Noah’s Ark – its miracles

Saving the world’s biodiversity from  the flood’s raging waters involved a series  of mind staggering miracles.

A Wooden Giant
First of all, you might ask, where did  Noach acquire the skills to build an Ark  the size of a small aircraft carrier? The  Torah writes that the boat’s proportions  were 300 by 50 by 30 amos. Even according  to Rav Chaim Naeh’s smaller  amah of 18.9 inches, the Teivah was  about 472 by 78 by 47 feet, making it  the largest wooden boat ever constructed.  In addition to its vast size, it had to  be solid enough to ride out the waves  of a worldwide ocean for an entire year.

The fi rst known boats of comparable  size were gigantic barges Queen  Hatsheput of Egypt built about 600  years later (c. 2260/1500 BCE) to move  obelisks (tapering stone monuments)  from Aswan to Thebes. Yet the size of  the surviving obelisks suggests that the  barges transporting them were only 200  to 300 feet long, half the size of the Teivah.  A further 1,300 years passed before  anyone built boats approaching the  Ark’s size.

One of these was the Talemegos, a  377 foot river boat constructed by Ptolemy  IV of Egypt in about 3560/200  BCE. Another was the 420 foot Tessarakonteres,  a Greek Tireme (three  decked craft) powered by 4,000 oarsmen.  However, the reports of these  boats’ sizes may be exaggerated.  The first historically validated wooden  ships approaching the Teivah’s size  were constructed in the mid-nineteenth  century, many of them shabbily constructed  “disposable” craft built solely  to avoid paying high timber taxes demanded  by the English customs. After  being sailed from England to North  America, they were broken up and sold  as planks.

The record breaking wooden vessel  besides the Ark was the 450 foot Wyoming,  which took its fi rst dip in December  5659/1909, whose builders “cheated”  by adding ninety transverse iron  cross-bracings on each side to prevent  distortion. Even with this precaution,  the oversized ship twisted and buckled  so extensively in heavy seas that water  pouring between its gaping planks  needed constant pumping.

All this leaves us wondering how  Noach succeeded in building a ship so  ahead of the curve. For a start, the proportions  Hashem gave him were ideal  for the job at hand. A 5752/1992 study  of the Ark using data generated by naval  architects and structural engineers  at the world-class ship design and research  center KRISO (formerly KORDI)  in Korea arrived at the following  conclusions:

“In this study, the safety of Noah’s  Ark in the severe environments imposed  by waves and winds during the  Genesis Flood was investigated. Three  major safety parameters — structural  safety, overturning stability, and sea  keeping quality — were evaluated altogether  to assess the safety of the whole  system.

“The concept of ‘relative safety’,  which is defined as the relative superiority  in safety compared to other hull  forms, was introduced and 12 different  hull forms with the same displacement  were generated for this purpose. Evaluation  of these three safety parameters  was performed using analytical tools.  Model tests using 1/50 scaled models of  a prototype were performed for three  typical hull forms in order to validate  the theoretical analysis.

“Total safety index, defined as the  weighted average of three relative safety  performances, showed that the Ark  had a superior level of safety in high  winds and waves compared with the  other hull forms studied. The voyage  limit of the Ark, estimated on the basis  of modern passenger ships, criteria,  revealed that it could have navigated  through waves higher than 30 metres.”  Nonetheless, where did Noach learn  other skills besides the Ark’s proportions  that are necessary to build a giant  seafaring craft? According to a source  cited by Eisenstein (Beis Medrash  chelek gimel 155), he learned these  wisdoms from an ancient sefer Raziel  Hamalach given to Adam after he repented  of his sin:

“Then Refael the holy angel was sent  to him [Noach] and said to him, ‘I was  sent to you by the word of Hashem to  heal the earth and to inform you what  you should do in order to escape.’  Then he gave him this holy sefer and  explained to him how to use it… Noach  took the sefer from the holy angel  and after he understood the letters engraved  in it, the spirit of Hashem rested  upon him and he made the Ark according  to its length and breadth with the  knowledge he gained through this holy  Name…

“And from the wisdom of this sefer,  Noach learned to make the ark of  Gopher wood and… to bring with him  two and seven, and to bring in of every  food…. After he died he gave it  to Shem, and Shem to Avrohom and  it went down until the sages after the  prophets, etc.”

Incidentally, the Ibn Ezra (6:14)  raises the question why the Teivah was  not called a boat, sefi nah, and explains,  “Because it did not have the shape of a  boat and had no oars.” Because of this,  the Torah simply calls it a box. In similar  vein, the English word ark derives  from the Old English word earc, which  in turn derives from the Latin word  arca, a large box, or chest. This is why  English refers to both the Teivah and an  aron hakodesh by the same word, ark.

