel of the Five Towns
“I will not continue to smite all living beings, as I have done. For the rest of the earth’s days there will be sowing and reaping, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night. They shall not cease.”
A lot of things that we take for granted were suspended during the year that Noach spent in the Teivah. It’s not just that the animals and birds ceased to exist. It’s not just that the vegetation was washed away. It’s more profound than that: the world ceased to spin on its axis. And it ceased to orbit around the sun. The alternation between day and night, and the changing of the seasons, resumed only at the conclusion of the full year of the flood. This became permanently fixed only after Hashem smelled the fragrance of the korbanos that Noach offered upon exiting the Teivah. It seems that time as we know it did not exist for that “year.”
From Noach’s perspective, it seemed like a year. A full solar year ostensibly went by between the time when Noach entered the Teivah and when he left it. The Torah records dates:
“In the 600th year of Noach’s life, in the second month, on the 17th of the month, on this day all the fountains of the great depths burst open, and the windows of the heavens were opened.” (Bereishis 7:11)
“Noach lived 300 years and 50 years after the Flood. All the days of Noach were 900 years and 50 years, and he died.” (ibid., 9:28–29)
Although a whole year went by while Noach was in the Teivah, it seems to have vanished from the Torah. Noach was 600 years old when he entered the Teivah, and he lived 350 years after coming out. So how old was he when he died? Answer: 950. What about the year he was in the Teivah? The Mabul was a full year, so Noach should have lived to 951—but he didn’t.
After the Flood, HaKadosh Baruch Hu promised Noach that a number of things would never stop happening: sowing and reaping, cold and hot, summer and winter, day and night.“They shall not cease.”
This promise was needed because for a whole “year” there were no seasons; i.e., the calendar ceased to function. There was no heat and cold; i.e., temperature ceased to exist. There was no day and night; i.e., the difference between light and darkness ceased to apply. Everything was in a state of profound limbo.
This is a world that we cannot even comprehend. If it’s not day and it’s not night, what is it? While Noach was in the Teivah, time stopped.
This does not fit very well with our practical experience. But it is explainable in terms of physics. The modern scientific conception of time is based on Einstein’s theory of relativity, which holds that rates of time at separate places run differently. It’s possible for time to move forward in one venue, and not to move forward in another.
In Noach’s world, inside the Teivah, time appeared to move forward. But in the outside world it did not. Noach indeed lived this year. However, from the perspective of the world, this year was not counted. In the year 1656 of the Jewish calendar, there was a time freeze.
In fact, this year is still not counted. Our calendar skips the year of the Flood. If Noach was alive today, he would add 1 to the date of every year. But we do not count it because it was not a real year from the perspective of the natural world.
That being said, we gain insight into the miracle of how all the animals were able to live in the Teivah. Not only was time suspended, but space was altered as well. The Teivah was larger for those who were inside it than it was for the rest of the world on the outside. It was built according to one set of specifications, yet it actually possessed a different set of specifications. Thus it had room for all.
This doesn’t mean that life was rosy in the Teivah. There was no sleep at all for Noach and his sons, because they were constantly feeding the animals. The stench was horrendous, and living space was very cramped. There was enough room for all, thanks to the miracle, but barely enough room.
We also find in the Beis HaMikdash, that there was a miracle of extra space during the regalim. When the people would bow down, there would be enough room for all to prostrate themselves on the ground. Yet when they stood, they felt crowded. There was a miracle, but it was still tight quarters. v
Rabbi Frankel can be reached at email@example.com. At local stores: Machat shel Yad Bereishis.