Where Is Noah's Ark?

The legend of the flood is remarkable in that it finds echoes across many different cultures, in every region of the world. The Hopi Indians in North America talk about righteous people surviving a flood by floating in giant reeds. Indigenous tribes in Hawaii talk about a righteous man who survived the flood in a ark and saw a rainbow at the flood's end. The famous Gilgamesh epic from Mesopotamia includes the survivor sending out a dove and a raven to see if the waters had receded.

All of this indicates that the flood is, indeed, accurate history. If so, it's reasonable to expect that a vessel as large as the ark might indeed have survived. Those who believe it has, claim it lies under the ice that permanently covers the summit of 17,000 foot Mount Ararat, in Northeastern Turkey. So far, though, all of the photographs, videos, and testimonies, are unconvincing at best.

After the biblical flood has receded and Noah and his family have emerged from the ark, they bring a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord. God smelled the pleasant aroma of their sacrifice, and decided that He would never bring another flood of such magnitude to the world. The Torah tells us God's reasoning: "For man's inclination is just evil from his youth, and therefore I shall not destroy everything as I have done."

That is a very strange reason! If man's inclination is evil, that sounds like more of a justification to bring more punishments, not less!

The biblical commentary of Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin expresses one line of understanding. Prior to the flood, he says, the physical substance of the earth was thicker and more influential over the character of man. So much so, that once man became entrapped in his evil ways, he could not escape. It was, in a sense, a form of spiritual quicksand. After the flood, however, the physical earth had been purified by the waters. Now, man's physical essence had been weakened. This gave his spirit a fighting chance. (Perhaps this can explain the dramatically decreased lifespans of the post-flood generations.)

The main word, according to Rabbi Sorotzkin, in God's explanation for His change of heart is "Inclination." Before the flood, man's essence had become evil. God only destroys when there is no hope of redemption. After the flood, man's good essence, presumably inherited from Noah, was primary. Any evil behavior was a function of man's inclination, the temptations of the moment. Before the flood, man was described as having "Only evil thoughts, all of the day." Now, man had a chance to think and do good things as well.

I believe that Noah's Ark does, indeed, exist, in a much more important place. Think about Noah. Here is a man surrounded by the most corrupt culture and history, who maintained his decency. Noah had tremendous faith, Noah refused to join in with the violence and upheavals of pre-flood society. That was a time when anarchy reigned, when the powerful judges abused their power to steal whatever they wished. "The land was filled with violence and theft." The rabbinical commentaries add sexual corruption even amongst the animals to underscore just how bad things were.

Imagine being one person in that whole crazy world who knew this was wrong! What tremendous strength of character! And so, God chose Noah and those he influenced, namely, his family, as the last great hope for humanity.

And inside that ark, something even more wonderful took place. The entire animal kingdom sent representatives to survive the flood. Who took care of them? Noah and his family. This was an intense, full time job of loving kindness. The ark was a bastion of faith, decency, morality, and caring.

I believe that any place where these character traits are taught, encouraged, and practiced, is where Noah's ark is. The world is going through upheavals, as it has been more or less since then. There are tremendously evil people and groups that wish to destroy civilization. The call of the extremist is very powerful. Those schools, houses of worship, places of kindness such as nursing homes, hospitals, homes for the disabled and so many thousands and millions of others, are all Noah's ark.

You see, when God smelled that sacrifice, he was smelling the beautiful aroma of Noah's beautiful character, his faith and his caring. God said that this is the real potential of humanity. If humanity does fall, it is only a temporary inclination. Whenever we see the world around us sending negative messages and descending into negative behavior, we should go into a Noah's Ark to find new strength.

And, then, we must also leave the ark and reenter the world as Noah did. But when we leave the ark, we must make sure that the ark never leaves us.

Noah and the Children of Hamas

The story is well-known. Man had become so corrupted that God decided to start over. Only one human, Noah, had maintained his righteousness. This was quite an accomplishment, as he went against the flow of all mankind. In doing so, he merited salvation for himself, his family, and representatives of the entire animal kingdom. The world was to be destroyed in a flood, Noah and his crew would be preserved in a floating Ark.

A consistent principle of Tora is that all punishments fit the crime, and that every remedy works on a deeper spiritual level. Thus, Noah's Ark is more than simply a lifeboat. It is a corrective for all of the ills of the society that earned destruction. How so?