The Ultimate Squeeze
Despite the Ark’s gigantic dimensions,  the Rishonim say that it was still  not large enough to hold all the animals  on the globe.

“We know that there are very many  animals such as elephants, the re’emim,  and suchlike, and the vermin that crawl  on the earth are very many,” the Ramban  writes. “There are also countless  many species of birds as the rabbis say,  ‘There are 120 kinds of impure birds in  the east and all are of one species,’ and  the kosher birds are countless. Now, he  had to bring of them all that they should  reproduce, and if you add to them all  the food eaten for a whole year, this  Ark and ten like it could not hold it.”  In fact, the number of animal species  worldwide reaches about 1.4 billion  to 1.8 billion including 293 species of  pseudo-scorpions, four to twelve thousand  earthworm species, and up to a  billion insect species! Bird species are  estimated at about 8,950, including the  record sized elephant bird of Madagascar  eradicated during the seventeenth  century, which weighed over half a  ton and laid eggs over a meter in circumference.  Imagine finding room for  fourteen of them (if they were kosher)!

Regarding food supplies, giant animals  like elephants consume up to three hundred  pounds of hay a day. Where did  Noach pack away everything?  The Ibn Ezra suggests that the Ark  may have been much larger: “Perhaps,  because Noach’s height was greater  than ours, the amah too was according  to his size.” The Ramban rejects this  approach, arguing that if Noach was  larger than modern man, so were the animals of the flood.  Therefore he explains that the Ark  held the animals only through the miracle  of “a little containing a lot.” Since  this miracle is generally found in situations  of extreme sanctity such as in the  Holy of Holies where the Ark took up  no space, and when Moshe addressed  the whole of Klal Yisroel, perhaps this  is another reason the inhabitants of the  Ark were commanded to conduct themselves  with purity all the time they were  inside.

However, asks the Ramban, if the  animals fitted inside through a miracle,  why did it need to be so vast? Rabeinu  Bechaye asks even more. Why build an  ark at all? Why didn’t Hashem save Noach,  his family, and the animals, by simply  suspending them in mid air?

The Ramban gives two answers. Noach  was commanded to build the Ark either  so that its construction should warn  the people of the coming flood, or, “in  order to reduce the miracle, because so  is the trend in all the miracles of the Torah  or Nevi’im to do with them whatever  man can do, and the rest is by the hand  of heaven.”

Rabeinu Bechayei explains this concept  further:

“So you will fi nd with all the Torah’s  miracles, if you examine them, that  even when they are open miracles they  include a little of nature. Thus, we find  that the Torah commands warriors to go  out equipped for war (chalutzei tzava)and also the verse says (Yehoshua 8),  ‘Make an ambush for the town behind  it.’ Since all Yisroel’s wars were through  great miracles, why did they need an  ambush like the nations whose wars are  conducted naturally? Certainly because  it was fitting for them to act in the way  of nature and Hashem completed what  was lacking. This is why the Torah commands  how to fight battles and many  similar things.”

Animals Great and Small
The Ibn Ezra raises an important  question, “What did predatory birds and  carnivorous animals like the lion eat?”  “This is not a question,” he answers,  “because one who cannot find meat, will  eat grass and fruit when he hungers.”

The Radak explains: “The truth is that  they did not eat meat just as they did not  eat [meat] at the beginning of creation.”  Even if the Radak regards the reversion  of carnivores to herbivores as natural,  Rashi points out that Hashem still  needed to make a special bris with Noach  that the huge stores of food should  not rot.

The Ramban (6:20) mentions yet another  miracle – that the animals came to  the Ark by themselves: “’Two by two  they will come to you to be kept alive.’  This informs us that they came to him  two by two by themselves, and he did  not have to hunt them in the mountains  and islands, and then he brought them  into the Ark afterwards.”

Gathering the species by hand would  have indeed been a giant task since even  now about ten thousand new insect species  are discovered every year. In addition,  each parasite species, whether  tapeworm or liver fluke, needed to be  transported aboard by an unwitting animal  host, and who, besides Hashem,  would know which animals were infested  and which were not?

Amidst death and destruction, the Ark  was a miraculous capsule of unbounded  chesed; as the Ramban explains, all  Noach’s efforts were merely a physical  grounding for the nes. Later, the dove’s  olive branch taught Noach never to forget  this lesson. Better to receive sustenance  directly from Hashem’s hand  even if bitter as the olive, and never  forget the true source of everything we  enjoy.

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