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Cut Once; Measure Twice

By: Rav Jonathan Bailey

At the beginning of Parshat Noach, God describes how to build the ark in which Noach, his family, and the land’s animals will survive the upcoming devastating flood. Through three (!) verses, God relays, in great detail, the exact measurements and required features for the life-saving ark. The question is why spend so many words; why use such a lengthy and detailed description for the building of this ark? Is the Torah ensuring that we have an eternal instruction-manual as to how to build our very own flood-saving vehicles if the situation ever arises? [1]

There is another instance in the Torah where God spends an uncharacteristically inordinate amount of words describing ‘building-instructions’: the Mishkan[2]. However, like the reams of pages spent on describing the Korbanot, the justification for this lengthy description is easily understood. ‘Temples’ and ‘Sacrifices’ were not Jewishly-specific during the time of the giving of the Torah; so when God presented these ideas to Bnei Yisrael as formal mitzvot, He needed to also offer His own unique stamp. The hundreds of pesukim spent detailing the Mishkan’s structure and vessels and the Korbanot’s rules and processes ensured the God-of-the-Jews’ unique spin on an otherwise universally-established system. Obviously, this approach does not work to explain the verbose description of the ark. There was no precedent for an ark previously and therefore there is no need to distinguish it from other arks, and of course ‘building an ark’ never became a national mitzvah.

Perhaps an answer can be found within the specific wording of the ark’s building instructions itself (Breishit 6:14-16). For, within these three pesukim, the root ... is used five times!

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               :

             

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The last time we were presented with a similar ... focus was at the conclusion of Creation (Breishit 2:1-3):

     

              :

                :

Throughout the Creation process, the word most commonly used was “” - the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (5:1) even states that the world was created by 10 ‘sayings’ - . However, when the Torah concludes the entire Creation process, the root it uses instead in the three-versed paragraph is ...three times! Even the final verse of the preceding section – when God sees all that He had done - switches from the previously emphasized ... root to the ... root. So why are we distinctly directed to make this connection between the creation of the world and the creation of the ark?

Immediately before God instructs Noach to build the ark, the Torah describes the extent of the evil that has pervaded the land and the depth of God’s subsequent disappointment. The Torah uses wording like ‘deep human evil’, ‘[human’s] thoughts are constantly and solely evil’ and ‘the world was devastated before God’ to describe the deplorable state into which civilization had descended. And from God’s perspective, ‘He changed His mind concerning His decision to create people’, ‘it distressed His heart’ and ‘I will totally eradicate the humans I have created from upon this land’.

And then we are told of God’s decision to save Noach, his family and all the animals. We could easily appreciate – due to the context which introduced it - that God was merely ‘settling’ with this ‘second chance’ world. God had sadly witnessed the depths of depravity into which humans could descend, the constancy of their evil ways, and the subsequent complete implosion of their world – and therefore this new creation could easily be seen as, at best, half-hearted and uninspired[3]. Perhaps He didn’t, or couldn’t, even have any great hopes for the second round, with no expectation of a reversal to civilization’s immoral and wicked tendencies.

And now we return to our ... connection, equating the building of the ark to the creation of the world. For, when God decided to start again, He distinctly instructed the building of the ark – the vehicle which would facilitate this new beginning – to be constructed just like the ‘first’ purposefully created original world. God wasn’t simply ‘patching’ the scraps from the old world together to create a lesser “version two” in which Noach and his family and the surviving animals could merely exist. Rather, He was distinctly actualizing a complete and fully-desired reset. The ark – like Creation – would facilitate a purposefully directed, Divinely-inspired stage for humans to live, grow and succeed, just like the ‘stage’ that God Himself created the first time around! In his new world, Noach would be charged with the Divine command to start totally anew; and the Torah is telling us through the detailed instructions for building the ark that he would have the perfect opportunity to do so. Noach would be responsible for re-directing civilization on a very different path and he was being told that he wouldn’t have any of the past’s baggage to inhibit this mission.

And how does the Torah report Noach’s completion of God’s building instructions (ibid:22)?

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“And Noach did all that God had commanded him; he did it”

Why the strange and disjointed repetition of the root ... at the conclusion of this pasuk? The first mention of our significant root conveys to us that he ‘did’ – i.e. he followed God’s exact unique -esque instructions when building the ark. And the second one declares that he even successfully fulfilled God’s intention behind these instructions, too. The Torah is making sure we appreciate that Noach not only successfully built the ark as God intended for him, but he also fully appreciated what this ark – and the new world it would assist in depositing him within – was supposed to mean to him.

 

[1] The following is an idea inspired by a question from Shevy Schwartz

[2] Rav Amnon Bazak, in his published essays “Nekudat Petichah” draws a significant textual parallel between them.

[3] And this is perhaps why the Midrash which Rashi quotes deliberates whether God’s description of Noach as ‘righteous in his generation’ was praiseworthy or critical. Was he the new hope, a perfect start to a new world; or merely a fair candidate, a ‘good enough’ man for the ‘good enough’ job he was going to be asked to do.

 

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