Maybe it’s a result of our affectation for pediatric Judaism (though we find it in the Xtian world as well) or perhaps its’ just our tendency to simplify. What people always seem to remember about the Noakh story are the 40 days and 40 nights of rain.
Ask someone how long the Flood was, or how long Noakh, his wife, his three sons and their wives, plus all those animals were afloat in the ark, and more often than not, people will answer, as it if were obvious, why, 40 days and nights of course.
Wrong. Now, as is sometimes typical of Torah it is not clearly or directly stated, briefly, in one place just how long the ark was afloat. (we find similar problems with the year counts of genealogies, censuses, and more.) If we read the text closely, we can put together two pieces, one from Genesis 7:11 that
11: In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventh day of the month, on that day
All the fountains of the great deep burst apart and the floodgates of the sky broke open.
and one from Genesis 8:13-15 that
13: In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the waters began to dry from the earth… 14: And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. 15: G”d spoke to Noah, saying, “Come out if the ark…”
So it would appear that the ark was afloat for one year (lunar? solar? do we know?) and 10 days. Yet we can’t be entirely sure, because we have other parallel chronologies in the text, plus other chronologies to add.
If we read a bit before 7:11, from 7:6-8, and 10 we read
6:6 Noah was six hundred years old when the Flood came, waters upon the earth. 7: Noah, with his sons, his wife…went into the ark because of the waters of the Flood…10 And on the seventh day the waters of the Flood came upon the earth.
Seventh day of what? Seventh day after everyone went into the ark? The seventh day of the week (i.e. Shabbat?) Surely not the seventh day of the month, since the very next verse tells us it was the seventeenth. If we work the chronology backwards, and assume it means seven days after they went into the ark, this tells us that Noah et al entered the ark on the tenth day of the second month, and seven days later the flood started. So this would seem to indicate that Noah and company were on the ark for one year and 17 days.
7:17 The Flood continued forty days on the earth…
7:24 And when the waters of the Flood had swelled on the earth one hundred and fifty days 8:1 G”d remembered Noah and all the beasts…and G”d caused a wind to blow…and the waters subsided.
8:3 the waters then receded steadily from the earth; At the end of 150 days that waters diminished, 4: so that in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5: The waters went on diminishing until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first of the month, the tops of the mountains became visible.
While it seems there might be two periods of 150 days, that doesn’t add up. One period of 150 days, added to everything else, seems to add up. Sort of. Then it gets even more confusing:
8:6 At the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark and sent out the raven…
Forty days after what? After the 150 days, or the two sets of 150 days, or forty days after the 1st day of the 10th month when the mountaintops became visible? Not really clear.It doesn’t say how long he waited, but after a while when the raven didn’t return, Noah sent out the dove. It doesn’t say how long the dove was gone before it returned (ah, you forgot that part didn’t you-Noah sent the dove forth twice. We tend to combine the lost raven and the first dove in our minds, but the first dove returned when it couldn’t find a place to land. The raven simply never returned.) The text does say that Noah waited another seven days after the dove had returned presumably, to send it out again-it returned the evening of that same day with that olive leaf. (One again, I so often hear people mistakenly refer to an olive branch, but the text is clear that is was a alei-zayit, olive leaf.)
The general scholarly consensus is one year (however long that was) and seventeen days. In any case, all of this is fluff, and not even what prompted me to write this musing. I just can’t resist playing these number games.
My point here is two-fold. First is our tendency to conflate, simplify, and generally accept the pediatric explanations we were given (as children or as adults.) Even though we may read and hear the text read year after year, what sticks in our minds in the 30 days and nights.
The second point is how our tendency to conflate, simplify, etc. contributes to our growing sense of seeking quick results, instant gratification, etc. Things take time. Good things and bad things both. The Japanese tsunami is out of the headlines, yet the region is still struggling. The same could actually be said of the gulf coast and Katrina. Heck, look how quickly we’ve forgotten the recent effects of Irene on the east coast – yet communities will be struggling with the after-effects for years. The forest and the wolves are reclaiming the lands around Chernobyl, but humans can still only venture into the exclusion zone for limited periods of time.
There is so much we can learn. We must be in things for the long haul. It takes far longer than we often assume to recover from a disaster. Even our efforts to clean up the mess we’ve made of our planet’s environment will take time. The same is true for the US (and the world) economy. All these messes we’ve made and need to clean up. G”d may have had the power to wipe out life on earth instantly, and/or to simply dry up the earth after the flood in the blink of an eye (though for those who ascribe to the limited, or self-limited understanding of G”d, perhaps G”d couldn’t rush things either, and had to allow the Flood to dry up naturally.) It’s far too easy to get in a hurry, get frustrated when things don’t change or get fixed as quickly as we like, and simply go back to our old ways. So the next time you are tempted to view things from that modern (and even ancient) short attention/interest span, short-term view, consider how you might have felt spending a year and 17 days in the ark waiting to come out. May G”d grant us all the patience that Noah, his wives, sons, daughters-in-law, and all those animals must have had to endure a year and 17 days in the ark, and the perseverance to keep up our efforts, and remember to plant trees not so much for ourselves as for those who will come after us.
©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Noakh 5771 - Redux 5765 - A P'shat in the Dark
Noakh 5770 - Don't Ham It Up
Noah 5768 - Redux 5761 - Getting Noticed
Noakh 5766-What A Nimrod! (Revised)
Noakh 5765-A Pshat In The Dark
Noach 5764-Finding My Rainbow
Noach 5763-Striving to be Human
Noach 5762-To Make a Name for Ourselves
Noach 5761-Getting Noticed
Noach 5760-What a Nimrod!