Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Ramban on the size of the Ark

The point that the Ark was not big enough to hold all those animals appears regularly on the J-blogs during Parshat Noach. The "fundamentalist" answer to this is "Thank you very much--we noticed." Here is the Ramban's comment on Genesis 6:19, from Rabbi Chavel's translation (Shilo 1971):
19. OF ALL FLESH. It is known that there are a great many beasts, and some of them - such as elephants, rams and others are very large; likewise, the creeping things upon the earth are very many. Of the fowl of the heaven there are also innumerably many kinds, just as our Rabbis have said: "There are one hundred and twenty kinds of unclean birds in the east, and all of them belong to the species of ayah (kite)." Clean fowl are innumerable. Noah was thus obligated to bring all of them into the ark in order that they may beget their like. If you would gather a full year's supply of food for all of them, [you would find] that this ark and ten others like it could not hold it! But this was a miracle of a small space containing a great quantity. And in case you suppose that he should have made it [the ark] very small and rely on this miracle, the answer is that the Holy One, blessed be He, saw fit to make it large so that the people of his generation should see it, wonder at it, converse about it, and speak of the subject of the flood and the gathering of the cattle, beast, and fowl into it so that perhaps they would repent.
The Ramban was born in the 13th century, by the way.

Reader Comments:

What does the Ramban being born in the 13th century have to do with anything? What shaychus?

Secondly, this just leads to a second, slightly less obvious question. One might say, well, Noach brought a representative sampling of the common species of animals which were around into the Ark, and Hashem used them to "reseed" the population of the animal world after the flood. Not so, says the Ramban. The Ark contained (at least) tens of thousands of species of animals, which without a miracle would not have fit into ten Arks. This simply raises the new question of how Noach was able to do that, even given 120 years, considering the great distances he would have had to travel to find some of them.
Ploney | 10.29.06 - 3:50 am | #

1. People don't give enough credit to "Medieval commentators."

2. He wasn't able to do it. It happened miraculously. That's the Ramban's point.
Worldwide floods are not normal, natural occurrences either.
Yitzchak Goodman | Homepage | 10.29.06 - 12:29 pm | #

No. That's not the Ramban's point. His point is that they miraculously fit into the Ark even though it was too small. He still seems to say that Noach actually had to gather all of them: "Noah was thus obligated to bring all of them into the ark in order that they may beget their like."

Just another problem for those who insist on understanding the Mabul story in an absolutely literal sense.
Ploney | 10.29.06 - 2:32 pm | #

"Noah was thus obligated to bring all of them into the ark in order that they may beget their like."

He says that in the course of the kasha.
You are right that he is mainly addressing the Ark-size issue and I see now what you mean by "how Noach was able to do that." Still, it all flows into the Ramban's answer that it was a miracle. Somebody once made the point about Milton's syntax: "Don't bother it and it won't bother you."
Yitzchak Goodman | Homepage | 10.29.06 - 3:43 pm | #

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