Friday, October 12, 2018

The First Pitch

Parashat Noach begins by describing the famous teivah, or ark, that God instructed Noah to build. Since the wooden craft would be challenged by the rainstorm and the elements, God instructed Noah to protect the ark with pitch on both the inside and the outside (Genesis 6:14).

The same Hebrew word, teivah, is employed by the Torah to describe the floating bassinet which was used to hide baby Moses from Pharaoh’s officers. This “ark” was water-proofed as well. As the Torah testifies, “And when she (Moses’ mother) could no longer hide him (Moses), she took for him an ark made of reeds, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child in it; and she laid it in the rushes by the river’s brink” (Exodus 2:3). The commentator Rashi, in both aforementioned sources, offers several reasons why Noah’s ark had pitch on both the inside and outside while Moses’ ark only had pitch on the outside. First of all, Rashi notes, Moses’ ark only encountered tranquil and still waters, while Noah’s ark was to face a massive storm with a cataclysmic amount of water. Moses’ ark therefore only needed water-proofing on the outside.

Second, Rashi points out, the pitch was not placed on the inside of Moses’ basket so that “the righteous Moses would not need to breath in the foul smelling pitch.”

There is a well-known rabbinic debate concerning Noah, regarding whether he was objectively or subjectively righteous. Parashat Noach opens with the following verse: “These are the generations of Noah; Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). Does “perfect in his generations” limit his being “a just man” or does his being a “just man” stand on its own? Was he only righteous compared to the wicked people of his generation, or would he have been considered as righteous if he lived in Abraham’s generation? Rashi’s comments above seem to indicate that Abraham was more righteous than Noah, and bolsters the opinion that Noah’s righteousness was somewhat subjective.

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