There were a number of sins that the generation of the flood was guilty of. First of all, idolatry was prevalent. Second of all, sexual immorality was commonplace. Thirdly, theft and violence defined this society. If I had to choose an underlying character trait that fueled these transgressions, it would be cruelty. Idolatry presupposes a cruel god or gods who must be appeased (see the article on idolatry from last week). Sexual immorality presupposes cruelty through exploitation. The Bible says that the "Sons of the powerful ones took whom ever they wished to be their wives." They took them whether they wanted or not. Thirdly, theft and violence are certainly indicators of cruelty.

The experience of being in the Ark was an antidote to all of these sins. There was no idolatry in the Ark, only a reconnection to one God. Noah was not an idolater, nor was his family. As for sexual immorality, there were two of every species. They did not cohabit at all during the entire period of the flood, according to rabbinical tradition. Regarding theft and violence, there was none of that.

Regarding the underlying character trait of cruelty, the opposite was in force. Noah had to feed all the animals daily. They had to be fed before the humans sat down to eat. Their needs had to be cared for. This entire enterprise called for kindness and love. No one loves another human being more than its mother and father. That is because they have sacrificed greatly for the child. The more one does for others, the more one loves them and cultivates the character trait of kindness. Noah's Ark was an incubator of kindness. In truth, Noah's Ark was the ultimate act of kindness on God's part towards Noah, his family, and all the animals.

I think there is something even more significant in the Ark experience. When Noah emerges from the Ark, it is not long before he indulges in drink and becomes intoxicated. Drunkenness is usually a manifestation of depression, and I think Noah was deeply depressed. What was the reason for that? After all, God has spared him and his family, and had cast a rainbow in the heavens to promise that they would never be another flood. What was there to be sad about?

I believe that Noah's Ark represented a return to the womb for all of mankind. Inside the mother's womb, all is love and kindness. So it was inside the Ark. It was a period of complete innocence and purity. There was no cynicism, no bitterness, no sin. Life may have been cramped in there, but it was deeply beautiful.

Sometimes I look at the toys my little children play with. When I think about it, it can actually make me sad to realize that they will outgrow them. In fact, someday my children, with God's help, will reach a ripe old age. At that point, the mobile that had them squealing with joyous laughter as infants will have no significance. That made me sad. Why do we need to leave behind such a beautiful time of life, when the simplest things fill us with joy?

I am guessing that this is the reason Noah was sad. The innocence of the Ark was going to fade, and he knew it. He chose to escape to another "beautiful" place, alcoholic stupor. Everything is happy, everything is simple. In that stupor, Noah took off all his clothes. Was this a subconscious attempt to return to the womb?

This might also explain Noah's reaction to his son, Ham, who saw his nakedness. He cursed him to be a slave to his brothers. Perhaps he saw in Ham's reaction the cynicism that would lead to renewed corruption in the world. Better he'd be subservient to his righteous brothers, who represented a better chance for humanity.

But was Noah's sadness and fear justified? Perhaps not, and perhaps one aspect of the Ark provides the hope that could've spared Noah his depression. The aspect was a special window, or a glowing stone, that was called a "Tzohar." Whether it was a stone or a window, I believe it represents the same thing: spirituality. If it was a glowing stone, it illuminated life inside the Ark, just as the soul illuminates the body. If it was a window, it provided a glimpse of heaven, which inspires spirituality.

According to tell music legend, and angel is present inside the womb when every fetus develops. It teaches the fetus the entire Tora. Just as the child is to be born, the angel touches the baby on the lip and causes him to forget everything he had learned. What is the point of that? To imbue the child with deep spirituality. It's not the details of Tora that is important for a baby, it is the thirst for it. The baby will want to reacquire that spirituality just as any person wishes to recover a lost precious object.

Thus, spirituality is the key to eternal purity and happiness. To maintain the joy of the womb into adult life we must be spiritual people. Cruelty is a physical character trait, predicated on causing physical and emotional hurt. Lust is a physical character traits, seeking to acquire physical pleasure and possessions. Kindness, however, is a spiritual trait where the person denies themselves in order to help others. The tzohar and the kindness required by the running of the Ark provides a spirituality to the rebirth-womb experience of mankind. Let us be spiritual people.

