Talmud Tips

For the week ending 11 August 2018 / 30 Av 5778

Zevachim 107 - 113

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Where Was the Great Flood?

Rabbi Yochanan said, “The mabul (Great Flood in Noach’s era) did not occur in the Land of Israel. Rabbi Shimon said, “The mabul did, in fact, occur in the Land of Israel.”

The gemara explains that both of these great Sages derive their views from the same verse in Sefer Yechezkel 22:24. Whether or not the mabul was in Israel is of halachic significance, besides its being part of the world’s historical record. Any where the mabul occurred was a site of possible ritual impurity due to the existence of bones of people who died in the mabul being pressed and “hidden” in the ground as a result of the mabul.

One verse that Rabbi Yochanan cites as a proof that there was no mabul in Israel is: “Everything that had the breath of the spirit of life in its nostrils, of all that was on the dry land, died. (Ber. 7:22) The words “dry land” indicate that part of the world — the Land of Israel — remained as dry land without a mabul. Nevertheless, those outside of the ark died due to the great heat generated by the boiling mabul waters that were elsewhere in the world. Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, on the other hand, interprets the words “dry land” to mean that only life that had been on dry land died in the mabul, but not the fish in the sea (and the water was not boiling according to him — Maharsha).

The Maharsha also points out that according to Rabbi Yochanan’s view that the mabul was not in Israel, G-d could certainly have easily provided a “safe space” for land life within the Land of Israel, without the need for commanding Noach to build a large ark. G-d instructed Noach to exert himself for 120 years in building the ark only so that people should see the ark and be warned that a mabul was coming as punishment for their ways of transgressions (as Rashi in Ber. 6:20 explains). They were told to do teshuva and cease their transgressions, and in this way they would be spared. And G-d in His mercy gave them a long time, 120 years, for them to choose life and repent.

  • Zevachim 13a-b

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