Creation and the Land of Israel

Indeed, the great commentator Ramban is puzzled by Rabbi Isaac's question. Why does the Torah begin with creation? Obviously, because belief in God is the creator of the universe is at the center of everything! I would expect the Torah to begin with it! To this, the Ramban replies that the Torah could have included a simple phrase, perhaps in the first of the 10 Commandments. "I am the Lord thy God who created the heavens and the earth." That would do it. Instead, we have the entire creation story, including Adam and Eve, the tree of knowledge, Cain and Abel and more. They are there to teach us a powerful lesson, and it is that which Rabbi Isaac is presenting.

As we read the stories of Adam, Cain and Abel, and so forth, there is a common thread. The people in the story commit a sin and are exiled from where they were as a result. Adam and Eve are banished from the garden of Eden, Cain, after he slays his brother, must wander around the world. What we are being taught is that there is a spiritual content to the physical land. The land of Israel, especially, simply cannot tolerate sinners upon it. Hence, the seven nations of Canaan who practiced human sacrifice and other abominations, could not be abided by the holy land. In their place, came the nation of Israel, with its commitment to God's Torah and morality.

Thus, we are being taught that our actions and moral stature have consequences.

But I might still ask why, then, the Torah doesn't have a problem-free rendition of the Genesis story? Why go into details about the six days of creation? After all, science has demonstrated convincingly that the earth is far older than just 6000 years, and that each stage described in the creation epic lasted far longer than a simple day. If the Torah would have simply said, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," and left it at that, there would be no conflict between science and the Bible. Why give me 31 verses that give an impression at odds with scientific discovery?

There are different ways of resolving this seeming contradiction. Some claim that the world was, indeed, created in six days and that those six days were, indeed, about 6000 years ago. They say, however, that God created the world as if it were in midlife. Dinosaur fossils and astronomical echoes of the Big Bang (13.7 billion years ago) are simply there to give the impression that the world is older. I don't like this approach, because it implies that God intentionally tried to mislead mankind. The idea that God created dinosaur fossils of dinosaurs that never actually existed seems, to me, ridiculous.

Some interpret the six days of creation as referring to epochs, rather than 24 hour days. The sum total of those epochs might indeed be 13.7 billion years. I am okay with that. But there is another explanation that excites me.

Dr. Gerald Schroeder, the author of Genesis and the Big Bang, demonstrates how 6 24-hour days can equal 13.7 billion years. It all depends on where you are measuring the time. His premise is that the universe is stretching, and that time is a physical property that gets stretched along with it. Similar to a sheet of rubber with lines drawn every centimeter. Stretch it out, and those lines get farther and farther apart. The universe has been expanding at a rate of 900 billion times per day. As it expands, the relative passage of time changes dramatically. Imagine someone at the location of the Big Bang who sends out a pulse of light every second. For them, a second is a second, a 24 hour day feels like a 24 hour day, and 5 1/2 of them feel like 5 1/2 days.

Now, imagine someone on earth, which is billions of light-years away, receives the pulse of light. The next pulse will not arrive one second later. It can't because space has been stretched out so far. Instead, it will probably arrive millions of years later. The equation is: 900 billionĂ—5 1/2 days (the amount of time from the beginning of creation until the creation of Adam) divided by 365 days a year equals 13.6 billion years! In other words, if we measure the first 5 1/2 days of creation at the origin of the Big Bang, from God's perspective, as it were, it equals 13.6 billion earth years. Only when Adam is created does the location of the clock shift to Earth.

The Big Bang theory posits that the universe existed as energy in a minuscule speck. Energy takes no space, so even a speck may be an exaggeration. That speck exploded and began to form matter, and the universe began to stretch and an increasing rate. Dr. Schroeder accepts the Big Bang theory and has shown us how the timing described in the Bible can be in complete agreement with the paleontology and astronomy that indicate the world is quite old.

What is amazing is that this Big Bang theory is not just from the mid-20th century, but was stated 750 years ago. The great Ramban, in his commentary on Genesis, describes exactly the same process. Everything was in a small speck that had no substance to it, and then God caused all matter to be generated from this one speck.

Perhaps the 31 verses of the creation story are put into the Torah so we should realize that science cannot throw us any curveballs. Taken together with the Ramban's explanation of Rashi and Rabbi Isaac we gain a new level of understanding. While science hasn't shown this yet, there is a spiritual component in creation that requires harmonized living by human beings. "The world stands upon three things: Torah, service, and acts of kindness," teach our sages. Perhaps they are doing more than just giving us good advice, perhaps they are describing this as yet unmeasured spiritual element in creation. We, who have the Torah, no this intrinsically. The more we harmonize our lives with the spiritual essence of the land, the more we will grow and blossom.